Sunday, July 30, 2017

Comics

When I was six I could draw Popeye. The only time I was popular in my entire sixteen-year school career was in the first grade because I would draw Popeye on paper towels for everybody. Unfortunately, by high school that no longer worked. Still, cartooning became a big hobby. By the time I was ten I was drawing entire comic books. Forget that nobody read them. (It’s kinda like when I started this blog.)

When I became a teenager I thought seriously about cartooning as a profession. The idea of having my own comic strip was very intoxicating. I’d seen articles about Charles Shulz (creator of PEANUTS) and it seemed like a great life. You have this nice art studio at home with large picture windows looking out at lush gardens or the beach or the Alps (depending on which side of the house your office was situated). You send in your panels to a big syndicate and voila, your comic strip appears in 300 newspapers. You’re right there with HI & LOIS and LITTLE LULU. Hollywood eventually comes calling, an animated Christmas special follows, a series, and then the Holy Grail – action figures!

But, I thought, there’s a problem. I would have to come up with seven jokes. Every week. Like clockwork. Who could possibly perform under that kind of unimaginable pressure?

Later I became a Top 40 disc jockey where I had to come up with a new joke every three minutes for four hours, six days a week. For way less than the artist of BLONDIE makes.

From there I gravitated towards sitcom writing. Here I was expected to come up with thirty or forty jokes a day for ten months.

Recently I picked up the comic section of a major newspaper. It had been years since I scanned the funny pages. Without naming names, I was shocked by how bad they were, how painfully unfunny they were. And these are the current cream of the crop? Getting a national syndicate to pick up your comic strip is like winning the lottery only with worse odds. So you’d expect each strip would kick ass.

I read THE NEW YORKER every week and their one-panel cartoons are always funny and sharp. Their batting average is probably .900. But that’s what you’d expect. THE NEW YORKER has the pick of cartoonists. Why doesn’t the same high standard apply to the comic strip world?

Or is it me? Or is the level of humor designed strictly for kids? There are a few exceptions but for the most part I was disappointed.

And then it occurred to me, back when I was such a fan of comic strips were they any better? Was BEETLE BAILEY really funny? I thought THE PATTY DUKE SHOW was hilarious back then, too.

What do you think about comic strips? Do you have a favorite? Has the quality of a favorite gone downhill over time? Is it lame comic strips and not the internet that is killing the newspaper industry?

Comic books were different. I favored the action hero genre – Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Isis (you know – the classics). They didn’t have to be funny. I had MAD magazine for that (although there's a rumor that MAD is folding.  That would be tragic.) 

But it seems to me daily comic strips could be better. Underground comics are. I know what you’re thinking – then why don’t I submit a comic strip? Are you kidding? That’s seven jokes a week.

75 comments :

Jerod Butt said...

I was always a fan of GARFIELD as a kid. Now I might read the occasional strip, and it might be amusing, but not necessarily funny.

I also watched GARFIELD AND FRIENDS in those days. I found that show online recently, and the Garfield segments seem to hold up better than the strips or US ACRES. US ACRES had a lot of musical numbers which usually killed any chance of comedy.

I have generally the same reaction as you towards today's comic strips. I thought GET FUZZY was the funniest when I did read it. Now that I don't read newspapers anymore, I haven't read that strip either.

If there is one strip that tickles my funnybone occasionally now it would be PEARLS BEFORE SWINE, but I wait fore it to appear on my Facebook page, so I might go a few weeks without reading it.

Sean MacDonald said...

Part of the problem is that the original creators of many of the old comic strips have passed away, leaving behind the comic strip that has the name that people have heard of, while someone new (and far less talented) takes over.

Popeye, for example, wasn't the same ever since E.C. Segar died in 1938. Before that, it was an incredibly funny comic strip. Then after the Popeye cartoons came along, everyone just remembers Popeye as an incredibly mediocre cartoon.

Blondie and Dennis the Menace haven't been funny since I was born, but apparently the early stuff was a lot better (but not so great that I want to seek it out, unlike Popeye).

There have been a few "new" comic strips-- meaning after the great newspaper comic strip boom-- (like Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes, and Dilbert... maybe also Pearls Before Swine) that have managed to be funny, but in general, people want the same things they've always had in their comics pages. So, whether it's the "never was funny, no not ever" Family Circus or other comic strips that were really funny once but have fallen hard into mediocrity, these comic strips can't really be eliminated no matter how unfunny they are.

Once upon a time, comic strips used to be one of the main selling points of a newspaper. And newspapers were big business. So, newspapers sought out the best comic strips. Now, newspapers are dying and they're likely unable to pay the big bucks to attract the next Charles Schultz or Walt Kelly (the creator of the much loved comic strip Pogo).

Also, for fans of comic strips, I recommend King Aroo, a mostly forgotten now comic strip (1950-1965). The first year or two of it is hilarious (like Pogo but without the real-world commentary).

https://www.amazon.com/King-Aroo-1-Jack-Kent/dp/1600105815







slgc said...

Close to Home is consistently entertaining, and often laugh out loud funny - http://www.gocomics.com/closetohome

strutzby said...

The best way to enjoy comics these days is to enjoy them ironically: https://joshreads.com/

Anonymous said...

Th problem with comparing to today's comics with yesteryears is if you look at the totality they weren't much better.
But if you looked at the best, they were far superior than today's- and not because they were funnier.
they told stories, or had characters you were interested in (the Katzenjammer Kids, Blondie, Little Orphan Annie, Dick Tracy all became known to the whole country because of their characters).
But more importantly, they were about the human condition.
Take three of the best - Peanuts (who ever laughed out loud at a Peanuts cartoon?), Lil Abner, and Pogo.
Nothing close to those three today - and not because they made you laugh but because they made you smile (or sometimes cry).
True genius you don't see today.

Boomska316 said...

"I had MAD magazine for that (although there's a rumor that MAD is folding. That would be tragic.)" Unfortunately the quality of MAD has gone way down, too.

Charles H Bryan said...

CALVIN AND HOBBES, PEANUTS, THE FAR SIDE and 70s DOONESBURY are my favorites of the great age of newspaper strips. I think the decline of the industry has led to the decline of comic strips there.

There are some good online comic "strips". (They're weekly, and don't contain recurring characters, as such.) THIS MODERN WORLD and TOM THE DANCING BUG are quite good political comics. BUN TOONS by Ty Templeton sometimes focuses on current comic book events and news, but he has a number of more personal stories, pop culture, and politics that anyone could enjoy. He is a great cartoonist. Yes, he draws himself and his family as anthropomorphic rabbits.

Different arena, but Image Comics' THE FIX, by Nick Spencer and Steve Liber is smart and damn funny. It features several morally challenged characters. It's a continuing story, so start with the first issue or the first collection.

Nate said...

My favorite Newspaper strips are :

1. Orson's Farm by Jim Davis - outstanding jokes with no central character like Garfield.

2. Animal Crackers.

These above strips made as videos is very poorly done. They have contrived "stories" with participation of all characters in each video. But as just newspaper strips they are superb - shortly in 3 panels they pack more humor than the videos.


Rock Golf said...

Like sitcoms,comic strip have less room to work with in recent decades. Newspaper pages are about 30% smaller even in broadsheet. So the cartoons that could once hold 4 panels now have only 3 or 2 panels to get their point across.

johnachziger said...

I've been reading the comics for 60+ years and most of today's strips are mediocre at best. The classics have been coasting on their reputations for decades. Calvin and Hobbes was the last great strips. But there are a couple really good ones going.

Dog Eat Doug is my current favorite. It's about a puppy and a baby (and some really weird cats).
Get Fuzzy is laugh out loud funny (but the daily strips have been reruns for years).
Pickles is about an old fart and his wife. Hits really close to home for us old fogies.
Baby Blues is also hilarious.

There's a couple online web sites that carry just about all the strips available.

Miss Daisy said...

Most mature, working adults have better things to do than read childish comics.

Mike said...

there's a rumor that MAD is folding
MAD is always folding. The fold-in is at the back of the comic.

estiv said...

I agree with most of what's being said here, but will add something else. For the non-humorous ones, the quality of the drawing is way down from the golden age of daily strips. I remember looking at something like Brenda Starr in its later years and thinking that it must be a classic case of when you grow up and the things of your childhood seem lame, because the drawing seemed kind of amateurish. Then somewhere I saw a few panels from the 1950s, and nope, they really were well-drawn, with interesting perspectives, characters that looked human and not gargoyle-ish, interesting use of shadows, etc. Which probably just means that yeah, the most talented people weren't interested in the field anymore.

Andrew Ross said...

If you were a cartoonist with any talent these days, why would you even consider working in the newspaper comic business these days? Newspapers are dying and they're going to take their comics sections with them. If you become a web cartoonist, the odds of you making a living are roughly the same as breaking into syndicate cartooning, but you 100% own the copyright, you can use as much space as you want, and you don't have to deal with fussy editors who are terrified of Grandma calling the paper and cancelling their subscription because your strip replaced Mandrake the Magician or you used the word "crud."

CRL said...

What's a newspaper?

Anonymous said...

Due to the impossibility of breaking in (newspapers are limited in space & readers "revolt" any time an old comic is threatened to be removed), new comic authors are publishing as webcomics instead. The barrier to entry is minimal (anyone can host a blog, right?), and online advertising and merchandising for the most popular strips can be a full-time job. Webcomics also let you target your audience, instead of having to be general enough to appeal to anyone reading the newspaper. Some of the largest and best (in my opinion) are:

Penny Arcade (focuses on video games) http://www.penny-arcade.com/
PvPOnline (fairly general humor, though set at a game company) http://www.pvponline.com/
The Oatmeal (rarely updated, but when done it's in long form that you'd never see in a paper) http://theoatmeal.com/comics
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (varies from jokes about the futility of life to scatological jokes) http://www.smbc-comics.com/
XKCD (billed as a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language) http://xkcd.com/

R Dougan said...

Ah, the current state of comic strips. Now there is a depressing subject. I loved reading them about 30-40 years ago, but today I avoid them like the plague. I know there is probably the odd gem, but you have to wade through too much mediocrity to find them. Sad, but it is the inevitable end of an era.

Anonymous said...

How is it possible that no one mentioned Dilbert?

Earl Boebert said...

Bloom County is the only decent one left, IMHO. The current narrative arc is pure genius, and the latest "photo" on Facebook is simply stunning.

KoHoSo said...

I second Jerod above that Pearls Before Swine and Get Fuzzy are the only ones left worth reading (at least that I've seen anywhere). I'd rather go back and read old Calvin & Hobbes than bother with any of the others.

ScottyB said...

I miss Calvin & Hobbes and Bloom County. For me, the newspaper comics haven't been worth looking at since those two strips went away. I do look at the daily strips almost every day since I do work in the newspaper business, but there's nothing in there actually *funny*, and the funny that does happen isn't anywhere near consistent. I remember someone once saying during the 1960s that 'Nancy' was an experiment by scientists in the Soviet Union to develop the joke. It's kinda like that with today's strips.

Brian Fies said...

Now you're in my playground. Comic strips have had a rough couple of decades. Newspapers keep getting smaller and smaller, leaving less space for art and turning most strips into "talking heads." In the old days, great adventure comics (Flash Gordon, Prince Valiant) got a giant page to themselves; now they're crammed into corners.

In addition, the general decline of the newspaper business has hurt. Newspapers in two-paper towns used to compete to sign the best comics. Now there aren't any two-paper towns, circulation is way down, and the rate syndicates pay cartoonists hasn't changed in 40 years. All that combined means that newspaper syndication is no longer the top of the mountain it once was. A few people earn a decent living at it, but there'll probably never be another Schulz because there just aren't that many papers or readers left to make a creator that rich and successful. A lot of the best cartoonists have moved on to greener pastures, like graphic novels (which don't pay well either, but offer prestige) and webcomics (no money OR prestige, but editorial freedom).

I suspect part of what you're seeing is also selective memory. There've always been more crummy strips than good ones, you just remember the good ones.

Also, comic strips have gone through a similar evolution as literature, art, music, even TV: unique idiosyncratic voices trumped skill. Some point to "The Far Side," "Cathy" or "Doonesbury," all of which were considered poorly drawn when they started; others even point to "Peanuts," which was sold to newspapers on the basis of its simple, clean drawing style that, the syndicate bragged, could be shrunken way down and still be legible. What the artist had to say was more important than how they said it.

Put that all together--shrinking size, eroding market, simpler style, changing taste--and you end up with a lot of comic strips drawn by people who can't draw. (Or who LOOK like they can't draw--big distinction. Some cartoonists whose style looks simple are actually masters of the art.) There's still good stuff being published, but I think most reasonable observers recognize that the Golden Age of Comic Strips is long over and ain't coming back.


YEKIMI said...

Mad Mag isn't going anywhere....except to the West Coast at the end of the year. Only ONE employee is making the move, all the current employees are out the door at the end of the year. From Tom Richmond's blog: http://www.tomrichmond.com/2017/06/13/mad-moving-news/ and a 2nd story: http://www.tomrichmond.com/2017/06/26/bill-morrison-announced-as-new-mad-editor/

Mad has actually had a resurgence lately, mostly due to the current Trump mania and their lampooning him.

YEKIMI said...

Oh, and I've been a MAD reader since the late 60s. The only problem they have is that a lot of the original "gang of idiots" and some of the second generation "idiots" are reaching their expiration dates and moving on another plane of existence. I do agree that some of the humor seems to have lost its bite but a lot of it still makes me laugh out loud.

DwWashburn said...

My two favorites are "Arlo and Janis" and "Mother Goose and Grimm". Grimm is in our local paper but I have to go online to find Arlo. That is disappointing since the local paper carries trash like "Mallard Filmore" and "Rhymes with Orange".

Bruce P. said...

I don't know, Miss Daisy. Your response sounded pretty childish to me.

Laura said...

Miss Daisy,

The post is about Comics and various readers are sharing their favorites. If you hate them, take a hike. Don't take a dump on all of us who like them.

This fun blog by Ken, can do without your conceited comments.




Jeff said...

Daisy dear - I am immature and love reading this immature blog and the immature comments of other readers :P

So why don't you bugger off and troll some other blog.

Anonymous said...

The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes. Sadly, both deceased.

RyderDA said...

Comic strips are less about jokes these days, and more about characters and their stories (see ZITS and FUNKY WINKERBEAN, and CALVIN AND HOBBS and BLOOM COUNTY) -- but then, I thought you would have liked that. Those bring you in and get you engaged, making you read week after week (isn't that what you preach?). CHARLIE BROWN was the ultimate character comic, and it started i the late 1950's. Still... I personally miss the hilarious insanity of THE FAR SIDE (though BIZARRO comes close).

Back when I lived in a town that had a newspaper, I read the comics loyally, and few made me laugh. DILBERT used to, but Mr. Adams has stopped being funny, smart or clever (though he thinks he still is). Now I can only read comics on line, and that's not fun, so I don't do it -- except for XKCD (but I'm a geek, and it's a geeky cartoon).

I agree, I have higher expectations for strips for the reasons you describe. It's probably harder to break into the comic strip business than the sitcom writing business, which is really saying something, meaning new stuff is less likely to show up. Sad.

Kai K said...

There are still several good cartoons out there. Not all of them are constantly fantastic, but even the Peanuts had bad days.

I recommend Pearls Before Swine, Heart Of The City, The Norm, Lio, the current Bloom County and the glorious Phoebe And Her Unicorn (the original title was Heavenly Nostrils).

Give it a try.

Glenn said...

Calvin & Hobbes was one of the few comics that could make me laugh out loud.

Jeff Maxwell said...

I was addicted to reading the Sunday funnies, but I don't remember ever laughing at them. It was just fun as a kid to be in their worlds.

But MAD! That was where I learned the meaning of laugh-out-loud. Killer satire, silly slapstick, funny illustrations...they did it all. Does anybody remember the MAD paperbacks? My older brother had a few. They remain some of the funniest things I've ever read.

Thomas said...

It's because the new talent is webcomics. There's some excellent ones, too - xkcd for geeks, or Buttersafe to really capture the fog of modern life, for just two examples.

The old talent? It either flamed and burned out (Far Side, Calvin & Hobbes) or it's trundling along in mediocrity for far too long. Holding onto a declining amount of space, as the newspaper industry collapses around them.

A comment earlier suggested there's no money in webcomics. He has been misinformed. The Oatmeal made its creator wealthy in its first year.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Other than Peanuts, which I saw primarily in book form, I didn't read comics as a child, and the newspapers my parents got didn't really have comics sections (or if they did, they were discarded before I ever saw them). When I did see them, I wasn't that interested. Like others here, though, I've liked the flowering of web comics: XKCD is must-reading for many of my friends (there are extra jokes that pop up if you roll the mouse over the comics). The Oatmeal. A now discontinued site called The Parking Lot Is Full. Hyperbole and a Half. A friend used to swear by Homestar Runner. That's where the new talent is going.

wg

Mike Barer said...


I was so excited that there was a Batman cartoon strip in the Seattle PI when I was on grade school. I lived in Walla Walla at the time, but I would walk up Palouse Street to the Thrifty Drug to buy the Sunday Seattle paper.

Ben Koch, PhD said...

Pearls Before Swine is consistently good. For my money, the best is Internet-only: Least I Could Do.

Jim said...

A couple I haven't seen mentioned yet, that are worth a look:

In no particular order.

9 Chickweed Lane. A definite YMMV title, he has the ability to jump around from topic to topic at breakneck speed, while yet occasionally beating some of them to death. But it's witty, thought provoking and plays with the medium consistently.

Frazz. Highly thought provoking, whimsical and down to earth. Makes GREAT use of the Sunday panel that no one ever sees too...

Baldo. In these times where it seems so many are getting into the Us vs. Them mentality, this is a strip that does a terrific job of showing that "they" are really just like us...

Non Sequitur. Possibly the smartest strip going.

Marc said...

I once worked as assistant features editor for a newspaper and had comics under my control. One of the things I discovered is that you can completely revamp the rest of the paper and most people could care less. You suggest you're even thinking about removing someone's favorite comic strip and the letters to the editor page will be tied up for weeks. People's attachment to all those "legacy" strips used to puzzle the hell out of me. Did anybody reading these really find HI AND LOIS funny? Or BLONDIE or SNUFFY SMITH or BEETLE BAILEY or DENNIS THE MENACE? Strips that used up all their gag ideas decades ago and have just been doing endless variations on them for way too many years? Strips that are two or more artists away from their creators?

It took me a while to realize that what most people are looking for in comic strips isn't originality. It's familiarity. All those legacy strips are the equivalent of comfort food for a lot of readers. They want the same old familiar gags and the same old familiar characters and the same old familiar situations. (I think the same thing is true of people whose preferences in television are largely stuck in the past. The people who would rather watch the same old ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW or MASH rerun for the twenty-fifth time than watch anything new.)

That's why it's murder to get a new strip into the paper. Aside from reader preferences, syndicates prefer to keep the old stuff going and going and going, whether by handing the strip over to a new artist or by keeping it in reruns as PEANUTS CLASSICS or whatever. It makes it hell for new artists and new strips to get a break. Cathy Guisewhite, who drew the strip CATHY for many years, endeared herself to comic strip artists everywhere when, upon ending her strip, she refused to allow it to continue under a new artist or to go into perpetual reruns as CATHY CLASSICS. She said she wanted new comic strips to have a chance.

I did my best to inject some new blood into the comics page, but it wasn't easy when so many people's definition of a good comic strip is that they have to remember reading it since they were a kid, and a bad comic strip is anything new or that they haven't seen before.

There are some good strips out there. Just takes a little searching. And the internet has made it easier. You're no longer stuck with the strips your local newspaper opts to run.

Kirk said...

A lot of comics simply run out of steam. The cartoonist gets burned out and hands over the gag writing to some hack who knows the formula, all the strip's tropes, but not how to wring any originality out of that formula. Or if he DOES know how, he won't because risk longtime fans who think the original cartoonist is still doing all the work. I mean, I'm sure Dagwood getting lousy service at that greasy spoon diner he goes to was funny the first time it was done in the 1930s or forever, but after 70 or so years, maybe he should think about eating at Subway.

Kirk said...

The older the comic strip, the more unfunny it seems to be. The formula just gets milked to death. Take Blondie. I'm sure the first time Dagwood got bad service at that greasy spoon diner, it was funny, but after 70 or so years, he really should think about switching to Subway.

Kirk said...

Ken, I'm sorry if you keep getting the same comment from me. The particular computer I'm on is slow today, I'm waiting forever for the that little circle to stop moving, and, on top of everything else, I forgot all about the comment moderation. I thought my comment was simply not getting through!

I feel like I'm in a comic strip.

Eric J said...

"...they told stories, or had characters you were interested in (the Katzenjammer Kids, Blondie, Little Orphan Annie, Dick Tracy all became known to the whole country because of their characters).
But more importantly, they were about the human condition." [Anonymous]

Others have said the same thing. In fact, Ken preaches it all the time on this blog. All his show successes are CHARACTER driven. You can't do it all with jokes. Calvin telling jokes to an imaginary Hobbes isn't going to cut it.

VP81955 said...

To Sean MacDonald: Your criticism of the "Popeye" cartoons is partially unfounded. The Max Fleischer-era, black-and-white Popeyes were wonderfully drawn and written, with all sorts of delightful gags. (I fondly recall the cartoon where Popeye is babysitting a sleeping Swee'Pea, hoping to quiet the child's surroundings, and a Bing Crosby-Russ Columbo crooner is singing -- "Out of Nowhere," IIRC -- on a radio. Popeye punches the speaker, and the punch goes through the wires to the studio and the microphone and knocks the singer out cold.) The '40s Popeyes began a decline in quality and storytelling.

One of my favorite comics was "Tank MacNamara," a sports-themed strip from the '70s and '80s that lampooned jocks-turned-sportscasters and the entire sports industry.

Anonymous said...

I recently went in the wayback machine and checked out "The Wizard of Id". Even as a teenager, I found it not only funny but somehow deeper than most of the strips of the day. I think it's still sharp and funny now, maybe more so.

Maybe most of the strips were pretty mundane, but I grew up in the largest area of the country only served by one TV station--which made our options for viewing "On" and "Off" and hindered remote controlled television sales for years--so the daily paper competition was stuff like playing, reading, listening to the radio. And I was reader, so I read the cereal boxes at breakfast. And I read those strips, too. Many were serials: Mary Worth, Mark Trail, Dondi. Weren't meant to be funny. And most of the funny ones weren't that funny, but I enjoyed some more than others. Always liked Sad Sack. And BC. Family Circus, Hi and Lois--some of those were the newsprint equivalent of The Brady Bunch.

Fortunately when I was so young, the boomer metro station was still running OTR. Bedtime wouldn't have been bedtime without "The Life of Riley". Nothing more than an audible comic strip. No wonder Wizard of Id seemed deep.

Sam's Kid said...

I'm 58 and have been reading the Sunday Funnies since the early 1960s before I could read. Back then I was just fascinated by the artwork in Prince Valiant and didn't need to read any words to follow Henry. My older siblings would sometimes read the rest to me until I could manage it on my own. Over the years I've kept up with Beatle Bailey, Blondie & Dagwood, Hi & Lois, Dick Tracy, The Phantom . . . and still stay with the beautifully illustrated Prince Valiant. Cathy kept me reading during my post-college days and I followed the family in For Better or For Worse like they were distant family members. Calvin & Hobbes recaptured the joys of childhood imagination and Bloom County made me laugh . . . and does again in Berkeley Breathed's current online meanderings. All of those Sunday Funnies can't be funny for everyone, but everyone should be able to find something to give them a giggle in those pages. We NEED something to give us a giggle these days.

Professor H said...

What I don't see mentioned so far is that many of the comics in the newspapers, or online at gocomics.com, are reprints. The original artist or writer is retired or passed away, but their old comics live on. Peanuts, For Better or For Worse and many others are old stories. Doonesbury strips are retreads except for Sundays, the one day my local newspaper doesn't carry it. And once in a newspaper, they don't ever change.

We find them unfunny because we've seen it all before. If it was original at one time, many others have since immitated the gag. Or even the artist repeated it. They can't be timely, because the time in which they were written has passed.

But the syndicators are not the only outlet option. Many new and innivative comics are online. While many are once a week hobbies for the artist or writer, other creators have found ways to monetize the output, at least to make a living, coming out daily or close to it: Questionable Content; Wilde Life; Quantum Vibe: TMI ("too much information"); XKCD; PhD Comics; and Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal are just a few of the entertaining web pages I have bookmarked to waste to much of every evening.

Robert Forman said...

The best comic strip in recent years was Cul De Sac by Richard Thompson. I believe it to be one of the all time greats. Unfortunately it was short lived because its creator developed Parkinson's. He died last year. A true loss. Check it out and I'll bet you agree.

If you enjoy occasionally mocking legacy comics you should try The Comics Curmudgeon:
https://joshreads.com

BobinVT said...

The enduring quality of Blondie is amazing. Through multiple artist changes, the quality of the animation remains unchanged. You would never know that Chic Young passed away years ago. The jokes are repetitive, but who cares? My all time favorite strip. Gotta love J.C. Dithers.

Loved Peanuts, but only when the central theme was the neuroses of Charlie Brown, who was the manifestation of all of Schulz's human failings. Once Snoopy became a dominant character, the strip really lost a lot.

Beetle Bailey was banned from our local newspaper over 30 years ago for being sexist. Miss Buxley! Hello! It's a cartoon strip! Men like sexy women! Apparently Orville Snorkel was too much for some people.

Of course Calvin and Hobbes was great. Show me someone who hated Calvin and Hobbes and I'll show you a jerk.

Finally, Zits by Jim Borgman. Top notch animation and humor. Particularly for anyone who had male children. He's a great political cartoonist too.

Anonymous said...

@ Miss Daisy
Look up the name Fiorello LaGuardia -I don't think anyone would accuse him of not being a matur,e working adult.
You know what he did? He read the comics over the radio to all of New York City - 7 million people.
And they loved it. And so did he. Maybe you should watch.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xH9tCcrrcak&t=8s

Mike B. said...

A strip that started this year in print after a few years after a webcomic is Breaking Cat News. It's very good.

Mark said...


You should check out Stephen King's prescient foreword to a Far Side collection from the 80's. He talked about it being a golden age of comic strips (Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes). For most of the 20th Century, everybody read the comics. Everybody talked about the comics. By the end of the 90s, the strips had lost all impact.

Brian said...

For me and every other engineer, the favorite has got to be Dilbert. I use to take them and change the words so that they pertained to whatever company I was at the time. I used to really enjoy the funny pages back when I was a kid. Kind of sad, I never read them anymore.

MikeN said...

Newspapers seem interested in putting in comic strips for adult audiences. The result is I won't subscribe to the newspaper, because I don't want my kids seeing them. It's OK if it's something like Doonesbury, but these sex themed ones are not something they need to be seeing.

Cap'n Bob said...

I've been reading comics for almost 65 years and I think the ones from my childhood are miles better than the garbage out today--with a few notable exceptions. I one bought a stack of 100 newspaper comic sections from the mid-1930s and they were stunning. Even the lesser strips were much better drawn than 90% of today's fare. I understand the changing dynamics of newspaper publishing and that perhaps the day will come when there aren't any strips. But I can't believe tripe like MUTTS or PHOEBE AND HER UNICORN are being purchased even in a down market. By the way, and despite its popularity, I hate PEARLS BEFORE SWINE.

Markus said...

Not sure where else to put this, maybe make it a monday-friday question...

David Misch has on his website his script for the unproduced seventh episode of the ZAZ classic "Police Squad!" series (they got cancelled after six):

http://davidmisch.com/television/police-squad/

Link to the PDF is at the bottom.
Could you direct this style of comedy? Or write it?

Donald Benson said...

The size of the broadsheet page itself has shrunk dramatically over the years, so a Sunday strip is now not much larger than a daily strip was back in the day.

Comic strips, comic books, candy bars, orange juice "half gallons", television programs ... all have shrunk steadily over the course of a generation. And don't get me started on Crackerjack prizes.

Donald Benson said...

Tank is still running, and you'd do well to check it out. Writer Jeff Millar passed away in 2012; artist Bill Hinds now writes as well and does a good job of balancing sports satire with Tank's own adventures.

Donald Benson said...

I've always been one of the guys who read all the comics; even the soaps (although that had something to do with well-drawn girls. Juliet Jones's sister Eve was clearly modeled on Monroe). Now, thanks to a couple of syndicate websites, I go through a few dozen daily. Some new, some newish, and a bunch of venerables.

We're living in a golden age of reprints, with excellent selections of some strips and ongoing complete libraries of others. Many are period pieces but still stand up. If you're a fan of any of the following, you can run down a volume or more of all of these, usually in very handsome editions: PRINCE VALIANT, POPEYE, TERRY AND THE PIRATES, KING AROO, POGO (the complete newspaper runs -- Kelly would edit and rearrange for the paperback books), BARNABY, THE HEART OF JULIET JONES, KRAZY KAT, MARY PERKINS ON STAGE, BLONDIE (including her premarital flapper years), ALLY OOP, DICK TRACY, GASOLINE ALLEY (The charming 1920s; the books are titled WALT AND SKEEZIX), FLASH GORDON, BUCK ROGERS, RIP KIRBY, WASH TUBBS, CAPTAIN EASY, TERRY AND THE PIRATES, THE LITTLE KING, NANCY (the 1940s), AGENT X9 (the Dashiell Hammett years), MICKEY MOUSE, DENNIS THE MENACE, PEANUTS (the whole 26 volumes are out now), LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE, and even INSIDE WOODY ALLEN.

If you have a favorite old strip, ask at your local comic store or check online.

Donald Benson said...

Should note that after King Aroo faded away, Jack Kent became an extremely successful author / illustrator of children's books. There are two volumes of reprints that cover the first four years.

Andrew said...

I grew up in the 80's, which were like a golden ago of comic strips. You had Calvin and Hobbes, Bloom County, and the Far Side in particular. When I occasionally revisit those comics, they still hold up. Works of genius.

The only contemporary one that I still laugh at on occasion is Dilbert. It's funny because it's accurate - I have worked with people like that.

I kept up with Peanuts while it lasted. Even though it had lost its creative momentum, it still brought a smile, and felt like a tradition worth keeping. I was genuinely emotional when Schultz died, a day or so after his last cartoon ran. It was like a big part of my childhood was gone.

J. Allison said...

@Brian Fies pretty much said what I came to say, so go read his comment! The only other thing I'll add is that the mid-80's seem like the halcyon days to me (of course this is when I was in college, so it's kind of the halcyon days for everything). We had new Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, Doonesbury, and Bloom County. Good times.

Steven said...

Outside of collecting the Calvin and Hobbes books when I was growing up in the 90's I didn't read comics at all.

A passing glance at them in the years since has only confirmed your point Ken that most of the new ones are bland and unfunny.

The old stalwarts such as Garfield and Dilbert and others I'm unfamiliar with are tired and unfunny due to years of overexposure. That's why Calvin and Hobbes will always be my favorite: Not only was it consistently funny and done with integrity, but Bill Watterson had the foresight to end the strip after a great 10 year run. Thus it never really declined in quality.

As others have mentioned, Pearls Before Swine has a self deprecating quality about it that's pretty funny.

WOKcreativeWritings said...

This would be a great place for you to post a new comic strip. Maybe a Sunday Funny. One joke a week!

Daniel said...

I read the New York Times, so I only sporadically get to see comic strips on paper, but here are some I like:

In print:

Rose is Rose
Rhymes with Orange

In non-U.S. papers (or online):

The Realist by Asaf Hanuka
Tom Gauld's strip for the Guardian

Web comics (mostly on WebToons):

Phoebe and Her Unicorn
Power Ballad
Space Boy

The last two are serialized, continuing stories and not always humorous, but they're very much worth reading.

Cedric Hohnstadt said...

As others have pointed out, some of the best talent has moved on to webcomics. Newspaper syndication is a pale shadow of its former self. I'm a member of the National Cartoonists Society I know of some cartoonists who have daily syndicated strips appearing in major newspapers and yet they have to work day jobs just to make ends meet.

Also, the best cartoonists have to master not one but two disciplines: drawing and writing. Not many people excel at both, which really narrows the talent pool. Of the two, I think writing is the most important (Gary Larson was not a great artist but the Far Side had terrific jokes).

There's a lot of talent out there if you look for it. Off the top of my head some of the best right now are Jim Benton (http://www.jimbenton.com/page14/page14.html), Sarah Anderson (https://www.patreon.com/SarahsScribbles), Mark Parisi (https://www.offthemark.com), and Dave Coverly (https://www.speedbump.com). Much, much further down the line is my own work, where I've started posting my own gag cartoons at http://www.SketchbookSilliness.com. (Apologies for the shameless plug - feel free to delete this post if it violates any rules).

Steve said...

I don't pay much attention to comic strips but Jim Toomey's Sherman's Lagoon has been funny for years now.

Greg Ehrbar said...


Dorothy: What's so funny?

Blanche: Oh, Marmaduke. Look at how he drives that car! I love my comics. Every day, "Marmaduke" and "Apartment 3-G."

Dorothy: I haven't read "Apartment 3-G" since... 1961.

Blanche: Oh! Well, let me catch you up -- it's later the same day...

Jahn Ghalt said...

About writing 365 strips per year (as a syndicated cartoonist) Ken wrote:


I would have to come up with seven jokes. Every week. Like clockwork. Who could possibly perform under that kind of unimaginable pressure?

And then he (along with Isaacs of course) became a TV comedy writer (like a real live Rich Petrie) - and seven jokes per week looks like a piece 'o cake!

Recently I picked up the comic section of a major newspaper (and) was shocked by how bad they were

Wasn't it always so?

Subject of a study - go get a bunch of strips from 1975-79 and a bunch from 2012-17. Mix them up - with suitable controls - and get folks to rate them - get some teens, and folks in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s.

Process statistically and get an "objective result".

As for MY favorites, the general trend is that a cartoonist starts our sharp and gets stale.

First I'll cite an exception - Pickles by Brian Crane. His stuff has been consistent - I suspect he works hard and rejects much of what he comes up with. He is mostly NOT "topical" - except for broad cultural topicality - mostly about Earl and Opal (in their 60s-70s) being "behind" with computing and social media. Mostly he is all about married life, which does not date.

Scot Adams was wickedly funny at first - and dead on. Readers "protested" that Adams must be working where they worked (where has he been hiding?). Once Dilbert "took off" he had a standing offer with the head of his Dept. at Pac Bell to leave without a fight. Some moron "accepted" Adams' offer and he left (Adams, alas, NOT the moron). Dilbert has since descended into mediocrity and I'm convinced that if he still had a relevant day job that decline would have slowed.

His "golden age" was from May 1989 until June 1995 when that moron intervened.

Get a copy of "The Dilbert Principle" (1996) for some bona fide management wisdom. I will cite one corrolary of the Principle, which I find is dead on, and which I have twice cited to an actual manager "over" me:

If a manager doesn't know how to do something he assumes it must be easy

I looked up a couple items - apparently this is a paraphrase. For more see here:

http://users.rcn.com/alderete/humor/norm/dilbert-princ.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dilbert_principle

Garfield was "good" for a few years - but.....

Anonymous said...

Tour the house that Dilbert built:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43oV01a6qY8

And now, a short visit with Scott Adam's latest girlfriend. She's 28, plays five musical instruments, and graduated with a Masters of Art in Financial Economics at Berkeley:

https://www.instagram.com/kristinabasham/?hl=en

Conclusion: Fuck sitcoms! Ken, please share more of what you might know about comic strips!

–Amazedbert

Nick Archer said...

The comic strips today are all too self-aware. I miss the days when the characters were all set, and you let them into the arena and watched what happened.

Brian O. said...

70 comments here at the of this reply. For a "dying" platform (newspapers) and a "dying" medium (the funny pages) there sure seems to be strong interest. Maybe syndicates and editors ought to rethink the reader's intelligence and consider raising the bar for what is published.

Hank Gillette said...

Brian Fies is too modest to mention it, but he has a limited run comic currently running at http://www.gocomics.com/the-last-mechanical-monster?ct=v&cti=1795291. It’s an interesting concept: he continues the story of a villain in one of the Paramount Superman animated cartoons 50 years later when he finally is released from prison. Be sure to go back a couple of months to the start of the story.

Brian is also responsible for me finding http://www.comicstripoftheday.com/, where Mike Peterson takes a non-ironic and non-snarky look at several different comics (both editorial and strips) every day with his very strong commentary. I’ve added several strips to my reading list through Mike’s blog. Thanks, Brian.

I also enjoy joshreads.com for the snark, especially of the few remaining soap strips.

Current strips that I enjoy (some mentioned by others):
Arlo and Janis
Between Friends
Breaking Cat News
Brewster Rocket
Cul de Sac
(sadly discontinued due to the death of its author, but it is new to me)
Little Dog Lost (ended, but in reruns)
Retail
Scary Gary
(a 300 year-old vampire and his henchman move to the suburbs)
You Damn Kid! (webcomic at http://www.youdamnkid.com/, and probably even funnier if you were raised Catholic).

Obviously, not all of these will be to everyone’s taste, but I think it’s simply not true that there are no good comic strips left. True, there is nothing that reaches the heights of Calvin and Hobbes, but how many strips of that quality do you expect to see in a lifetime?

Dropsy N. Snide said...

MAD Magazine is part of the publishing wing that includes DC Comics. DC moved to Burbank 3 or 4 years ago, and now MAD is joining them. The current editor is a New York guy through and through, and has declined to switch coasts. He's being replaced by the man who ran the Simpsons comic book line for almost 20 years.

And to anybody who hasn't been paying attention to MAD for the last few years or decades (which, let's face it, is most people): you've been missing a lot of A+ material. And also some B material, and some C-minus material, as it always was. But A+ material for sure, including loads of biting political pieces in these days of Trump. And for those choked with nostalgia, you'll even see some of the same creative names you would have seen in any 1960s or 1970s issue of MAD, including Sergio Aragones, Al Jaffee (aged 96!), Dick DeBartolo, Paul Coker Jr, and Arnie Kogen (Newhart, Empty Nest, etc etc).

RIP Dept: Stan Hart, a MAD mainstay of the 1960s and 70s who also wrote for "The Carol Burnett Show," just died last week.

tocque said...

If I ran a newspaper, I would enlarge the funnies and make some of them full page, like a real comic section. Make it a selling point! Cut all these corners, and you'll have nothing left! Have the vintage stuff and the best of the new stuff side by side in your wonderful new expanded comic section and watch circulation rise!