Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Newspaper Comics #1

Newspaper comics?  This is a webcomic review blog-thingy, isn't it?  Well, yeah, but as I said way, WAY back in my Webcomic Categories article, newspaper comics are one of the prime motivators for webcomic artists.  And I need to write some different articles to pad out my regular webcomic reviews.

Unlike my webcomic reviews, this will be less about multiple reviews and more about the influence of individual newspaper comics on webcomics, sometimes specific strips, sometimes on the industry as a whole.  Well, as much as I know about them anyway.  And who do we start with?  What newspaper comic more perfectly encompasses everything the typically webcomic wishes to be?  Why, Peanuts, of course.

There are probably only a handful of truly great newspaper comic artists in history, and amongst them Charles M. Schulz is god.  There are older strips (Blondie started in the 30's) but none of them even hold a candle to the sheer influence of Schulz and Peanuts.

I love the comic, pretty much always have, so excuse me if I gush any.  Yeah, it's good, and it seems to me that a lot of webcomic artists can find in Schulz a kin to them.  He did the entire thing (not sure on the coloring, can't find anything on that) himself.  He drew it and wrote the jokes alone, and let no one else do it.  So much so that his retirement meant the end of new strips and all that's currently in the paper are reruns.  A one man show, and something most webcomic artists can relate to.  Of course, he also did it for more than 50 years (not counting his proto-Peanuts strip), I don't think there's a webcomic more than 15 years old that's STILL updated.

There's a timelessness to the strips.  Most of the strips require little, if any, knowledge of the era in which they were draw, and almost never include modern technology or topics.  You'd never hear Charlie Brown and Lucy argue over cell phone ring tones.  This helps keep the strips from ever feeling dated and the jokes can be felt even from the eldest of strips.  I actually have a book of old Peanuts strips printed in 1963 and featuring strips from the 50's (it's a small book) and the jokes in that are still funny after all these years.

Which isn't to say Peanuts doesn't visibly age.  The art changed from those early years until the end (Snoopy is unrecognizable from early on, almost to point of looking like a character from a more modern comic, Mutts), and the jokes got flatter as time went on.  But hey, after 50 years, what do you expect?  The last 10 years were probably the worst for the strip, and considering that it's still better than 90% of what ends up in my newspaper, that says a lot about the comic.

And it's sheer popularity allowed it to build up a massive collection of TV specials, books, a play, and more merchandising than can be easily matched by any strip (Garfield probably wins the race, but only JUST).  I suppose it's no surprise that even 10 years after Schulz's death and the end of new Peanuts strips, the comic is still one of the major draws of the funny pages.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that Schulz died not long after ceasing production of the strip, and a kind of symbolism that the last strip was published the day after his death.  A great comic and it's artist had passed on just as they should, together.  Which is more than I can say for a lot of strips.

Every webcomic artist wants to be the Schulz of their genre.  To be revered by everyone and to get the acclaim worthy of such an artist.  But I haven't run into one that truly deserves that title yet.  I suppose it is because of the youth of the industry and the lack of a way to truly measure the greatness of a strip in any direct way.  The Washington Post poll shows much of this as it lacks strips that should be there, and places strips that should NOT be there because of a popular nomination process.  Of any of those, I don't think any could match Schulz for sheer universal appeal.  I'm not sure if that's good or not, after all Peanuts probably helped maintain the funny pages in newspapers for decades, but also created an environment where papers EXPECTED comics to last 50+ years and change hardly at all.

I suppose I would be remiss to not mention Weapon Brown, a comic that takes the character names and foibles direct from Peanuts and the rest of the funny pages.  It places them in a completely different environment with only slightly different, if harder, personalities and is actually very fun to read.  I suppose the greatest honor is that at the bottom of every new strip, the artist puts a panel from the original Peanuts to act as a kind of alt-text to his work.  That's a hell of an influence.

Well, that went on a while, and rambled a bit.  Oh well.  Next time, I think I'll tackle another of the great comics, and one comic I used to absolutely love beyond reproach, though not so much any more.  Until next time kiddies.

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