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Drama and adventure -- three panels at a time!
Sequential comic strip narrative has been with us more than 100 years. The earliest American comic strip is considered to be The Yellow Kid, which debuted in the late 1800s, using narrative techniques that had previously been pioneered in political cartoons and religious artwork in antiquity. According to the Michigan State University Special Libraries, during the 20th century there were more than 200 different comic strips and daily cartoon panels in American newspapers alone each day -- for a total of at least 7,300,000 episodes.
Although the first strips were humor-based, serialized adventures and dramas were added to the mix in newspapers starting in the 1930s and 1940s.
My wife and I do a comic strip, Best Mann For the Job. (Details below.) Below are also several examples of legacy and modern comic strips that can be read online. More comics at my blog Free Comics Online.
Created in 1918 by Frank King
The pioneering comic strip Gasoline Alley is a long-running family saga noteworthy for allowing its characters to age over time. In the early days, the star of the series was confirmed bachelor Walt Wallet -- who, on Feb. 14, 1921, found an abandoned baby on his doorstep. Over the years, the baby Skeezix (slang for "motherless calf") was adopted, grew up, and served in the armed forces during World War II. The other characters aged as well -- today, Walt Wallet is well over a hundred years old. His wife Phyllis died in 2004 (at an estimated age of 105), leaving Walt a widower after some 80 years.
Today, Gasoline Alley is in the capable hands of Jim Scancarelli, who continues the good-natured tale of four generations of Wallets. And little baby Skeezix is now a man in his 80s -- an elder to a whole new generation of young cast members.
Frank King's Gasoline Alley collections
Created in 1931 by Chester Gould
Created by cartoonist Chester Gould in the 1930s, the long-running comic strip Dick Tracy stars a hard-hitting, fast-shooting, quick-thinking police detective who matches wits with the bad guys. Over the years, Gould created a series of memorable villains (including B.B. Eyes, Flattop, and Pruneface) and introduced such innovations to crime-fighting technology as the two-way wrist TV and closed circuit TV police line-up.
Following Gould's retirement in 1977, the comic strip has been handled by a variety of creators. Today, Dick Tracy is illustrated by artist Joe Staton and written by Mike Curtis.
The complete strip is being reprinted from the beginning in hardcover editions by IDW Publishing.
Chester Gould's Dick Tracy collections
Max Allan Collins era
Created in 1938 by Allen Saunders and Dale Conner
Soap-opera comic strip Mary Worth first appeared in 1938, created by writer Allen Saunders and artist Dale Conner (under the pseudonym "Dale Allen"). In the 1940s, Saunders partnered with artist Ken Ernst, who brought a realistic style to the strip that Toonopedia suggests transformed Mary Worth into "the prototype for a new style of soap opera strip, later displayed in The Heart of Juliet Jones, Friday Foster, Apartment 3-G and others."
Today, the series is continued by writer/artist team Karen Moy and Joe Giella. King Features wants to remind readers that "Mary Worth stories are not about Mary. They are about a continuing parade of people who enter Mary's life. If you look closely, you may recognize one of your neighbors -- or even yourself." Over the years, the series has confronted such issues as drug addiction, spouse abuse, alcoholism, infidelity, and concerns of the elderly.
REX MORGAN, M.D.
Created in 1948 by Dr. Nicholas P. Dallis
Popular soap-opera comic strip Rex Morgan, M.D. was created in 1948 by psychiatrist Dr. Nicholas P. Dallis under the pseudonym Dal Curtis. Dallis created the strip to inform the general public about medical issues in an entertaining manner; he went on to create the long-running strips Apartment 3-G and Judge Parker.
Today, the strip is in the hands of writer Woody Wilson, who took over scripting following Dallis's retirement in 1990, and artist Graham Nolan. The creative team made the news when a recent storyline in Rex Morgan went for five months without its title character. During that time, the series focused on his nurse Becka as she tried to find escaped Alzheimer's patients.
"You try to create a backstory, a story where Rex and June are not the only compelling characters but the rest of the cast as well," Wilson told the Virginian-Pilot. "We've got a lot of good characters -- Becka being one of them."
There was another reason to feature her: Wilson had a family member stricken with Alzheimer's, and felt compelled to address the condition in the strip.
Created in 1952 by Dr. Nicholas P. Dallis
The long-running serial drama Judge Parker was created in 1952 by psychiatrist Dr. Nicholas P. Dallis -- also the father of successful "soap-opera" comic strips Rex Morgan, M.D. and Apartment 3-G. Chronicling the lives of Judge Alan Parker, attorney Sam Driver, and Abbey Spencer, Judge Parker has captivated readers in 175 newspapers with true-to-life story lines, drama and suspense.
Writing under the pen name "Paul Nichols," Dallis partnered first with artist Dan Heilman, then Harold LeDoux. When Dallis retired in 1990, he handed the script-writing for Judge Parker and Rex Morgan over to assistant Woody Wilson, who continues to write both series today. In 2006 Eduardo Barretto took over art duties, until just this past month when a "grave illness" forced him to pass the pencil on to new artist Mike Manley. (COMIC RIFFS: 'Judge Parker' names Mike Manley as strip's new artist)
Created in 1958 by Jack Berrill
High school sports-oriented comic strip Gil Thorp was created in 1958 by Jack Berrill. The title character, athletic director of Milford High School, coaches baseball, basketball, and football. A "sports strip that is not just about sports," the series also deals with issues facing teens, including drug abuse, steroids, and teen pregnancy.
Berrill was the primary force behind Gil Thorpe for 38 years. In 1993, glaucoma forced him to take on a series of artists -- Warren Sattler, Frank Bolle, and Ray Burns. Berrill continued writing the series up to his death in 1996.
In the years since, the strip has been in the hands of writers like novelist Jerry Jenkins and baseball coach Chad Jenkins. Today, the creative team on Gil Thorpe is Detroit News columnist Neal Rubin and artist Rod Whigham.
Created in 1961 by Dr. Nicholas P. Dallis
Following his success with soap-opera comic strips Rex Morgan, M.D. (1948) and Judge Parker (1952), psychiatrist and writer Dr. Nicholas P. Dallis turned his attention in 1961 to the phenomenon of working women. As such, he created with artist Alex Kotzky the residents of Apartment 3-G, three career women making their place in Manhattan. The three stars of the comic strip -- brunette Margo Magee, an event planner; redhead Abigail "Tommie" Thompson, a nurse; and blonde Lu Ann Powers nÃ©e Wright, a widowed art teacher -- are said to have been originally based loosely on Joan Collins, Lucille Ball, and Tuesday Weld.
"Apartment 3-G is one of the few strips that has not fallen behind the times," notes distributor King Features Syndicate. "Rather, the world has sped to catch up with it. More contemporary than ever, the strip speaks directly to the new generation of women who try to juggle careers, men and friendship."
Today Apartment 3-G is written by Margaret Shulock and drawn by Frank Bolle.
Created in 1990 by K.J. Kolka
Writer/artist K.J. Kolka created high-flying superhero The Cardinal for his college newspaper in 1978. He revived the series in 1990 and has been creating it off-and-on ever since -- including stories in newsprint, comics, and online. Kolka describes the comic strip on GoComics.com:
"The Cardinal" is the story of a group of people living in a fictitious university town whose lives are touched by an ordinary young man who believes he has been called to be a super hero. Some think he's crazy. Some think he's even dangerous. Maybe his heart is just too big for his head. Regardless of these, his vision will definitely impact his community.
"My goal in this is NOT to just create another super hero strip. Rather, I hope to make this into somewhat of a hybrid strip. Yes, there will be action, danger and suspense, but also humor, tragedy and a sense of wonder and awe about life. My hope is that these stories will not just quicken your pulse, but also touch your heart."
Read The Cardinal comic strip free online (GoComics.com)
More about The Cardinal (Comics Sherpa)
BEST MANN FOR THE JOB
Created in 2009 by Chris and Erica Well
A woman with a complicated past returns home to the small town of Hope Falls to be sheriff. It's a serial drama for fans of classic comic strips, with the crime-bustin' chops of a rural Dick Tracy, the small-town charm of Gasoline Alley, and the emotional touches of Mary Perkins On Stage.
Read it from the beginning at StudioWell.com
Best Mann for the Job (Trailer)
A woman with a complicated past who returns home to serve as the small town's new sheriff.
Comic Strips Vs. New Media
Do you read comic strips -- either in newspapers or online?