Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Funnies

As a kid I was a big fan of the Sunday comics in the newspaper. Many of them like Dick Tracy, Gasoline Alley and Blondie are still around. Looking at them today, they seem to belong to another age and I can't believe they still run them. My father read the New York Journal-American during the week, but on weekends for some reason, he switched to the Daily News. I remember waiting for him to come home from church with the fat Sunday edition of the News under his arm. Before television was part of our lives, the comics section of the newspaper was so popular that New York's Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia used to read them aloud on the radio to kids glued to their Emerson consoles.

For adventure, The Phantom was my guy. He lived in the Skull Cave with a trained wolf and rode a big white horse names Hero. Created in 1938 by Lee Falk (who also gave us another fav of mine called Mandrake the Magician) the Phantom does not have any supernatural powers but instead relies on his strength, intelligence and fearsome reputation of being an immortal ghost to defeat his foes. The Phantom is the 21st in a line of crime fighters that originated in 1536, when the father of British sailor Christopher Walker was killed during a pirate attack. Swearing an oath to fight evil on the skull of his father's murderer, Christopher started the legacy of the Phantom that would be passed from father to son. Cool.

When Charles Schulz sold his first comic strip to the United Feature Syndicate in 1950, it was the Syndicate that changed the name from Li'l Folks to Peanuts - a name that Schulz himself never liked. Hard to believe but Charlie Brown and company have been around for over 60 years. Unlike some of the older strips, Peanuts to me is as funny today as in was back then. The characters are timeless as are Schulz's observations about life. The thing that really put Peanuts over the top for me was the drawings. In a few simple panels, we saw Lucy, Snoopy, Peppermint Patty and all the gang teach us that the world can be cruel. Just as you are about to kick that football through the goalposts, someone just might pull it away.

Dick Tracy, a hard-hitting, fast-shooting and intelligent cop created by Chester Gould made its debut on October 4, 1931. The strip was so popular that it appeared on the front page of most newspaper comics sections. Gould did his best to keep up with the latest in crime fighting techniques; while Tracy's cases often ended in a shootout, he also used new technology and advanced gadgetry like the two-way wrist radio to track down the bad guy. The strip also introduced famous Tracy villains like Pruneface, Mumbles and hitman Flattop Jones. Aided by his partner Sam Ketchum and his sweetheart Tess Trueheart, Dick Tracy was the hero of every law-abiding American boy.

Finally, don't ask me why, I loved Popeye. He first appeared in the daily King Features comic strip Thimble Theatre on January 17, 1929.  The strip was created by Pete Segar and revolved around the main characters: Olive Oyl, Popeye's skinny girlfriend, Bluto, Popeye's  muscle-headed nemesis, and Popeye's pal Wimpy who would always promise to "...give you a quarter on Tuesday for a hamburger today." The plots were predictable: Olive Oyl flirting with Bluto, panicking when he took her up on it, and Popeye saving the day after eating a can of spinach for strength. Popeye ate spinach in order to encourage children to eat more vegetables; that sure as hell didn't work for me.

It seems like a million years ago when I sat at our kitchen table in Brooklyn, bowl of Cheerios and cup of coffee in front of me, (I didn't have a cigarette with my coffee until I was 12)  reading these great old comic strips. The world was simpler then, but life goes on. "Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories." ~From the movie An Affair to Remember


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association


Joseph Del Broccolo said...

Terry and the Pirates, now that was the ticket!

Jim Pantaleno said...

Forgot about him...and Smilin' Jack too.