Early Newspaper Comic Strips
June 1, 2012 1:25 PM   Subscribe

I have the full run of the Krazy Kat comics and really enjoy them. Does anyone have recommendations on other interesting or noteworthy early newspaper comic strips? Also, where can I find collected runs of these comics (used or new, in or out of print)? I would also be interested in any book that provides a readable overview of early newspaper comic strips.

For example, I really want to get a full run of Little Nemo, but my understaning is that the only currently available source is a five-volume set that is criticized for being too small and compressed in paper size. Is there a good source to find out-of-print versions, which I understand are better and more true to the original run?

To be clear, I am looking for comic strips from around 1900-1930 (or so), which means I would not be interested in Peanuts, for instance.
posted by Falconetti to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Little Nemo is sooo wonderful. The best edition is here. It's in it's original, huge size, and the colors and whatnot were very, very carefully handled. It was widely praised at release. I didn't realize it'd gotten so expensive... I'm using my edition as a flat surface for my computer to sit on. Hm. May need to change that.
posted by gilrain at 1:31 PM on June 1, 2012

The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics is a great & relatively cheap way to browse a variety of strips from the late 19th century to 1950 or so.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 1:34 PM on June 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Walt Kelley's Pogo is fantastic. Just a treasure. I don't know where you'd find them collected, although I know I've seen books at various used bookstores.
posted by gauche at 1:34 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Whoops: I mistook Kelley's birth date for the strip's start date. The strip started after your period of interest. My mistake.
posted by gauche at 1:35 PM on June 1, 2012

Get ahold of this. EC Seger's Thimble Theater is much more episodic and story driven than Krazy Kat,but the characters are just as good, and the artwork is fantastc. 2nding Little Nemo. Also look for "Mutt and Jeff" and "Bringing up father".
posted by cosmicbandito at 1:43 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

At the price listed on Amazon, Alvy's recommendation is a steal.
posted by roger ackroyd at 1:44 PM on June 1, 2012

I have Alvy's recommendation as well, and it's an excellent edition -- large, well-printed, and covers a large variety of comics. It introduced me to Krazy Kat, Little Nemo, the The Katzenjammer Kids, and many others. This thread made me remember the Katzenjammers; they're hilarious.
posted by gilrain at 1:50 PM on June 1, 2012

I would recommend early Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon strips, but I'm not sure of any good collections.

HOWEVER- you must also look at the recently rediscovered work of Fletcher Hanks, collected in I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets and You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation. Completely captivating and absolutely mad.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:52 PM on June 1, 2012

Cartoon Museum at OSU.
King Features collection at MSU.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:25 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I read a bunch of Gasoline Alley a few years ago when my library started carrying the books. Also available from Drawn and Quarterly. Volumes 1-5 cover 1921 through 1930.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:26 PM on June 1, 2012

Ah, the golden age of newspaper comics! Most or all of these had continuing runs after the originals that range from not as good to pure shit:

Gasoline Alley (Frank king) It's pap now, but it really was great.

Dick Tracey (Chester Gould) 40's though but top notch all around.

Terry and the Pirates (Milton Caniff) Also 40's, but it's the only example of a good comics in the dramatic format of Prince Valiant and crap like that I'm aware of and it's great... if occasionally (very) politically incorrect now.

Popeye (E.C. Segar) Seriously, it's up there with Krazy Kat and Little Nemo. Great, great drawing and just totally insane plot lines. I love the shorthand of lines that's just so apparently an anchor on Popeye's arm so much I want a tattoo of it.

+1 Katzenjammer Kids

Also much later, but early Peanuts was actually really great and in line with what you're talking about. I think it started in '51 or so.

And don't forget that McKay did Dream of the Rarebit Fiend too.

Sorry, I don't have full runs of any of these if they exist, so no recommendations in that area.
posted by cmoj at 2:35 PM on June 1, 2012

Oh yes Fletcher Hanks. There's nothing to compare him to, so I won't try.
posted by cmoj at 2:37 PM on June 1, 2012

Nthing Popeye. I am blown away at how wonderful these strips (and reprints!) are. I'm gobbling up those beautiful, gigantic Fantagraphics volumes. So, so great.

Walt and Skeezix is pretty good.

Polly and Her Pals was way ahead of its time.

(You do know that nothing is better than Krazy Kat, though, right? I'd put Popeye at #2.)
posted by Dr. Wu at 3:04 PM on June 1, 2012

I'll second Alvy's suggestion. The Smithsonian book is a trasure and a joy. There's a good section on George Herriman's work leading up to Krazy Kat, plus all the other gorgeous strips of the day.
posted by lekvar at 3:31 PM on June 1, 2012

Nthing Gasoline Alley

Fantagraphics has begun reprinting Pogo.

IDW has been reprinting Blondie and will soon do so with Skippy.
posted by brujita at 4:51 PM on June 1, 2012

Mutt and Jeff. I don't know of an organized reprint. But it was one of the first, if not the first, strip that was reprinted in cheap hardcover books, from 1912, which evolved into comic books. At least one book is listed on amazon now and they turn up on ebay etc. It also was one of the first, if not the first strip that was licensed for live action movie shorts, and then animation, from 1920, and a few are on youtube as well as on $1 dollar store DVD collections. The cartoons are not the exact flavor of the strip.
posted by caclwmr4 at 5:15 PM on June 1, 2012

gilrain: I didn't realize it'd gotten so expensive

Looking at Sunday Press' own pricing, those Amazon re-sellers prices aren't too inflated. Sure, that's around $1 per page, but those are some BIG pages, and restored with love and attention. Forbidden Planet has a discount on the first (of two) volumes, and similar discounts for other Sunday Press books.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:15 PM on June 1, 2012

Just chiming in to note that the title Walt and Skeezix mentioned by Dr. Wu is the same as Gasoline Alley mentioned by cmoj. Drawn and Quarterly recollected (and are continuing to collect and publish) Frank King's Gasoline Alley strips. Their collection has been named Walt and Skeezix after the main characters. The volumes have some great additional ephemera and essays, and I highly recommend them. Frank King was such an outstanding artist.

I should say that I am partial to the strips because when I was a production intern at D&Q, there were weeks where all day I would clean the artwork from raw scans of original comics. Zoomed in, I would pour over the details in the artwork and erase any smudges or speckles left behind by the yellowed paper. Along with becoming intimately acquainted with King's linework, I got sucked into the world that King created. One of the best things about Gasoline Alley, and what makes it stand out apart from other comics, was that every day that passed in the strip was a day that passed in the real world. That is to say, that the characters aged as the readers aged. In the early strips, Walt, a bachelor, finds a baby on his doorstep. The baby is named Skeezix, and whereas every other baby in the comics will remain in infancy, Skeezix slowly grew up. The Walt and Skeezix volumes (designed by Chris Ware) reflect this unique aspect of Gasoline Alley by showing Skeezix on the spine of the book. In Volume one, he is a baby in a bassinet, volume two, a toddler, volume three, a small boy, etc. Frank King's writing reflected everyday moments and the gradual unfolding of events. The biggest issue I have with the current syndicate is not the god awful writing (although it's bad) but the choice to ignore the passage of time that was central to King's vision. Namely, how the hell is Walt still alive, and couldn't they just give him the death that King would certainly have wanted? How old must he be? 120?

Actually, while I have been recommending D&Q's Walt and Skeezix, I will also recommend a collection of Gasoline Alley strips not published by D&Q, Sundays with Walt and Skeezix by Sunday Press Books. While D&Q collected the strips that were syndicated Monday to Friday, the Sunday strips were something else entirely. Since some folks would subscribe only to the Sunday paper, and not the daily paper, King had to write Sunday strips that would stand alone for a different audience. His Sunday strips were large-scale and colourful, experimental and sometimes philosophical. To be honest, I can't vouch for this collection in terms of publication quality, since I don't own it, but I love how King went all out for the Sunday paper and I just think I might have to get myself a copy.
posted by to recite so charmingly at 5:16 PM on June 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

It's already been suggested, but I'm not going to skip my chance at eponystericality! Little Nemo in Slumberland is wonderful.
posted by litlnemo at 9:15 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fine Artist Lionel Feininger did a short run of The Kin-der-Kids, very much in the milieu of Krazy Kat and Little Nemo. Fantagraphics did a collection you can probably still find. I'd love for those to get the Sunday Press 1:1 treatment. Also, IDW's recent Polly and Her Pals reprint was outstanding! I really hope they continue the series.
posted by Bigfoot Mandala at 9:20 AM on June 3, 2012

I'm not familiar with the comic, but the previews for Fantagraphics' new Mr. Twee Deedle book look absolutely gorgeous. From the description:
Gruelle’s creation was the winning entry out of 1500 submissions to succeed Little Nemo, which the New York Herald was losing at the time to the rival Hearst papers. With such import, the Herald added a $2000 prize, a long contract, and arguably the most care devoted to the reproduction of any color newspaper comic strip before or since.
posted by Bigfoot Mandala at 9:30 AM on June 3, 2012

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