Favorite Comic Strips
While sequential art has been around for hundreds of years in one form or another, comic strips are a relatively new invention. They were added to newspapers starting in the late 1800s. Hundreds of strips have come and gone in the United States. Perhaps thousands have come and gone in major newspapers all over the world. I can’t say that I’ve read even a fraction of the titles that are out there; however, of those I have read, four keep coming back to me. These four comics, for me, are the best of the comic strip medium.
“Pogo” by Walt Kelley – No other comic strip matches the intense situational comedy and characterizations in “Pogo.” The art is lush, fluid and organic. The writing is clever and sharp. The characters are true. Their language is melodic, but never forced, and often backed up with lovely calligraphy. I can’t ask for more in a comic strip. Several story arcs occur at the same time and some of the arcs last several months, giving a great sense of depth from each story. Because he frequently touched political nerves, some newspapers censored “Pogo” at times, causing Kelley to lash out in the introductions of his uncensored paperbacks. The satirical references to J. Edgar Hoover and Lyndon B. Johnson still make sense and are funny, even for readers unfamiliar with the times. “Pogo” is absolutely beautiful literature.
“Bloom County” by Berke Breathed – My older brother liked “Bloom County” long before I did. I read my brother’s paperback collections as a kid and now I am collecting the new hardback editions. Although there are some older cultural references to Tammy Faye Baker and Boy George, the strip holds up extremely well. “Bloom County” relies on the characters and Breathed is not afraid to change them, so the strip never falls in a rut. Because he was able to talk about cultural and political topics (even getting his strip put on the editorial page of some papers), Breathed always had new gags and ideas. “Bloom County” never fails to make me laugh and that’s the mark of a great strip.
“King Aroo” by Jack Kent – In college, I spent a lot of time reading comic strips on microfiche. I discovered a few months worth of “King Aroo” and I fell in love with it. The characters are innocent and enjoyable, defying the stereotypes of a royal kingdom. The entirety of the strip pushes the innocence of his characters into wonderful and humorous situations. What impresses me the most about Kent’s writing is that he squeezes several puns and gags into every daily strip. It’s thick with humor. Kent’s art is loose, but very pretty. IDW released the first two years of “King Aroo” in hardback a year or two ago with promises to release the other eight years (we’ll see if it happens). It is great fun to read.
“Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Watterson – After Woodie Harrelson, Paul Brown and I, Bill Watterson is probably Ohio’s favorite son. “Calvin and Hobbes” lasted only ten years, but glorious they were. I was fascinated by the strip for years. In retrospect, it’s amazing that Watterson squeezed so many silly gags out of so few characters. For the entire run of the series, Calvin tries to avoid work by sneaking into fantasy worlds and misconstruing traditions. Most stories last about two or three weeks and those story lines are frequently invoked, such as Calvin’s trials with his babysitter or his science fiction alter-ego getting lost. Artistically, the weekdays strips are economic and bare while some of the Sunday strips are colorful and detailed. A 20 pound “box set” of strips called “The Complete Calvin and Hobbes” was recently published. It is very pricey, but nice. Fortunately, paperbacks can still be found pretty cheap.