Saturday, February 10, 2007

See you in the Funny Papers!



Some of my earliest memories are of lying on the living room floor, reading the Sunday comics. When I was a kid growing up in the mid-1950s my family subscribed to three newspapers. During the week we received the local Norwich Bulletin and the New York Daily News (which my father always took to work with him, but brought back each evening for my mother), but on Sunday we also got the Boston Herald-American. That was primarily so my father could keep up with the latest Red Sox happenings.

Even before I started reading comic books at six or seven, I loved seeing what was happening in those big four-color sheets. Along with such classic strips as PRINCE VALIANT, DICK TRACY, THE PHANTOM & LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE which are still going strong, you would get FLASH GORDON, STEVE CANYON and SMILIN’ JACK among others. Add to those more light hearted fare such as PETE THE TRAMP, LIL’ IODINE, MOON MULLINS and HENRY.

As I’ve said before it’s been a while since I was getting a newspaper on a daily (or almost daily) basis, so it was a pleasure to get back into reading comic strips. The Orange County Register carries a few dozen strips, most of which are of the daily gag variety. Oddly, the ‘adventure’ strips are not located in the Entertainment section during the week, but rather in the Job Classified section. There you’ll find something called “Classic Comics” along with a second crossword puzzle. What made the editors do this is beyond me, but at it’s nice to see some old favorites no matter where they are.

The five ‘classic’ strips are DICK TRACY, ANNIE (the ‘Little Orphan’ part apparently dropped since most kids and even adults are familiar with the character more for the musical & movie than the actual strip), GASOLINE ALLEY, BEETLE BAILEY (how did he end up here?) and JUDGE PARKER.

Four of these strips I’ve enjoyed since I was a kid, although I have to admit that I’m more a fan of GASOLINE ALLEY now than I was back then. Perhaps it has something to do with the characters growing older as I have, something few other strips allow. About a month ago Walt, now a widower, found himself amongst ‘retired’ comic strips characters. It was a nice kick seeing Walt along with MUTT & JEFF, THE YELLOW KID and dozens of other long-gone creations. BEETLE BAILEY is ageless, of course, and any reference to current events is rare. You won’t see him being shipped out to Iraq any time soon.

DICK TRACY just completed a silly adventure featuring a mind-reading machine, which had Tracy discovering things he might not have wanted to know about his fellow squad members. The whole story reminded me too much of the era when Tracy & Company were flying around in magnetic-force hovercraft and Moon Maid was dating Junior. Best left forgotten by old time DT fans, like me. ANNIE, on the other hand, is finding herself caught in time. Somehow transported from the Bermuda Triangle into pre-catastrophic Atlantis, our young heroine & Sandy have also encountered an earlier version of herself in WWII as she was fleeing from Nazis. The current creative team of Jay Maeder and Ted Slampyak, are doing a great job keeping Annie and her companions a pleasure to read. Heck, Ted even slipped in a reference or two to his own comic book JAZZ AGE, several months back when Annie was shown reading a comic which featured a fedora wearing gent on its cover.

I don’t know much about JUDGE PARKER, except for the fact that I haven’t really figured out who all the characters are, or why I should care. The current storyline has several American girls in Paris, where one of them may be about to inherit a large estate from an elderly widow. Created by Dr. Nicholas P. Dallis, who also created APARTMENT 3-G & REX MORGAN, M.D., in 1952, the title character isn’t seen much, although the Kings Features website implies he’ll be re-introduced soon.

If I get the chance I’ll talk about the other comics, over in the primary comics’ page in the next day or so.
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