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  • Kurt J. Kolka

COMICS FIND NEW VENUES, BUT REMAIN POPULAR WITH READERS

(Originally Posted: Friday, March 27, 2015)

By Kurt J. Kolka

Special to the Gaylord Herald Times


GAYLORD — Comic strips in newspapers have been around since the 1890s, when the “Yellow Kid” began appearing regularly in the New York World newspaper.


Over the decades, the variety of comics has expanded, delighting readers of all ages. While they were often referred to as the “Funnies,” some strips are more adventure tales or soap operas and continue from day to day. Perhaps this diversity is what has kept them so appealing to such a variety of people.


DeWaine Larry Teal Jr. of Gaylord remembers reading newspapers as a kid back in the 1940s.


“Many times, comics were the only source of entertainment,” Teal said. “They were the embodiment of a gentler, simpler age. My sister and I would lay in front of the radio after church on a Sunday with the funny papers spread out and listen to ‘Uncle Bob’ read the comics to us (on the radio).


“We read ‘Bringing Up Father,’ with Maggie and Jiggs, ‘Terry and the Pirates,’ ‘Prince Valiant,’ ‘Gasoline Alley,’ ‘Smokey Stover,’ with its constant reference to ‘yraton cajus’ (don’t ask me why). We had ‘The Phantom,’ ‘Dick Tracy,’ ‘L’il Abner,’ ‘Pogo,’ ‘Little Orphan Annie,’ ‘Blondie,’ ‘Dondi’ and so many others whose names have slipped away by now. And I repeat, it was a gentler age. My favorite all-time quote from the comics was from Pogo the Possum: ‘We have met the enemy and he is us!’”


“Comics were just part of our life,” said AnnMarie Rowland, 53, a freelance writer and musician. She remembers her brother had a newspaper route as a kid, and the family could not wait until the newspapers arrived so they could all read the comics.


“I remember spreading the Sunday comics out on the living room floor and reading them,” Rowland said. “Sunday comics were the best, because they were in color.



“I loved Hagar, Peanuts, Blondie, Lolly and Brenda Starr — I wanted to be Brenda Starr. And you had to admire Charlie Brown. He always endured through everything he went through.”


Delphine Miller, 59-year-old owner of Delphine’s Quilt Shop, said comic strips have been a popular form of entertainment in her family for many years.


“When our kids were young, my brother, Simon, and his wife, Lee, saved up their comics sections for us when we visited on Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Miller said. “We arrived at their house and there would be the stack waiting for us. Our whole family read them on the drive back home. In fact, they still save them for my husband and I today.


“I enjoy ‘Prince Valiant,’ ‘Frazz,’ ‘For Better or For Worse,’ ‘Dilbert’ and ‘Get Fuzzy.’”

Miller’s daughter, Katrina Jones, remembers reading comics in their family early on. 


“We had books of ‘Garfield,’ ‘Calvin and Hobbes,’ ‘B.C.,’ ‘Dilbert,’ ‘The Far Side,’ ‘Family Circus’ and possibly some others I’ve forgotten,” said Jones, 27. “I have a lot of comics that I like, but I guess my favorites are ‘Calvin and Hobbes,’ ‘Garfield,’ ‘B.C.,’ ‘Alley Oop,’ ‘Zits,’ ‘ Get Fuzzy’ and  ‘Frazz.’”


“‘Calvin and Hobbes’ is almost in a class unto itself. The artwork is some of the best, the stories are terrific and the imagination is fantastic. I also learned quite a few big words from Calvin (or maybe from Hobbes). “


“I think people are drawn to something that stays the same,” Rowland said. “If you drive back to your hometown after years of being away, everything has changed. But comics have that timeless quality. You can still recognize Blondie even if you haven’t seen her in a few years.”


Neal Rubin, writer for the comic strip “Gil Thorp” and columnist for the Detroit News, agrees with Rowland.


“In an age when so many things change so quickly,” Rubin noted, “it could be there’s a comfort in ‘Blondie’ or ‘Beetle Bailey,’ where the basics are constant even if you see touches of modernization.”


Another comic strip writer, Mike Curtis, said he makes mostly small changes to “Dick Tracy” to keep new generations interested.


“When Joe Staton and I took over ‘Dick Tracy,’ one of the first things we did was elevate Tracy’s granddaughter Honeymoon to a more prominent role,” Curtis said. “Honeymoon is a tweenager, a mathlete and always honors her dual heritage by wearing moon-themed attire. She is very tech savvy, and loves adventure as much as her dad and grandfather. She has been honored with a wrist wizard (formerly the two-way wrist radio) as her grandfather and the Major Crimes Unit wear and has taken part in several adventures.”



Many people still enjoy reading comics in newspapers today, when they have time. Others read the comics online or in book collections.


“We still don’t get the paper,” noted Jones, “but I have some books, and I’ll sometimes read comics online.”


“Comics are, or at least were, a gateway drug for newspaper readers,” said Rubin. “You start out reading the box scores and the funny pages, and pretty soon you’re going through the paper front-to-back.”


For years, the Sunday newspapers used the comics section as the outside section. The colorful comics were an attention grabber for adults and children alike. Children knew there were comics to read inside newspapers. Then, in the 1980s, newspapers stopped using the comics section to attract readers.


Since readership of newspapers has been declining with the advent of the Internet, comics pages inside newspapers have also shrunk. Large newspapers like the Detroit Free Press, which once had three pages of comics, are now down to one.


“In the 13 years I’ve been youth librarian, I don’t think I’ve seen kids reading newspapers,” said Cathy Campbell of the Otsego County Library. “It’s always adults.”


Campbell noted that comic strip collections in book form are popular among young readers. Collections of “Garfield” and “Zits” are very popular at the local library.


Jan Eliot, the cartoonist for the popular strip “Stone Soup,” said her youngest readers are becoming fans through her book collections.


“My young readers love my book collections and read them multiple times,” Eliot said. “Millions of kids know Calvin and Hobbes even though they’ve never seen it in the paper.”


Nine-year-old Madison Lawrence, who attends Tween Time at the Gaylord library, said she enjoys reading the comic, “Bone,” for its unique brand of humor.


“It’s very funny,” Lawrence said. “And I think it makes a lot of kids smile.”


Another Tween Time attendee, Alexis Kozlowski, enjoys the graphic novels, “Smile” and “Sisters,” which take a humorous look at real life situations such as getting braces and rivalry between sisters.


In recent years, specialty book companies like IDW and Hermes Press have popped up and found great success in publishing hardbound collections of classic newspaper comics such as “Dick Tracy,” “Little Orphan Annie,” “Pogo,” “Li’l Abner” and many others.


Meanwhile, internet sites like GoComics.com and ComicsKingdom.com are drawing in readers from around the world by offering the same comics found in newspapers for free. Popular comics like “Garfield,” “Blondie,” “Luann” and “Zits” are offered along with more difficult to find classics like “Gasoline Alley,” “Dick Tracy,” “The Phantom,” “Judge Parker” and “Mary Worth.” These sites even offer out-of-print comics such as “Calvin and Hobbes,” “Li’l Abner,” “King of the Royal Mounted” and “Tarzan.”


Comics Kingdom pulls in more than 100,000 monthly unique visitors, not including its various satellite webpages; GoComics records more than 400,000 monthly unique visitors.


Although readers may not be getting all their comics soley from newspapers as they used to, comics

appear to be remaining very popular. And with such a vast selection of current and classic comics now available in various formats for readers, the American comic strip is likely to keep making new and satisfying current fans for years to come.


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