The Decline and Fall of the Funnies

Discussion in 'The Reading Room' started by LizzieMaine, Dec 29, 2018.

  1. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    When I opened up my copy of the Boston Globe on Christmas Eve, I was shocked and appalled to find that the editors of that good grey sheet had seen fit to slash its daily comic strip section by half -- where the Globe once boasted two fully-packed pages of comics, it now offers only one lightly-packed page -- and two of the strips it carries are in perpetual reruns. I enjoyed "For Better or For Worse" the first time around, but I don't need to go thru the whole story again, and rerunning the daily "Doonesbury" without any of the political storylines is right up there with cutting all the witty aphorisms out of "The Importance Of Being Earnest" on the list of reading experiences that I don't find satisfying. And those current strips that remain are, for the most part, tedious "theme" comics that seem to exist to rework the same one or two jokes over and over and over again. Say what you will about Zippy The Pinhead, at least Bill Griffith was never a hack.

    We are not far from the time when the newspaper comic page will just dwindle and diminish into non-existance. There are still a few good strips being published today -- such former Globe strips as "Monty," "Pooch Cafe," and "Big Nate" are strongly missed in comparison to the dreary schlock that remain on the page -- but they're a fast-fading minority. Web comics have a certain vigor, but you miss out on the full experience of enjoying the funnies when you don't have your strips laid out on pages, and you can't develop the habit of scanning up and down those pages in a regular progression every day. As a kid, I always started with "Peanuts" at the top of the page, worked my way down thru "Henry" and "Archie" and "Buz Sawyer" and "The Phantom" and "Snuffy Smith," then over to the second column with "Dick Tracy," "Little Orphan Annie," and "Donald Duck," and such, to end at the bottom of the page with "B. C." and "Nancy." Some were good, some were mediocre, and some were just there, but they were all part of a cohesive whole, and you don't get that kind of organic experience flipping thru comic websites to get your funnies fix.

    The comic page is dying, and I grieve its passing. Do you?
     
  2. 3fingers

    3fingers One Too Many

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    Yes I do. Our local daily dropped most of the good comics some years ago to cut costs. The good comic section here came from the Sunday Peoria Journal Star, but it is suffering as well. As a kid I would swipe the funny papers and lay on the living room floor to read them. It would be a much shorter and dumber read today.
     
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  3. ChiTownScion

    ChiTownScion One Too Many

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    In the 80's and 90's I lived for the comic page. "Rose is Rose" and "One Big Happy" inspired me to nickname the kids of one of my wife's co-workers "Ruthie and Pasquale."

    The day that "Calvin & Hobbes" died was the Waterloo for me: I respect Watterson for pulling the plug while he was at the top of his game & all, but, damn it, it hurt to see it go.
     
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  4. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Yes, yes, yes, but for me, they have all but died as the demands of work and the different papers' availability forced me, well over a decade ago, to shift to on-line paper reading. That disconnected me from my daily comic reading habit - one I had since being a kid.

    Reading the paper on-line completely changes the experience, but it's not only that, the papers themselves are less important as you now have access to news and information all the time. If you've only lived in an on-line period, it is hard to appreciate how important newspapers were. Sure, radio and TV gave you more timely news, but only in a programed way that, for the most part, was surface deep and covered only the major issues. Newspapers allowed you to dig in and really learn about events - while also catching up on sports news, check a movie time, read your favorite op-ed writer and keep up with the comics, etc. It was an event when "the papers came."

    Now, all those activities have been disaggregated as ESPN and other sports sites are where you go for sports news, aggregator sites give you access to more op-ed writers than any one paper ever could and things like movie times are on-line. But when I started reading paper on-line, I just lost the habit of reading comics. I guess they are out there on-line, but I've never looked for them. I'll occasionally still read a physical paper and will, then, check out the comics, but they are no longer a daily activity.

    As 3fingers notes, it was a habit formed as a kid (laid out on the floor - on Sunday, in particular) that I continued well into adulthood. While I'd added and dropped a few along the way (as would the papers I read), it was a daily ritual and enjoyment that I greatly miss.
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2018
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  5. GHT

    GHT I'll Lock Up

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    It will be interesting to see if other English speaking countries' newspapers have the same pages of cartoons as they have, or had, in the US.
    British newspapers have no more than half a dozen,(comic strips, not pages,) some are home grown others imported. Over the years those we have seen from the US include: Blondie, B.C., Garfield, Dilbert, Peanuts, The Far Side, Calvin & Hobbes, Hägar the Horrible.

    I'm only guessing that those titles are American, I remember seeing them in both British and American newspapers, but if I'm wrong, apologies, I can't be arsed to check them.

    At a guess, I would suggest that the decline of the funnies tends to run parallel with the decline of newspaper readership. But I also think that cartoonist have become hackneyed, they no longer seem interested. Somehow the bite is missing.

    That said, we do have some very good political cartoonists, some of those are really hard hitting, but in a comic way, I can't remember any who have gone in for character assassination, even though President Trump's hair is fair game, non have descended to that level. We did have more than one though, who depicted the birth mark on the forehead of President Mikhail Gorbachev, as a hammer and sickle.

    Will I miss the funnies? Not really, but if any new cartoonists are prepared to rise to the challenge, I would love to see that. If you remember the discovery of the remains of King Richard the Third that was found under a parking lot in the City of Leicester, a 15 year old boy came up with a great cartoon. He depicted a smug looking Richard, in court robes, leaving the car park. In the distance was a list of charges ranging from one hour to all day. Right at the bottom it read: 500 years, free. That lad could go far.
     
  6. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    A few years ago, I picked up a pile of 1930s issues of the Daily Mirror -- not the scrofulous New York Hearst tabloid of the Era, the famous British paper -- and was quite interested in the comics featured there. The only American strip running then was "Popeye," with the rest of the features being original British material. "Jane's Journal -- Or The Diary of a Bright Young Thing" was a strip that never could have run in the US, given its focus on a young woman of rather playful sexual habits, while "Belinda" was an interesting UK variation on the "Orphan Annie" formula. And "The Ruggles" was a pretty good family sitcom type of strip, sort of a cross between "Blondie" and "The Gumps."

    The only English strips we had here that ever achieved any prominence were "Fred Basset," which is still sort of around, and "Andy Capp," who is probably best known here as the mascot for a particularly blood-curdling line of snack foods. British comics have never gained much foothold in the US, although I guess the US product has pushed pretty heavily in the opposite direction.

    The best comic section of any US paper in the Era had to be that of the New York Daily News: Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, The Gumps, Terry and the Pirates, Gasoline Alley, Winnie Winkle, Smitty, Moon Mullins, Smilin' Jack, and Harold Teen. And Smokey Stover on Sundays. The strips were spotted thruout the second half of the paper, each one running the full width of the page, and it was -- and is, if you've got a pile of issues at hand -- a luxurious experience to read your way thru each day's episodes. Not a clinker in the bunch.

    Even the Daily Worker had comics. There was "Little Lefty," a kid-type strip about a precocious young radical whose sentiments were precisely the opposite of those expressed by the more famous "Skippy," there was "Comrade Kitty," a "women's comic" combining social criticism with fashion advice, and there was the remarkable "Pinky Rankin," a red-blooded (no pun) adventure strip about a globe-trotting Fascist-fighter. And for a while, the prominent New Yorker cartoonist/children's author Syd Hoff did the Worker's editorial cartoons under the name of "A. Redfield."

    There are so many great strips from the Era coming out now in hardcover collections that it's hard to keep up. I keep hoping to see the full run of "The Bungle Family" on my bookshelf one day.
     
  7. GHT

    GHT I'll Lock Up

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    Janepett.jpg
    Jane, created by Norman Pett for the Daily Mirror in 1932, using Chrystabel Leighton-Porter as the model, the ever patriotic Jane wasted no time in joining up following Britain’s entry into the war. Following a brief stint as a chauffeur, secretary and with the W.A.A.F.S. Jane finally joined Army Intelligence in 1941 where she stayed off and on for the remainder of the war battling 5th columnists and Nazi spies. The original strip ran until October 1959 and has been revived and adapted into other media several times, but it’s Jane’s war record that is remembered most fondly by her fans: there are even rumours that after the character first stripped in full for the first time in 1943, her actions inspired the British forces in North Africa to advance five miles!

    Jane was the world’s first super-model and pin-up. She predates the Vagas girls, Betty Gable, Rita Haworth and Lana Turner as the military’s pin-up of choice by a couple of years. Pilots painted her on the nose cones of their aircraft, she received wedding proposals, and van loads of panties.

    The Ministry of Defence recognised her importance as a troop morale boaster, so much so, advance copies of her adventures were printed so submariners could carry on reading her adventures, even at sea. She was read by over four million readers every day!

    Jane was the envy of the American GI and the German high command and was the first cartoon character to go not only topless but nude in a national newspaper and yet she was never smutty or crude. Indeed there’s a strange chaste innocence about Jane and her penchant for losing her clothing at the drop of a hat.

    To see what all the wartime fuss was about, you can read about the nubile Jane's mischief and see her first ever topless pose here. http://www.skylighters.org/jane/
     
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2018
  8. Frunobulax

    Frunobulax

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    I just believe it's part and parcel of the death of the physical newspaper. I haven't had the newspaper delivered to my house in over 15 years - for various reasons other than content. I miss being able to go over the paper with my morning coffee. It was meditative and there were no pop-up ads. Even then, the local Dayton Daily News was a pale imitation of its former self. The comics had dwindled even then. I really have no idea of where they stand now. However, given that the online edition mostly publishes press releases and not articles, I would fear to look.

    Sent directly from my mind to yours.
     
  9. HanauMan

    HanauMan Practically Family

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    Location:
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    I have also noted a decline in the funnies, both in daily newspaper editions and also in the Sunday Funnies. When I was a child, and right into my mid teens, I would check out the funnies in the paper that Dad bought. Our home paper was the Stars & Stripes , the unofficial paper of the military. It ran news from home, world news and items about the military community in general. It also carried the funnies of the day. The daily edition had two full pages of cartoons and there was a full color Sunday supplement of maybe 6 - 8 pages of cartoons. I still have a few old copies so I can say, for example, that the Tuesday April 8th, 1980 edition carried the following strips: Apartment G-3, Hi and Lois, Shoe, Steve Canyon, Peanuts, Hubert, Snuffy Smith, Tank, Beetle Bailey, Andy Capp, Archie, Wizard, Wee Pals, B.C., Sesame Street, Dennis the Menace, Doonesbury, and Blondie. The Sunday color extra had even more cartoons, such as Dick Tracy. I followed most of these.

    I now live in the UK and the one newspaper that I very occasionally buy only has about four strips daily, about a quarter of a page. When I first bought the paper it carried Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes, but these were dropped years ago and they only carry their own domestic cartoons now, one being Fred Bassett. Not sure if British papers ever ran Sunday color supplements of funnies.

    The sad truth is, I suppose, that todays children are no longer exposed to the daily funnies as much as my generation were. This is mainly, I suspect, because of other interests (such as social media) and the fact that less parents, especially younger ones, are buying the papers in the first place.
     
  10. ChiTownScion

    ChiTownScion One Too Many

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    I haven't read Andy Capp in decades, but my understanding is that the mutual physical combat between Andy and wife Florrie ended and they now attend couples therapy. Domestic violence was never really funny if you had to live with it in real life.
     
  11. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Good story, other than that Jane existed, I didn't know anything about her/the comic strip until reading the article you linked to.
     
  12. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Andy disappeared from our local paper in the early '80s, and that was one of the reasons the strip lost favor. They don't even publish it on the back of the "Hot Fries" bag anymore.

    Such violence also played a big role in "Bringing Up Father," although it was always one-sided, with Jiggs always on the receiving end of Maggie's rolling pin or thrown crockery. That angle also faded out in the strip's later years and disappeared completely by the time it ended in 2000.
     
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  13. GHT

    GHT I'll Lock Up

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    Back in the 1950's when Andy Capp first appeared, the UK still made most of it's machine produced products. It also produced almost 100% of it's coal, which fuelled the power stations and railways. It was a time of full employment, the country was crippled by the cost of war and crippled too by the loss of buildings and infrastructure. All of which was being repaired or replaced.

    The 1950's was also a time when the welfare state was beginning to make an impact on people's lives. Free medicine at the point of delivery, unemployment benefit if your job loss wasn't your fault, free milk for schoolchildren and much more, something that's taken for granted these days, but back in the fifties, not so.

    One of the downsides to welfare is that it can remove the motivation, although the amount paid hardly kept your head above water. The 1950's was also the zenith of an era when the husband worked and the wife stayed at home, raised the children and cooked and cleaned the house. The husband gave his wife the housekeeping money, she usually collected another welfare benefit called the child allowance, a weekly payment made to help each child of school age, to eat well and be clothed well.

    Into this world of caring and sharing came Andy Capp, a workshy layabout whose misogyny was legend. He lived in the North East of England, around the coal fields, the ship yards and the railway factories. Wiki describes him perfectly:

    "Andy is a working-class figure who never actually works, living in Hartlepool, a harbour town in northeast England. The title of the strip is a pun on the local pronunciation of "handicap"; and the surname "Capp" signifies how Andy's cap always covered his eyes along with, metaphorically, his vision in life.

    Andy's hobbies include pigeon racing, darts, snooker, football (which always involves fights with the other players, and frequently ends with Andy being sent off), occasional cricket and rugby, betting on horses, getting drunk in the local pub (often falling into the canal and being fished out by a constable, and always, seven nights a week, arriving home late as a result), ending up in the local jail, fishing (and not catching anything bigger than a goldfish), unsuccessfully scrounging money from everyone for beer, unsuccessfully flirting with barmaids, picking up other bargirls, loafing on the sofa, and fighting with his long-suffering wife Florrie (also known as "Flo")."

    How he ever became a sort of anti-hero I'll never know. Right place, right time I guess. The Daily Mirror, the newspaper in which he first appeared has always had a left wing agenda, but I remember reading a political debate in that very newspaper that argued that Andy Capp was the antithesis of what was trying to be conceived by the welfare state, arguing that welfare encouraged malingering, as well as idleness, freeloading, belligerence, torpid and indolence. In fact for most part, the truth was the opposite, but it seemed that if for example, unemployment rose, it wasn't because the economy had slowed, it was because people could live off the state. It's hard to explain this without wandering into the political arena, so I hope that you have the gist of it and I will draw a line under it there.
     
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  14. ChiTownScion

    ChiTownScion One Too Many

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    The not- so inside joke of "Bringing Up Father" was its take on the "lace curtain Irish." Not that far removed from the Famine, and memories of being employed in the most back breaking physical work (or as household domestics for the females) still being pretty fresh when upward mobility became a possibility, and those who "put on airs" were always the object of gossip, even among those who themselves put on airs. Maggie and Jiggs were seen as an acceptable exercise in self deprecation: a chance to have a good laugh at characters who are just like people that we all knew.


    A grand aunt had neighbors whom she had christened as "Maggie & Jiggs:" wife was taller than her husband, a bit overbearing, so the moniker seemed a perfect fit.
     
  15. ChiTownScion

    ChiTownScion One Too Many

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    Aside from the way in which he treats his spouse, Andy sounds like he has a lot in common with Onslow on "Keeping Up Appearances," although I'd also argue that both Onslow and Daisy enjoyed the best mental health of anyone on that series.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2018
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  16. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    "Bringing Up Father" in its way was also a precursor to "The Beverly Hillbillies" in its depiction of a family who hit upon immense wealth by utter chance -- Jiggs won his fortune on an Irish Sweepstakes lottery ticket. He never wanted to be rich, had no interest in living the life of a rich man, and the whole tension of the strip was the fact that he'd actually enjoyed his prior shanty-Irish existence and would just as soon go back to it. It was up to Maggie and their daughter to "bring him up" by grooming him for his new place in society.

    When I was a kid I had a collection of "Bringing Up Father" from 1919 or so, one of those square cardboard-covered books that reprinted a couples of months' worth of strips in sequence, and I was amazed at the beauty of George McManus's artwork. Most cartoonists of that era worked in a very scratchy crosshatchy style, but McManus had this perfect, knife-edged linework that really has to be seen in large format to be fully appreciated. To see the skill and the effort that went into the drawings puts the lie to the idea of strip cartooning as crude hack work. There was nothing else quite like it on the comic pages of the time,. and there'll never be anything like it again.
     
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  17. HanauMan

    HanauMan Practically Family

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    Never heard of this strip, nor the cartoonist. For me, on a personal level, nobody really has beaten Carl Barks, Don Rosa, Charles Schulz, Bill Watterson or Alex Nino.
     
  18. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    During college, I "discovered" "Bloom County" by Berkeley Breathed - up there in the pantheon in my book (as is "Calvin and Hobbes"). Now that I think about it, our daily college paper had a reasonably robust comic section (a full tabloid page). Do colleges even put out physical papers anymore? Considering the demographic, I assume they've moved to all on-line, but I don't know that, just guessing.
     
  19. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    "Bloom County" started out as a college strip called "The Academia Waltz" in the '70s, which was a pretty obvious imitation of Doonesbury, which itself started as a college strip. But Breathed took it in his own weird direction after a rough start, and looking back on it now it's amazing how much of its '80s run prefigures our own time. Those who remember the original run might recall that it ended with the brain of a certain prominent New York vulgarian being transplanted into the body of Bill The Cat. and then taking over the strip to fire everybody. Ack! Sppppft!
     
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  20. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    The squeaky wheel got the grease -- there were so many reader complaints after the Boston Globe's slash-and-burn job on its comic section that five of the cashiered comics are back -- including, thank the newsprint gods, Zippy. I can't function in a world where the news section is more irrational than the funnies.

    Meanwhile, I've recently been very very impressed by what's happened to that old standby "Nancy." if you're over fifty, she was a mainstay on your childhood funny pages, and even attracted a strong intellectual following taken with Ernie Bushmiller's rigorous comic minimalism. But since Bushmiller's death in 1982 the strip has passed thru decidedly lesser hands -- the latest of whom turned Nancy's Aunt Fritzi into a pneumatic fetish object. That particular cartoonist got the can last year, and was replaced by an unusual choice for a "zombie strip," a young woman in her mid-twenties with a decidedly millennial sense of humor. And as someone who spends more time around millennials than I do people my own age, I'm going to say that's *exactly* the approach the funnies need to cultivate if they're going to survive.

    This new cartoonist, who goes by the pseudonym "Olivia Jaimes," got a lot of guff from certain readers who appreciated her immediate predecessor's hokey/sexualized take on the material -- and she went out of her way to show these readers that there was a new game in town, producing a strip that went out of its way to include every element they were complaining about -- but doing it in a way that Ernie Bushmiller would have done had he been a 24 year old woman in 2018.

    [​IMG]

    I was a fan of Ernie Bushmiller's "Nancy" fifty years ago -- it had an otherworldly quality that was unlike anything else on the page, but it had fallen so far from what it had been, and I hadn't really thought about it in ages. The examples of its 1990s-2000s version I'd seen were so irredeemably awful that I found them depressing. But I am now a fan of Olivia Jaimes, and I hope she draws "Nancy" as long as Bushmiller did.

    [​IMG]

    I think he'd approve of her take. Sluggo *is* lit.
     
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