….and that thing was in all the papers (almost all, anyway — there were a few party poopers in those days, most notably the New York Times). But by then (as noted in my three-part series, FUNNY ON PAPER), the “funnies” had grown from its late-1800s beginnings to 1930s newspaper staple/big business; few papers could afford not to carry a comics section.
In FUNNY ON PAPER, we saw the “state of the art” in 1933. To put that snapshot in perspective, we need the history of the comics both before and after that moment in time. For the broader picture, let us turn to a book published in the 1970s especially for that purpose, THE SMITHSONIAN COLLECTION OF NEWSPAPER COMICS, from which I quote the following:
The elements of the American comic strip were already there. A succession of drawings expressing a continuous action, an anecdotal event, a narrative — they are as old as cave paintings. “Talk balloons” were fairly common in 18th century caricature, and graphic caricature was fairly commonplace by the mid-19th century. British “comic papers” were captioned cartoon narratives, usually in broad burlesque, largely derived from the conventions of circus clowning and the music hall-vaudeville sketch.
It remained for the United States, then entering fully into its own era of mass communications, to put all these elements together and make something new of them, something new and compelling and so irresistible that it spread (along with our movies and music) around the world.
So, what and when was the first U.S. comic strip? The Little Bears is generally considered to be the first American strip with recurring characters (in Wm. Randolph Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner); it ran only four years (1892-96). The first to attain definitve form on a weekly page was Richard Outcault’s Yellow Kid for Hearst’s Sunday comic supplement to the New York Journal on October 18, 1896. Weekday comic strips began in Hearst morning and afternoon newspapers across the country in the early 1900s.
But the first hugely popular strip was The Katzenjammer Kids (“The Hangover Kids” in German slang of the time) created by German immigrant Rudolph Dirks for the same Hearst New York Journal supplement; it has turned out to be the longest-running comic strip in history (1897 to present). It was also the first to combine comic strip continuity and talk baloons, and the first to use now-familiar iconography such as stars for pain.
TO BE CONTINUED