Although I didn’t realize it at the start, the 1933 magazine article on which I based my previous 3-part series (FUNNY ON PAPER) was the midpoint between the beginnings of the American comic strip in the early 1890s, and the end (mid 1970s) of the period covered by THE SMITHSONIAN COLLECTION OF NEWSPAPER COMICS. This post will summarize the second half of that period and conclude this Smithsonian-based series.
1934 saw the debut of three of the most successful strips in history: Al Capp’s L”il Abner, Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon and Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates.
1935 is notable if for no other reason than the brief run (in the Hearst chain’s Sunday funnies section) of a comic fantasy strip titled Hejji by Dr. Seuss, Theodor Geisel. Seuss had previously done magazine cartoons and advertising drawings, and later, of course, became famous for his children’s books (Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Hoo, etc.).
1936 marks the debut of The Phantom, the first newspaper strip to introduce a secret-identity, masked crime-fighter to a wide audience; according to comic strip historian Maurice Horn, it’s “the granddaddy of all costumed superheroes” (Superman debuted in 1938 in Action Comics, Batman in 1939 in Detective Comics).
In 1937, Al Capp started a second strip called Abbie ‘n’ Slats, and though it ran until 1971, it never attained the wide popularity of L’il Abner. To me, the year holds more trivia interest for a Jan. 17, 1937 comics page I own of THE SUNDAY OREGONIAN. On one side, beneath Dick Tracy and Winnie Winkle, is an advertisement strip for Super Suds titled DISHPAN HANDS HAUNTED HER in big red letters. Below the first panel, which depicts “Alice” wiping her brow over a dishpan full of dirty dishes, it states “IT WASN’T ONLY THAT DISHWASHING WAS TEDIOUS AND TIRESOME — BUT EVEN BOB HAD NOTICED HOW RED AND ROUGH IT MADE ALICE’S HANDS. THEN…” The next two panels have a woman telling Alice how she uses SUPER SUDS, and it saves hands, leaves no soap film and “washes so clean that you can just rinse and let dishes drain dry without wiping.” The next panel, “6 weeks later,” has Alice telling hubby Bob, “This big red box of SUPER SUDS costs only 10 cents, and look how much cleaner and brighter my dishes are!” To which Bob replies, “Since you’ve been using SUPER SUDS, your hands are as soft and white as the day we were married!” You gotta love it!
For the next strip of more than passing interest, we skip to 1948 and Walt Kelly’s Pogo, which began as a minor character in Animal Classics in 1943 before moving to newspaper format in the New York Star. Quoting Smithsonian, “In Pogo, humanized animals daily dramatized the idiosyncrasies of their human counterparts. The political spoofs for which the strip probably became best known in the mid-1950s had actually been implicit somewhat earlier.”
1950 drafted into service Beetle Bailey, the first of the strip successes of Mort Walker, and introduced Peanuts, the super-successful strip which creator Charles Schulz originally wanted to call L’il Folks. On a personal note, this is my oldest daughter’s favorite; she is a collector of all things Peanuts.
The 1960s ushered in, among others, The Wizard of Id (1964), and Doonesbury in Yale publications in 1968-69 before moving into national newspaper syndication in late 1970.