August 5, 2017 9:44am CST
The early cartoon strips were initially given a full page and presented in colour. A popular one about a sarcastic baby was called The Yellow Kid, as he always wore a grubby yellow romper suit. Things really took off with a strip launched by Bud Fisher in 1907. MUTT AND JEFF These were drawn in black and white and only occupied a fifth of the page. Initially it was just called A Mutt, as the companion character of Jeff wasn’t introduced for a few more years. Their antics would last until 1983. What was really radical about Mutt & Jeff is that their fortunes were made and broken by real events. Mutt was a gambler, addicted to the horse racing, so Fisher hit on the idea of having his bets be placed on real horses in the races to be run in the days following the print run of the comic. If his horses lost, Mutt would be struggling for money, but if he won, things wold be happier for a while. The emphasis on humour in comics got newspaper comic strip pages referred to as The Funnies. The text of the comics was given below the pictures for many years but in 1925, a French comic writer called Alain Saint-Ogan introduced the speech bubble in a comic about two adventurous rebellious teenagers called Zig And Puce, the kind of kids who didn’t just dream about going to the North Pole – they actually go there all by themselves. France was now the comic creation capital of Europe, and though born in neighbouring Belgium, the artist-writer Herge gave France’ newspapers one of their most enduring heroes in 1929, Tin-Tin, a young reporter who stops at nothing to solve a mystery. His dog snowy gives wry reflection on his Master’s antics. Other characters such as Captain Haddock were added in later years. RUPERT THE BEAR debuted in the Daily Express in 1920 as a direct appeal to younger readers who might just start paying attention to the newspaper’s other features. Rupert lived in an idealized Edwardian woodland bordering on realm of fantasy and his adventures were gentile. The sheer beauty of the artwork makes them work to continue to treasure today. In the 1930’s anthologies of the best stories from various comic strips began selling well, and publishers started publishing new stories exclusively in comic book form. As well as humorous stories, other genres began to be covered too, love stories, war stories, Westerns crime stories and of course, the superheroes. The meteoric rise of comic books in this era and the sheer blaze of invention by comic writers gained the period the label of The Golden Age of comics. BLONDIE 1930 Another radical comic strip, and a counter-blast to popular rag to riches comics like Little Orphan Annie and Bringing Up Father which depicted poor people finding and adjusting to wealth. Blondie falls in love with a working class guy, Dagwood Bumstead and her rich family cut off her inheritance. She makes the most of things in a story that pretty well charts the progress of the Depression. The other unusual feature about Blondie was that the comic aged its characters in real time. 28 Blondie movies were made and the strip was a huge influence on American sit-coms. Comics reflecting the big trends in the cinemas were popular too. Musicals couldn’t translate well to comics, but gangster stories in the style of the James Cagney and Edward G Robinson movies sold like post-prohibition hooch, and of course the best detective was DICK TRACY who first appeared in 1931 The crooks were poor, and turned to crime to make money. The police had the latest cars, designer suits and high tech like TV – Radio wrist-watches. The cops, especially Dick Tracy, were handsome. The crooks were ugly, with names like Mumbles, Eightball, and there was of course the inevitable glamourous femme fatale, Breathless Mahoney. DESPERATE DAN 1937 In Britain Desperate Dan appeared from issue one of The Dandy, a tough guy cowboy clearly modelled on John Wayne. He shaves with a blow torch, and his cow pies are literally a cow baked in pastry. He generally likes a quiet life and gets rid of any distraction, often violently, to get back to his pie eating. SUPERMAN 1938 In 1938, America produced a tougher character still, arguably the most indestructible of all heroes, Superman. Initially his powers were more subdued than we know them now. He couldn’t fly, but he could leap tall buildings. He couldn’t be stopped by bullets but a tank shell was a threat to him. With time he became so invincible his stories were actually getting boring o as he started flying, and even nuclear bombs left him unpassed, the Man Of Steel was becoming Messianic. Crooks could only hope he just never suspected them or they were doomed. Kryptonite was introduced to weaken him and give others a fighting chance so suddenly superman was even more Messianic, as he could suffer to save us. Things reached a peak in the overhyped Death Of Superman, which killed him, and then resurrected him as well. Even without trying, superman becomes a Christ allegory. Interestingly, Superman’s greatest enemy is human, Lex Luther, a Moriarty-like criminal mastermind who somehow always escapes death or incarceration to wage his war anew. BATMAN 1939 Just a year later, just as Europe went to war, came the other giant among the heroes, Batman. He was at least human, and flawed, if anything troubled by angst over the death of his parents. His strength comes from rage, intellect, wealth and a formidable array of weapons and gadgets. Batman is always on the edge of the law himself as a vigilante and unlicensed detective. His greatest threats are often dark reflections of his own dark neurosis. The Joker takes insanity to the hilt, embracing it while Batman supresses it. Manbat is like Batman, but with the actual powers of a bat, flying, echo location, natural radar, and again, no limits or boundaries on what he can do. The best villains were always echoes of Batman’s own psyche. CAPTAIN AMERICA 1940 While Batman and superman were both produced by DC Comics, they soon faced competition from the highly patriotic Captain America created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby for Timely Comics, which would within twenty years, become Marvel Comics. The first front cover to Captain America was highly controversial, depicting the eponymous hero punching Hitler a year before America was even attacked at Pearl Harbour. Both writers were Jewish and aware of the horrors befalling the Jews of Europe as the Nazis advanced there. Issue three included the contributions of a young ambitious writer called Stan Lee. He was the one who came up with the idea that Captain America’s shield could return to him like a boomerang if he threw it at the bad guys. The Kirby-Lee working relationship is still regarded as the greatest influence on comics until at least the 1970’s. More and more kids were reading the comics, so many heroes had to have junior sidekicks, creating an illusion of children getting to share the adventure so the heroes irresponsibly took kids into the thick of battle against gunmen and all manner of demons and robots. Batman had Robin, and Captain America had Bucky. Usually the sidekicks and love interests got trapped a lot and needed the hero rescuing them in the nick of time. Comics were also very popular with American soldiers as they were lighter to carry and keep in kit bags than heavier books. That is one reason why women drawn in comics were drawn very curvaceously too. Britain’s Daily Mirror offered a more escapist kind of superhero with the introduction of GARTH in 1943. This strongman was a kind of morose never smiling Flash Gordon figure with mysterious origins. In one of the greatest gaffes in comic book history, his debut story told us he was found washed up on a beach on the shores of Tibet (a landlocked country high in the Himalayas. Garth was protected by the ever naked Goddess Astra and sometimes had mind jaunts into previous incarnations of himself from various time periods, such as cave-man days or the American West. Arthur Chappell
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5 Aug 17
This is quite a post and I actually read all of it. In the early sixties, I discovered comics and couldn't get enough of them. Mostly the superheroes but also like the cowboy heroes like Rawhide Kid, Billy The Kid, etc. In the early seventies they lost their appeal but the cover artwork on some of the superhero comics was just amazing.