You are currently browsing the comic strips category

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

§ March 18th, 2019 § Filed under comic strips § 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 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.

Yes, I know Tumbleweeds is done.

§ August 10th, 2018 § Filed under all star batman, comic strips, popeye § 9 Comments

So Dave Carter of Earth sez in response to my last post, he sez

“I wonder if kids these days get exposed to Popeye like we did when we were young? I mainly learned the basics of Popeye mythology (Popeye, Olive, Swee’Pea, Bluto/Brutus, Wimpy, spinach, etc.) though the cartoon, which ran on a local UHF station. But I’m not aware of any way a kid these days would encounter Popeye unless it is purposely placed in front of them by an adult-type.”

…And yeah, that was something I was wondering about myself the other day. Well, in sort of a roundabout way, I suppose. I was wondering if we would ever see, arising from the newspaper funny pages, a strip that would achieve the near-universal recognition and/or influence of, like, Garfield, or Peanuts, or Dilbert, or even Popeye.

I mean, sure, it’s not like the strips can’t be found, and even if people don’t have newspaper subscriptions, which nowadays is more and more likely, the comics can always be found online at the various syndication websites. But there that requires readers to go and seek the strips out, versus the strips coming into your home every day with the latest copy of the Oxnard Press-Courier (or your local equivalent). Near effortless daily access for readers of all ages compared to a readership comprised of at least slightly tech-savvy folks (or at least with tech-savvy relatives to show ’em how to get the new Marvin)…there’s going to be some attrition.

And not to mention selection…the latter group won’t be getting the full page or two of every strip in the paper, where they’ll at least be aware of Tumbleweeds, probably spending the couple of seconds to read it even if they don’t like it. Instead they’d likely pick and choose which strips they want to follow…no inadvertently scanning over strips they didn’t want to read, no basic knowledge of the strips they don’t see.

I’m making a lot of assumptions here. My thesis here essentially boils down to “comic strips aren’t the universal experience they used to be,” which I don’t think can be too heavily argued against, even if the reasons for this are up for debate. Is there going to be another licensing juggernaut like Garfield that spawns out of the traditional newspaper strip format? Or even from web-only strips? Surely there will be some marketing success with other strips, but only if they make it into other media, and not nearly on the scale of a slothful orange cat or a neighborhood filled with neurotic children.

Anyway, we were talking about Popeye. Popeye, of course, was immensely popular nearly from the get-go, with his introduction in the comic strip in 1929, and the famous cartoons, and, inexplicably, the chicken restaurant (RIP that tie-in license, by the way). But now, in 2018, like Dave said above, it seems like the number of opportunties for kids to learn about Popeye are drastically reduced.

The comic strip runs reruns of old Bud Sagendorf dailies, while still producing new Sunday strips by Hy Eisman. I don’t know how many subscribing papers Popeye has, but it can’t be too many, possibly only a fraction of the number it held in its heyday. You know, like almost every other strip.

The cartoons, which seemed ubiquitous on TV in my youth, have been relegated to the specialty channels. Not sure how often they’re shown, or what the viewership is, but certainly the numbers are lower there too.

And I don’t know how many kids are stumbling across the Official YouTube Popeye Channel…maybe some, I’m sure. Oh, and don’t forget the popular attraction in Malta built around the still-standing sets for the 1980 Popeye movie that starred Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall.

I admit some bias…I don’t see Popeye on TV or in the paper or just by happenstance over the course of my day (well, yes, except at the store), so I’m assuming nobody does. When I see anything Popeye-related, it’s when I seek it out…like renting the archival DVDs of the original cartoons from Netflix, or watching, like I did very recently, that 1980 live action adaptation (short review: beautifully designed, wondefully cast, stupefyingly presented), or buying a specific issue off the eBay.

As it turns out, when I received that very Popeye comic in the mail at the shop, my niece (who used to be the 10-year-old niece I’d occasionally mention on this site and who is now my 21-year-old niece, in case you needed another shove towards the grave) happened to stop by to say hello. I said “hey, look what I got in the mail!” and she replied “hey, Popeye!” so she definitely knew who the character was. A while later, thinking about what Dave said, I asked her about how she knew about Popeye. Her reply was that, when she was younger, her dad’s parents would sometimes let her read her dad’s comics from when he was a kid, which included the adventures of our favorite gazookus which hates all palookas. And she would see Popeye cartoons on the very same cable network I’d linked above while pooh-poohing its viewership.

So, you know, it’s Popeye. He’s too tough to be forgotten, and he’ll find a way to connect with kids somehow. Maybe the audiences aren’t are huge and widespread as they once were, and it’s not as easy to just happen across any of his material, but he and Olive and Wimpy and Bluto (and Brutus) are all still hanging in there, waiting for that next child eventually to discover what E.C. Segar created for all of us so long ago.

Now if Lex had a stuffed tiger, that would be a strip.

§ June 25th, 2014 § Filed under comic strips, lex luthor § 4 Comments

Having watched just a few weeks ago the Dear Mr. Watterson documentary on Netflix, and with Bill Watterson’s recent brief return to the the comics page, I was fairly well primed to revisit his famous Calvin & Hobbes strip. Fortunately, I own a set of the slipcased hardcovers reprinting the whole shebang and was able to satisfy this urge in short order. Unlike the esteemed Mr. Isabella, who has the astounding self-control to restrict himself to only a week’s worth of strips at a time, I would read huge amounts at any given opportunity, immersing myself in Mr. Watterson’s imagination for an hour or so.

While the strips’ run concludes with a fairly open-ended Sunday page, essentially indicating that the pals’ adventures will continue, even if we won’t see them for ourselves, there is at least one bit of closure, I think, prior to the end, with Rosalyn the babysitter. All of her previous appearances involve direct, angry (or at least highly annoyed) conflict between Rosalyn and Calvin, but in her final story sequence, Rosalyn and Calvin finally find common ground:


Ah, Calvinball. The great equalizer. It’s the one time the two characters manage to get along peacefully, bringing a happy ending of sorts to the long series of battles they’ve endured over the history of the strip. It’s no Charlie Brown finally saying “hello” to the little red-haired girl, but it’ll do.

• • •

I also recently read a handful of ’70s and ’80s Lex Luthor appearances, because I miss this version of Lex Luthor, the one with the green ‘n’ purple jumpsuit:


…who would also occasionally disguise himself like, oh, say, Kurt Vonnegut:


One of the big losses of the mid-1980s Superman reboot was losing the “fiendish schemes” of the “criminal scientist” era of Luthor, who was in at least some measure occasionally sympathetic and even funny, in favor of the cruel and unpleasant businessman Luthor. There was some slight return to the somewhat goofily-evil in-love-with-his-own-voice Luthor in the last decade or so, even to some extent in the post New 52 DC Universe, but nothing is quite the same as Lex in his green/purple tights and his bandoliers, zipping around in his rocket pack.
 
 

images from The Complete Calvin & Hobbes Volume 3 (2005) by Bill Watterson, and Action Comics #510 (August 1980) by Cary Bates, Curt Swan and Frank Chiaramonte