Good grief! Comic strips in newspapers have been making us laugh for more than a century. Since the late 1800s, readers have been entertained by the familiar characters and relevant storylines that appear in black-and-white on weekdays and color on Sundays.
Good grief! Comic strips in newspapers have been making us laugh for more than a century.
Since the late 1800s, readers have been entertained by the familiar characters and relevant storylines that appear in black-and-white on weekdays and color on Sundays.
Comic strips have long been used to start up or unwind, enjoyed with a cup of coffee or a rocking chair, and reused to wrap a gift or line a birdcage. The best are clipped, posted and saved.
They retain a very important place in the newspaper, said Allan Holtz, a comic strip historian. They still sell newspapers what they have done over the last 100 years.
Peanuts is No. 1 of all time for popularity, he said.
The work of cartoonist Charles Schulz is being celebrated by a traveling exhibit at the Museum of York County until Sept. 3. Peanuts Naturally explores the connection between the famous comic strip and the environment and nature.
Schulz was known for converting complicated issues such as pollution and ecology into simple, clever funnies through Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy and Linus.
The comic strip is arguably the longest story ever told by one human being, Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, told PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. With more than 18,250 strips in 50 years, Peanuts was longer than any epic poem, any Tolstoy novel, any Wagner opera.
Peanuts was read in more than 2,200 newspapers, including The Herald, in 75 countries and 25 languages. It is the most successful newspaper comic strip in history.
The Move to Digital
Comic strips seem to be a constant in our changing world. They are there everyday. Beloved characters never age or age with us. Storylines charm or educate us. They record history.
Holtz, 48, of Tavares, Fla., believes comic strips will stay in newspapers as long as newspapers are published.
The readership is old and they demand them, he said. But the life of a newspaper is slowly, but surely, going to come to an end. Comic strips are going to end up on your computer screen. I see us not cutting down trees.
He, like many faithful to print, resists reading comic strips online, though he shares those he finds interesting and obscure on his blog http://strippersguide.blogspot.com.
I wanted to show people that the history of the comic strip is not just Peanuts, The Far Side and for those who go farther back, Flash Gordon, said Holtz, who has authored or coauthored three books and is writing a fourth. There are so many that are interesting.
Online comic strips are edgier and go into niche subjects. Many times they appear in newspaper format. Cartoonists who are not syndicated find an audience over the web.
Whats left in the newspaper is what is appreciated by a more mature audience, Holtz said. Newspaper editors do not want to listen to criticism about the comics page so they dont get into touchy subjects.
Technology is helping with the archiving and accessibility of comic strips.
GoComics.com claims it has the webs largest catalog of syndicated newspaper strip and webcomics.
There are three options for viewing daily comics free, registered with commenting privileges and saving collections, and a paid account that emails you your favorite comics everyday. Aspiring cartoonists can share their work and receive feedback through the sites Comics Sherpa.
Readers can access popular comic strips on their cell phones. One iPhone app provides access to all daily Garfield comic strips since June 19, 1978. The days comic strip fits on the screen.
In the Beginning
The bitter rivalry for circulation supremacy between Joseph Pulitzers New York World and William Randolph Hearsts New York Journal brought comic strips into American newspapers, according to Holtz.
In 1889, Pulitzer published The Worlds Funny Side, a single page of black and white humorous illustrations in the Sunday paper. The funnies, a multi-page supplement, came to life in 1894 when Pulitzer acquired a color printing press.
The one-panel Hogans Alley by cartoonist Richard F. Outcault is credited for producing the first modern comic strip character The Yellow Kid in 1895.
Hearst responded by hiring the majority of Pulitzers cartoon staff, including Outcault. He published American Humorist, an eight-page color comic supplement in 1896.
From 1896 to 1898, The Yellow Kid, inspiring the phrase yellow journalism, was read in Sunday editions of both the Journal and The World.
By 1897, the three primary components of modern comic strips were in place. The creation of The Katzenjammer Kids by Rudolph Dirks for the Journal had character continuity, sequential pictures and speech enclosed in a balloon, according to research by Duke University Libraries. The comic strip is the longest running in history and still in print.
Over the Years
For Holtz, who has been researching comic strips for 25 years, he favors the early years of Bringing up Father, which ran from 1913 to 2000. The humor comes from immigrant Irishman Jiggs becoming rich in a sweepstakes, yet reverting to his working class life to the disapproval of his wife, Maggie.
The cartoonist really knew how to tell a gag, said Holtz of creator Gary McManus.
The mission of the comic strip as entertainment has not changed.
Soap-opera-like continuity in strips such as Judge Parker and Mary Worth were popular from the 1920s through the 1940s. Both are still in print.
But strips were downsized and stories were difficult to read, Holtz said. Adventure took over. Starting in the early 1930s, comic strips began to feature adventure stories as seen in Popeye and Tarzan.
Cartoonists or editors have used comic strips for political or social commentary since the beginning. Little Orphan Annie had a conservative slant with views on organized labor, the New Deal and communism, while Doonesbury is liberal.
Though it is known for its controversial political and social views where storylines have sometimes been too much for newspaper editors and pulled, Doonesbury has been published on the funny pages since 1970. The comic strip has enraged politicians. Years ago, The Herald moved the strip to the editorial page because of its frequent political commentary.
There are only three major vehicles to keep us informed as to what is going on in Washington: the electronic media, the print media and Doonesbury, not necessarily in that order, then-President Gerald Ford told the Radio and Television Correspondents Association at their annual dinner.
Still in the Headlines
In April, a same-sex couple wanted to go to the high-school prom together in Funky Winkerbean. The 40-year-old comic strip by cartoonist Tom Batiuk appears in 400 newspapers worldwide.
Inspired by news stories and his own observations, Batiuk is known to tackle contemporary issues ranging from the death penalty and dyslexia to bullying and breast cancer. He said he tries to get his readers thinking.
Comics are in a unique position among the arts because of their presence each day in people's lives, to frame contemporary issues and present them in a familiar setting, Batiuk said in an email. Because of that, I think it's important that comics live in the moment rather than a totally fantasy world.
Schulz many times spoke about his goal, mirroring the original mission of comic strips selling newspapers. His messages were told through children.
He was not shy about merchandising, and by 1999, there were 20,000 different new products each year adorned by Peanuts characters, according to the NY Times.