Sunday, November 21, 2004


At the risk of causing Ivan (Thrilling Days of Yesteryear) to suffer a terminal attack of Olde Crappe Envy, I’m going to take a few minutes to show off some of the fine swag I scored a couple of weeks ago on eBay.

Vintage Sunday funnies! I love ’em for so many reasons.

First, back in the 1950’s and before, Sunday comic strips were printed full- or half-folio. None of today’s tiny-ass comic strips crammed eight to a page: these babies were big. The scans below had to be done piecemeal and assembled in Photoshop because the pages were too big for my scanner. This is a good thing (quoth Martha Stewart), mainly because it’s easier for us, er, ahhh…older folks to read the old-style, large strips. Not to mention that it’s easier to appreciate the artwork, which has much more detail. Today’s artists have to be mindful of the huge reduction ratios that the newspapers use, which means little or no chance to show off their fine draftsmanship.

This is one of the things that made Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”) hang up his Hunter Crow-Quills. He hated the way his gorgeous pages were turned into Shrinky-Dinks by the newspapers.

Second, there’s that nostalgia factor. Who doesn’t like to re-experience that feeling of having a brand-new Sunday comics section spread out, ready to read? Looking at the same strips, we get that same feeling. I feel like I’m nine years old again, visiting the grandparents and opening the New York Daily Mirror to the Sunday funnies our paper at home didn’t have.

Anyway, for your delectation, here are a couple of golden oldies.

First up is this snippet from a 1934 “Dick Tracy” strip. Chester Gould already is a master at drawing weird-looking villains and constructing exciting stories, but his artwork hasn’t settled in to the hard-edged style that would characterize his work in later years.

Old-school Dick Tracy, 1934. Posted by Hello

This second Sunday strip – a half-page, just like the 1934 strip – shows Gould’s work in its more mature form. Tracy now has his famous 2-way wrist radio (later a wrist TV) – one little example of anticipated technology.

Dick Tracy, vintage 1950. Posted by Hello

So much for serious police drama. Now let’s get silly.

Bill Holman, creator of “Smokey Stover,” wrote what may have been the most crackpot comic strip ever to grace the Sunday funnies. A 1941-vintage example is shown below. Holman’s strip, for its time the equivalent of “Seinfeld” in terms of its contributions to the contemporary catchphrase lexicon, gave us such nutty expressions as “Foo,” “Notary Sojac,” and “1506 Nix Nix.” Look at the strip shown here and see if you can find all the visual and verbal puns.

Smokey Stover - sheer lunacy from 1941. Posted by Hello

It ain’t sophisticated humor – certainly no “Doonesbury” – but it’s funny. There’s nothing like it in any paper today. And that’s too damn bad.

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