Friday, October 16, 2009


I'm sitting here with a flu, struggling to put together coherent thoughts and sneezing all over my you mind if I make things easy on myself by revisiting an older subject? I thought I'd return to the subject of early comic strips that failed to find a public. Maybe I'll get closer to the articulation that eluded me last time.

Most of these strips are from 1904-1906. Evidently that era produced a glut of funny cartoonists who learned their craft in the 19th century book and magazine illustration. First-rate cartoonists were a dime a dozen; they were everywhere you looked. It was too good to last, and it didn't.

Within the space of a few years the public taste changed and a cartoon depression settled in. Suddenly books and humor magazines preferred more realistic drawings with funny captions. Some humor publications folded altogether. Tough luck for cartoonists who had families to feed.

A few cartoonists were able to bail out into the newly emerging medium of the newspaper strip but the culling process was brutal. Most illustration-trained cartoonists just couldn't adapt. They couldn't tell a story and create memorable characters. I shudder to think what happened to many of these people.

Here's an artist (above) who would probably have been more at home drawing illustrations for Dr. Dolittle books, but who is forced by necessity to try his hand at comics.

Poor Zim. He was such a funny illustrator, but his newspaper comic pages just didn't take off.

Evidently there was a perception among newspaper editors that Germans had a special feel for the comic strip. That's natural I guess since they pretty much created it. Lots of now forgotten strips had German characters who looked like they just stepped off the boat.

Newspaper cartoonists tried lots of experiments in their quest to tell stories. Here's one (above) that resembles a film clip.

Here's (above) a little-known strip by Opper who, as we all know, did make the transition from illustration to storytelling. No static and repetitive panels for Opper...his whole page has a visual flow that carries the reader along and invites him to take the characters more seriously.

I imagine the great number of unemployed illustrator-cartoonists must have regarded the comics cartoonists with envy and acrimony. Probably the new style of cartooning (above) looked too simplistic to the older guys. "Sure it has flow," I imagine them saying, "but that's all it has. The drawings suck!" Well actually that's true, though there are exceptions. Overly simplified drawing styles eventually killed the comic strip.

Man, that's a depressing note to end on! See what happens when you try to write when you're sick? I've gotta take the curse off that ending...maybe with something on my desk...maybe with...Hmmmm....okay, here, I've got it! I'll just whip this (below) on the scanner... do you like it? My new toupee! I got it a few days ago. It looks like a giant bug and I constantly have to resist the temptation to stomp it. John says it should have come with a conspicuous string to hold it on.

Okay, I'm going to get some cold pills.


JohnK said...

Put it on Wwhle wearing just underpants)and take pictures of you sneezing while it leaps off your noggin and attack someone you really like on the internet!

Craig said...

Great post. (Off-Topic) I gave you a shout-out here.
Did you work on this cartoon?

Hans Flagon said...

I wouldn't blame simplified styles entirely. I still found newspaper comics fairly entertaining before 1970, with a lot of simplified (yet well grounded styles). By 1980 things had really changed considerably. The loss of Al Capp, Walt Kelly, and Chester Gould did not help matters, nor did the shift in writing focus (even Schulz moved away consderably from his core theme of kid life to focus on talking dogs and lesbian couples.)

The pocket mass market paperback collections of newspaper strips also fell to the wayside during the 70s, which although it was often ill suited to displaying the strips, served well in keeping them in the consumers psyche when the newspaper was not around. The trade paperback landscape point of sale of books like klibans Cats, and Larsons Far Side, and the old pricing and disribution structure of the pulp mass markets dependant on changing paper costs, helped change the playing field, as well did the focus of advertising demographics from general family entertainment towards segmented markets (The college kid- doonesbury, the working woman- Cathy) allowed poorly drawn strips to flourish, as the comics page itself eroded to ads and available space.

Niki said...

Be careful! John's gone crazy! Remember to check your ears constantly if you don't ants'll crawl in there! I know they tried it on me!

thomas said...

I don't know.. it may be relevant that there were so many newspapers during this time, and thus so many cartoonists.

>> and doesn't Beetle Bailey come much later?

Thanks for posting all these!

Lester Hunt said...

Sheesh! Even when he's sick as a dawg I learn something from Eddie! Nice work, buddy!

Brubaker said...

I'm surprised you used "Beetle Bailey" to illustrate your point. Technically Walker is one of the "old guys" (not Opper old, but still old by today's examples) and while he has assistants he's still as involved in the strip as he was when it began in 1950. "Dilbert" would've been a better example.

Newspaper comics are often thought to be "politically correct" stuff but there was a shift in a more cynical content around the '70s and '80s. I don't mean "BC" cynical, but VERY cynical. "Doonesbury" was probably the first, followed by "Bloom County", "Dilbert", and "Pearls Before Swine".

It's a given that older comic readers hate "Pearls" (it doesn't help that the strip makes fun of them constantly), but it's very popular among those in their twenties. I know alot of college students who love that strip (I'm one of them).

The popularity of "Bloom County" and "Doonesbury" led to many cartoonists trying their hands at making strips like those two. There was one called "Thatch" that was fairly political. In fact, the guy who drew it got a job as a speechwriter for Bill Clinton, effectively ending the strip in the process.

There was also "Free for All". Apparently the guy who drew it was very lazy and towards the end he reused the art in the strip and changed the dialogues. It was only in syndication for less than a year. He later sold it to Showtime and became a short-lived animated series.

Your statment on public taste changing probably has more truth than anyone would realize.

talkingtj said...

try tylenol cold and flu, its powdered, pour some in a cup add hot water drink up, its nasty tasting but it works!

RooniMan said...

That toupee is cheesy, I don't know whether to laugh or become inraged.

david gemmill said...

hahahha, that adolf comic is great. that one guy looks so angry and flustered

whole foods has a lot of good stuff for colds. godspeed in your recovery. colds are no fun.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Everybody: Sorry I didn't answer. Just feeling too under the weather!