Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
Opus and Hobbes
Modern newspaper comics are not very good. The demographics of print skew grey, so papers run legacy strips that started long ago – during the FDR era, in the case of Blondie, or Ike, in the case of Peanuts. Now and then a venerable strip is taken over by someone who yanks it into the 21st century; Mark Trail has new life, as does Nancy, revived with a slightly surreal aspect. Dick Tracy now has a self-conscious retro vibe.
But. Garfield plows the same furrow it has worked since the Carter years. Hi and Lois is frozen in post-war suburbia. Sometimes you see a single-panel comic added in the 90s when features editors were looking to shake things up with a Far Side-style comic whose “offbeat” tone might fit with the free-weeklies.
If newspaper comics seem rote today, well, thus it was always so. It’s always been a mix of sharp and plain, corny and witty. Strips have always hung on for decades past their expiration point, dragging the conventions of their era into foreign lands. Harold Teen, an account of Jazz Age flaming youth, ended during the Korean War. Maggie and Jiggs – aka Bringing up Father – started in the Wilson administration, and ended in the year 200. Major Hoople – aka Our Boarding House – started in the Harding era, and was still playing the same tropes in the days of Reagan.
I grew up reading Gasoline Alley out of habit, unaware that Frank King had turned a standard flivver-humor strip into something quite touching, with Sunday forays into design that treated the Sunday page as a single glorious canvas. It was just a standard feature by the time I came along. I had no idea how revolutionary Peanuts was at the start. I suppose we all accepted the comics in the paper at face value, noted the differing styles, and thought little about their history, the different eras they represented. We assumed they would always be there, every day, because why wouldn’t they?
It seemed impossible that Little Orphan Annie or Dick Tracy would stop. Why would they stop?
In my youthful adult years, there was the trifecta of quality: Doonesbury, Calvin and Hobbes, and Bloom County. The first was your daily reminder of the superiority of your political opinions. The second was a brilliant, if misanthropic, interrogation of human nature. The third was a loud, smart, highly verbal, slightly messy assemblage of personalities we all recognized. We all wanted to be as good as Opus, and knew we were as slack as Steve Dallas. Doonesbury still exists as a Sunday feature for NPR-listening Boomers, with all of its pieties and smugness embedded in amber. Calvin and Bloom County are long gone, their creators yee-hawing into the sunset before they soured on the creations they loved.
Berke Breathed, the creator of Bloom County, has been turning out new work. There’s no fanfare, no newspaper stories about its return. He just slipped the new stuff out at irregular intervals: here you go. It hasn’t changed at all, stylistically, although it’s aware of the passage of time. It’s a delight to see.
I wouldn’t bring this up at all, except for this:
Opus finds Hobbes, and vows to reunite him with Calvin.
It’s a damned sweet thing. It’s all on the Twitter feed. Start here, and scroll up.Published in General
Likes given to all who included Steve Roper and Mike Nomad! That and Kerry Drake were great strips full of action, adventure, and violence.
re: Calvin and Hobbes. I am convinced Bill Watterson hates Calvin. In fact, my position is that he thoroughly enjoyed the daily torture and humiliation he visited upon his creation. Calvin will never grow up, will always need a babysitter, cannot be trusted with anything, and never wins. I read it from day one and have most of the collections. I’m quick to explain my take on this sadistic comic strip – that I actually hate – to folks who describe it in endearing terms. Hmmm, I like to hate it…
Peanuts is different. My dad had all the collections, from the very beginning, and they’re amazing. At least Charlie Brown had real friends and could function with others. And, for a loser, he captained the baseball team, and represented his school at a national spelling bee, and respected his teachers. Calvin can’t tell bats from bugs, is disruptive in class, and genuinely dangerous when left to his own devices. Plus, he always gets caught, though rarely punished.
Chuck’s dad was a barber – a man who worked with his hands and supported his family. Calvin’s dad was a patent attorney who obviously gave up on his son early. F- Calvin and Hobbes!
Kinda makes you wonder a little how they will present grown-up Calvin, doesn’t it?
Who knows, maybe he’ll still be a kid!
I remember reading Kerry Drake — might have been one of the first serialized comics I read, which led me to checking out the others. But I remember very little about it.
Oh you know what else was really great? The Conan the Barbarian comic strip. Dark Horse did a very poor reprint of half of its run, and I suspect poor sales led them to never getting around to volume 2. Really muddy, poorly scanned images in that reprint. Would love it if a publisher took it on and did a better job with the art.
And Chuck McCaan. My brother and I were in the on stage audience once for his weekday afternoon show. Plus, I got an autographed photo of him dressed as Little Orphan Annie.
It wouldn’t surprise me if he worked directly with Watterson. Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine) did some crossover strips a couple years ago where Watterson did the artwork for him.
Pearls Before Swine being the one modern strip I can think of that can be mentioned in the same breath a Bloom County and Calvin and Hobbes.
Get Fuzzy was approaching that level, but started fading in the mid 2000s, and went on “hiatus” in 2013 (per Wikipedia).
I have the complete Calvin & Hobbes and the Complete Farside. They sit up high on the shelf where the kids can’t reach them. I did give them all my older collections.
I can’t imagine Breathed did this without Watterson’s blessing.
It’s on the same level, but it’s utterly different. I think the main reason we’d elevate it to the pantheon is because it’s not lame, and frequently silly in a way few others strips can carry off.
Darby Conley did new Sunday strips, but has stopped doing those as well. I suppose it’s a grind, but it comes with the territory, no?
I could be wrong, but I believe he does. He and Watterson had some earlier exchanges.
Pogo was a decent satire site – I still use the quote “We have met the enemy and he is us”
This brilliant series was done with Watterson’s retroactive blessing:
How many years have you been publishing daily now?
Oh my God, Instalanch! Hide the good liquor and put down more sawdust on the floor.
There’s good liquor?
No, not for the likes of us.
Twenty-five, next year. Cartoonist burnout seems to be a different sort of thing, though.
It is hard to be funny forever in 1-4 panels. I cannot even imagine.
It’s hard to be funny forever in any medium, sadly.
And the bar snacks are provided by CMOT Dibbler.
I always bring a bottle inside my coat. Don’t you?
I am still awaiting the return of tbe Far Side. Humor plus human psychology on the part of cartoon animals.
The artist (or writer) can continue to be amusing, in the style that first brought them attention. Tastes change, and they’re no longer defined as funny by the culture, but they’re still funny by their own standards. Or, they were never really funny at all, aside from a brief moment when they provided novelty. (Marvin, a strip about a baby, has been pushing loaded-diaper gags for 237 years, I think.) I think Get Fuzzy foundered on the artist’s own exhaustion: the wordplay, the constant collision of cat-think and dog-think plus the laconic human interjection, must have eventually seemed like a burden, and he wasn’t the sort of guy to take the cheap route and just do three-panel gags ending with pun or lame retort.
That said, there were comic artists who worked for decades in the single-panel game, and never lost a step. H. T. Webster and Gluyas Williams were mainstays for decades, and never got lazy; they earned your patronage every day anew.
When your name is Gluyas, you have to try harder.
Sigh. Comics led me to believe there was a whole world out there filled with men with strong jaws. What a disappointment. Eventually I had to settle for man who had a jaw.
Since I cancelled my local newspaper I get my daily comic fix here: https://www.arcamax.com/comics
Has the ones I really look for: Zits, Pearls Before Swine, Dilbert, Pickles.
Time passed for Calvin which is interesting considering the Bloom County characters haven’t aged…
My number was 351, which was very amusing at Fort Richardson, Alaska, where I had been stationed for almost 2 years.