Sad Sack fans, just send your hate mail to “mikester” at this domain name.

§ March 18th, 2019 § Filed under comic strips, tumbleweeds § 15 Comments

So as a young Mikester, I had a lot of newspaper strip reprint books. You know, the small 4 by 7 inch ones that were, what, 100 or so pages pages with a strip per page (or maybe a Sunday spread across two pages). Yeah, you know the type.

I read them from a pretty young age, and actually still have most of the books I had managed to gather up back then. The strip for which I had the most reprint books was Peanuts, which was probably far and away the most popular of these sorts of things. A distance second was B.C., though I had a pretty good supply of those as well…a weird and great strip in its heyday. And at some point I got into Beetle Bailey and got my mitts on several of those books over the years.

There were other scattered paperback strip reprints that passed through my hands…some I kept, some got passed on or lost over the years. I do still have the couple of Wizard of Id books, and it surprised me that I didn’t try to get more, because I really enjoyed that comic. Not so surprised that I didn’t keep the one book of Crock I had, which I did not care for.

Somewhere in the boxes of books I still have the first Doonesbury collection I was ever given (An Especially Tricky People), presented to me by my grandmother shortly after its initial publication in 1977, when I was eight years old and probably had a heck of a time making heads or tails of the thing. I got that parts of it were funny, and that Honey wasn’t getting the attention from Duke that she wanted, but the political content just whizzed over my head. (In later years, I ended up tracking down and buying just about every Doonesbury book, from the one reprinting the college strips up through, say, the 1990s.)

Some of the books I had but didn’t keep around were titles like The Family Circus and Dennis the Menace, which I liked well enough, I suppose, but the one-panel, essentially non-sequential nature of those comics didn’t really provide the…narrative, I guess, that I wanted from these comics as a kid. I mean, sure, I’ve come to appreciate them a bit more now (“oh, Not Me, you’ve done it again!”), but they just weren’t scratching that comical itch.

Another one I didn’t keep around was the one paperback of Tumbleweeds I somehow had on my shelves.

I was thinking about Tumbleweeds a bit over the last day or two, as it had been reported that the cartoonist behidn the strip, Tom K. Ryan, had died. Well, okay, sure, I was thinking about the strip a few weeks ago when I made this gag at the end of the post here (and it was a gag…that’s not what I gave pal Dorian for Christmas…I gave him a gift card to Tower Records). I do remember reading that one book I had…I remember reading it multiple times, because when you’re a kid you do things like that, since you have lots of time to kill and your imminent death from old age isn’t just around the corner.

I seem to recall thinking it was…well, I don’t recollect my exact reaction to it, but it was something along the lines of “it was okay, at least it’s not the Peanuts books I own and have reread a million times.”

However, for some reason, as I got older, I found that Tumbleweeds just wasn’t for me. It just didn’t appeal to me…the art rubbed me the wrong way, I had trouble even parsing the appearances of the characters, the jokes didn’t do much for me…man, at this point, I can’t even remember any of the character names from the strip. Was there someone actually named “Tumbleweeds” in the comic? I couldn’t tell you. And I think the strip changed over to some sort of mechanical lettering versus hand lettering…no, sorry, couldn’t do it.

To be fair, it wasn’t like I was declaring from the rooftops “As God is my witness, I hate Tumbleweeds” or anything…it was more “this is not for me, but for other people” and left it at that. It doesn’t fill me with anything like the revulsion I have for Sad Sack, a comic that just seems so wholly terrible that I can’t understand anyone ever tolerating, much less supporting multiple titles for so many years. Yeah, sure, I realize this all sounds pretty rich from a guy who likes, well, you know, but for the longest time just a partial glimpse of Tumbleweeds on the funny pages made me avert my eyes and move on.

Well, seeing the write-ups of Tumbleweeds of late (and getting a tad bit of pushback from the Christmas gift “joke” I mentioned earlier) has made me decide to give this comic a second chance. I will buy a copy of one of the paperbacks (preferably one reprinting slightly older strips, maybe from the 1970s) and I’ll give it another shot. Could be that I’ll still not like it. Could be I’ll find myself collecting yet another series of strip reprints that I’ll have to find room for. I don’t know.

If anyone has any suggestions as to which book to try, feel free to let me know in between your defenses of Sad Sack. My preference is to try out one of those small paperbacks, like the ones I got as a child. Maybe, if I can figure it out, I’ll try to find a copy of the one I originally had.

I however won’t be revisiting Crock. Sorry, friends, I have my limits.

15 Responses to “Sad Sack fans, just send your hate mail to “mikester” at this domain name.”

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    Tumbelweeds is the guy on that cover, falling off his horse. Man, did Tom K. Ryan draw weird horses.

    The strip relied heavily on the ideas “American Indians are inherently ridiculous” and “ugly, man-hungry spinsters are an endless source of hilarity.” I have not read it in a long time, but I suspect that it has not aged well.

    Here is a trivia challenge for you: Was does this strip have in common with “Fantastic Four”?

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    The answer is that both had characters based on John Carradine. In “Tumbleweeds,” one of the characters was a professional gambler, clearly based on Carradine in the film “Stagecoach.” In the third issue of “Fantastic Four,” the villain Miracle Man is unmistakably drawn to look like Carradine in his horror roles.

  • Rob says:

    Yeah, this is pretty much my childhood. I still have a box of Peanuts and a box of Doonesbury paperbacks (including Action Figure which came with, well, an action figure of Uncle Duke).

    Also in a box somewhere: all my Mad paperbacks, including those wonderful, b&w, crappily-printed reprints of the Kurtzman-comic version — which, like Peanuts, is long since available in finer reprint form, but there’s something nostalgic about those paperbacks as a gateway into something cool…

  • Thelonious_Nick says:

    I loved those books as a kid (I had that very Peanuts you posted, as well as a partner one with a green cover). I used to go to garage sales with my mom on Saturday mornings and would usually be able to pick up a couple of the comic strip books for a quarter. I had quite a collection!

    I’ve also found my kids enjoy them too–tough to find new ones, but old ones are available in a variety of places for not much money.

    My kids prefer Peanuts (as they should), Wizard of Id, and Fred Bassett.

    They are somewhere between indifferent and actively disinterested to B.C., Blondie, Beetle Bailey, Dennis the Menace.

    My wife wouldn’t let me show them the really awesome Andy Capp book due to every strip featuring either ale-drinking or wife-beating.

  • ArghSims says:

    I also had a lot of the Peanut books. For some reason I liked Crock, along with the other Parker/Hart strips.

    But the paperbacks I REALLY loved were the Mad books. I didn’t have many, as my mom didn’t care for those.

  • Adam Farrar says:

    My folks had many of these reprint books of Peanuts and a Sad Sack or two. But they also had one Pogo book which was really my only exposure to the strip for years. I flipped back through it and noticed that a few drawings that were not part of the strips. To my uneducated eye, they appeared to have been created for the book to either bridge the strips or emphasize something. When the Complete Pogo series was announced, I wrote Fantagraphics asking if these would be included but never heard back.

  • King of the Moon says:

    The Peanuts books and those wide Garfield books,

    I re-read those to pieces.

  • Brad says:

    I also had many pf those paperbacks. Adam, you’re right that some of the art in that Pogo book never appeared in the strip (the bit with the elephant, the donkey and the gingerbread man), but was created for the second Pogo softcover, I Go Pogo.

    Gordo likewise had extra art in his first compilation, so much so it became uneconomic to continue.

    As for Tumbleweeds, the early years are the best. Ryan did some impressive action shots, but as time went on he just got lazy. My mother’s favorite character was Clodwell Gunkley. (“Hi ho!”) Incidentally one of Jim Davis’ early jobs was as assistant to Ryan. You can see similar rhythms in Garfield and Tumbleweeds.

  • Ward Hill Terry says:

    We had a lot of paperback reprint comic strip books! I loved them! Peanuts, Wizard of Id, BC, Andy Capp, Garfield, Doonesbury, then Bloom County, Foxtrot, then buying my daughter Big Nate and Cul De Sac!
    I had one Tumbleweeds book, and it was in one of our daily papers. It took a while, but the strip really grew on me. Ryan created some unique characters, even though the strip was based on cliches of movie and TV westerns.
    One strip that has stuck with me was with the undertaker and gravedigger characters. The gravedigger (what was his name?) was always drawn about halfway into the ground, and was something of a philosopher. When I am doing a tedious, but necessary chore in the yard or the house, I often think of his response to why he didn’t answer when called, “I was in the agony of creation.”

  • jon rollins says:

    Early Family Circus was actually really good.

  • Rob says:

    For me it was Bloom County. A thousand jokes must have gone over my head but my god did I love it and have all the books (even the ones that overlapped the others which was so annoying as a kid). I can’t say it hasn’t helped me, it’s the reason I know who Phyllis Schlafly is and that’s something.

  • Steve from Palm Springs says:

    Early Tumbleweeds was a pretty good strip, based on the paperback I found in a used book store. So good that I tracked down a big compilation of Ryan’s later work … and it wasn’t nearly as charming or funny. Plus, the mechanical lettering, ugh.

  • Bill the Splut says:

    I bought a couple of Doonesbury comps from 1976 in the early 90s. One involved all the characters in the American Revolution (that Bicentennial thing, ya know). Jokes about Colonial Zonker were pretty funny–pretty sure he worked on Washington’s hemp farm.

    Another had a lot about the Vietnam Airlift, when hundreds of kids left orphaned by the war were taken out as Saigon fell to be adopted in the US. It took a while for it to sink in that the adopted character was a girl named Kim. 20+ years later–she married Mike. Now THAT’S continuity!

  • Thelonious_Nick says:

    Bill the Splut, you just blew my mind with that bit about Mike’s wife Kim being the same little girl. Amazing.

    I started reading Doonesbury as a teenager (late 1980s) and delving into its older strips has provided me with many similar moments. (I remember when I saw some of the very early strips from the first year or two and realized Mike, B.D., and Zonker were once roommates, and how all the rest of the strip had spread out from there.)

    I wonder if there’s ever been another strip with more careful continuity than Doonesbury?

  • Jack says:

    The fact that someone up there is talking about the Duke related Doonesbury collection that came with an action figure was part of their childhood just makes me feel really damn old.

    Doonesbury’s continuity was fantastic, and the Kim thing-I first saw her in the late 80s or early 90s as a teenager, dealing with people making racist assumptions about her in high school, but I’m not shocked she appeared earlier-is an amazing example of it.

    I started reading Doonesbury in 1988 or so, with a series of strips talking about Al Gore’s run for president, and I will never forget the strip that started my run with Sam Nunn clearing his throat and the caption that read “His understudy froze in horror.” God I loved that strip.