Archive for Monday, January 12, 2015

Comic strips hit on topics both humorous and serious

January 12, 2015

Comic strips have been an integral part of daily newspapers since the start of the 20th century. Their purpose was relatively simple: tell fascinating continuing stories that would keep readers shelling out a penny every day to buy the newspaper. It was one of many methods to increase circulation. The other was a continuing serialized book. One literary icon, Sherlock Holmes, was created in England for the Strand Magazine. The continuing story disappeared from newspapers decades ago.

It is a bit surprising to me that comic strips have continued in this era of almost non-stop entertainment. Certainly, the comic strips have changed – for the most part they tell single jokes, there are no continuing stories.

For those who like history, the first cartoon was “The Yellow Kid” followed shortly by “The Katzenjammer Kids.” These comic strips played a major part in the New York newspaper circulation wars. It wasn’t long before other publishers throughout the nation were printing either local or syndicated comic strips.

When I was young, I was an avid reader of the adventures of “Smiling Jack,” “Dick Tracy,” “Joe Palooka,” “Terry and the Pirates,” “Mary Worth,” “Brenda Starr” and “Popeye.” As far as I know, all of these strips are long gone. I wonder how many folks remember “Alley Oop” or “Captain Easy,” which were comic strip page staples in smaller daily newspapers. “Alley Oop” was made even more famous by a popular song in the 1960s.

A strip I really enjoyed that isn’t published locally was “Tank McNamara.” The main character was a former professional football player who became a TV sports announcer who butchered the English language. The strip started in 1972 and poked a lot of fun at sports and Americans’ love affair with sports. The strip is still around, although not printed locally. One of the unique features is the “Sports Jerk of the Year.” The dubious winner is selected by readers and announced in the strip.

When I was young I enjoyed reading “Prince Valiant,” which was set in medieval times. The main character was a prince from the Nordic kingdom of “Thule” who became involved with King Arthur’s Roundtable in fifth century England.

With his magic “singing sword” Flamberge, he fought Viking invaders, vandals and about every other bad guy of that time. While the story line crossed time periods, the artwork was critically acclaimed as being extremely accurate.

The comic strip was only published on Sundays, but for many years it was one of my weekend highlights.

Another comic strip which isn’t available locally that I liked was “Funky Winkerbean.” Certainly it was a unique comic strip, combining humor with serious issues such as teenage pregnancy, breast cancer, substance abuse and bullying just to name a few. The comic strip changed time periods as it went from 1988 when Funky, Lesa and the other main characters were high school seniors to years later when they were adults and teaching in the same high school. The characters went from facing teenage woes to dealing with adult problems, and it was one of the excellent continuing stories.

I found both strips are published in the “The Dallas Morning News,” so when I picked up a copy to read, it was like meeting old friends.

The venerable “Blondie and Dagwood” remains funny, and there is no better way to start your morning than reading “Zits,” “Dennis the Menace” or “Family Circle.” They provide chuckles in a world that needs humor.

I’m glad the comic strips are still around, yet I miss the continuing adventures of some of my youthful heroes.

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