Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Comic Strips: Art and/or Commerce

In the shadow of Johnny Hart's passing, Tom Spurgeon writes a thoughtful essay on the subject of legacy comic strips -- comic strips that continue long after the original creator has gone elsewhere. The Hart family will continue Mr. Hart's work on B.C. and Wizard of Id.

Is this the right thing to do?

I wish that the comics page in the newspaper was more vibrant, and that there were more comings and goings. I still remember reading those special Christmas newspaper strips that Disney would do every year. They'd run for maybe 6 weeks until Christmas and then disappear. Those were fun.

Comparing strips to TV is easy to do. TV series tend to have their runs and then they disappear. But a strip is the vision of one or two people. And a strip, or a panel, is, after all, just a wee little dinky panel or couple of panels for people to read, and they have to keep coming back everyday, over time, before they get a sense of the strip. It can take years for a strip to grab hold of an audience.

TV shows are mounted by many people. I think of strips -- the ones I really like (Barnaby, Pogo, etc.) -- as idiosyncratic whisperings between a cartoonist and his or her readers. And, unlike the TV, there aren't a lot channels; just the one comics page. Space is limited.

But I talk about strips like an artist. Strips are a business. And there are strips -- like Popeye, Dick Tracy, Blondie, Mary Worth -- that still do good business. They are commodities that readers want to have in a newspaper.

So, I throw my hands up, and seek guidance from the masters: Rube, Sparky and Mort --

No one knows what works. In an interview, Mort Walker confessed that he thought hi friend Charles Schulz had lost his ever lovin' mind when he put Snoopy in his World War One flying ace outfit, climb his dog house and engage in air battles.

"Especially when he showed bullet holes in the dog house. I thought, 'Good golly, this has gone beyond the tale [sic]!' Then, when it became so popular, I said, It just shows you ... comics, as Rube Goldberg used to say ... they are an individual effort that is so beyond explaining that nobody could ever mastermind it. And anybody who tries to do it is mistaken." -- from Mort Walker Conversations.

OK, I can't top that. Good night everybody.

1 comment:

Mark Anderson said...

I dunno... I was gonna write a whole lengthy blog about this, but I'll just say it here.

Of course everyone is free to do what they want with their cartoons. Syndicates, cartoonists, families, etc...

But I gotta tell you, the thing I love about any comic or cartoon is the unique point of view of the creator(s), and once its moved beyond that original voice, I stop reading.

It's never as good and it just makes me sad.