I haven’t been too kind to comic strips. I love the art form, have read them all my life (produced a few mediocre ones) but I have come to dislike the current state of most newspaper comic pages. A big part of this is that they continue to run amazingly old and outdated material. Strips repurposed with new artists and writers, strips from dead people, strips that have been running for 90 years.
Let me make myself clear. I very much love and appreciate old comic strips. I have collections of almost all of them including Dick Calkins oddly lovable Buck Rogers interpretation (I grew up reading that giant tan collection of Buck Rogers Strips). I loved Prince Valiant when drawn by Hal Foster, I was amazed as anyone by Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon (at times almost too elegant to work on a comics page). I can even read the occasional collection of Li’l Abner, though it hasn’t aged well. I still refer to Walt Kelly’s masterpiece Pogo and that’s not even listing the modern strips I enjoyed like Calvin and Hobbs, Peanuts (when it ran the first time) and Hagar (15 years ago). And today we have a few real winners (LOVE Cul de Sac).
(And by the way it tells me something that I still consider Peanuts a modern comic strip)
But too much of most comics pages are given over to work that should have retired years ago. By clinging to the ancient hits, the newspapers killed off generations of good new work. And then you have things like Garfield, which are not so much a strip as a marketing exercise (Garfield should pay newspapers to run it, as it is only an ad for merchandise and media. It’s quality as a comic strip is nill).
So I am quite happy to read that they are retiring that golden oldie, who hit it’s stride during and after the Great Depression, Little Orphan Annie. Harold Gray’s original strip was on the delightful side, at least when he wasn’t rebuking New Deal politics. It was good in 1924, great in 1933 or so, and since…well. I’ll say no more.
The newspaper comics page epitomize the newspaper industry. By doing so little for so long, by refusing to change with the times in any way, they have allowed the art form of syndicated comic strips to mostly die. They helped kill the baby they delivered. Most popular culture art forms change with the times. The comics page is still mostly holding onto a collection of work that would interest only a comics art collector or nostalgia hound.
There is no doubting that Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson did the right thing. He retired, he retired the strip. Making room for new material. If only a few more creators would have done that instead of milking the form for every last cent, the comics may have had a future.