Friday, April 26, 2013

Newspaper Comics #11: Wizard of Id

Over the years I've collected various books with newspaper comics in it.  I've got the Complete Far Side books, massive tomes that bend my bookshelves with their sheer weight, a half dozen Garfield books, and an old book of Peanuts comics.  But one of the odder ones turns out to be the first published book a comic, which is wild considering it's been around since 1964.  And of all things, it's the Wizard of Id.

Id was originally the product of the work of two men, Brant Parker and Johnny Hart. Hart is basically known for one of the great old zombie comics, B.C.  I likely won't ever talk about B.C. because, well, I don't read it.  Parker, however, is the main force behind Id, until he died, so Id is kind of a zombie too.  As I've said before, the line between zombie and legacy is very fine, and as of late, it seems it's leaning more toward legacy, but for a while, it was a zombie, just going through the motions.

Of all these older comic reviews, it's really rare I actually get a chance to read the earliest strips.  I've read early Garfield strips (old Garfield is a strange beast, literally), and seen some early Family Circus strips (but only a few), but most of these really old comics are pretty much forgotten.  Having not just some of the early strips, but an official collection of such strips is actually quite a treat for me.  Whether they are the first strips or not is hard to say (I suspect they are), but it is still something to have, and then to be able to compare it to the modern strips thanks to Go Comics (and not my local paper) makes this review kind of a no brainer.

The modern strip is very much a standard comic.  Setup, joke, punchline arrangement is normal and the gags only occasionally link up with current events.  I won't call it a bad comic, it isn't, but it does feel very generic.  It has gotten away from the worse of it by focusing more the Wizard himself as of late, as if the Wizard was always the focus of the comic that they had gotten away from (it's not BTW).  New ideas are good for these kinds of comics, it did wonders for a lagging Garfield which is now actually readable after a decade of mediocrity.  Still, it's very much a "staple" comic, one of those strips that just appears in the funny pages but no one remembers when or how it got there.

Those early strips, though, feels much lighter.  It's still an old newspaper comic, strips rarely follow one another in any form of continuity, but there is a great sense of "let's try this and see if it works."  I get that feeling from a lot of young gag strips, and it's here too.  It's weird how refreshing it feels in this early work, and how I would happily read this comic even now.  Don't get me wrong, I don't HATE the current version of Id, but I'd love this version more.  It's rawer, has a much sharper edge than the current comic.  Not that it's particularly sharp, of course, it's still a newspaper comic, but there's a lot more implied death here.  The King does NOT take anything, more than willing to order the execution of children for simple games at the drop of a hat.  No, I'm not kidding on that either.  He is a tyrant, through and through here, where he only KIND of a tyrant in the modern strip.

Are these changes bad?  Well, yes and no.  No, because I really like these early Id strips, they feel like, well, some webcomics I've read.  Yes because it's still being published since it debuted in 1964.  Softening the edges off made it appeal to a wider audience and kept it in the papers for decades.  Did it make the comic weaker?  Yeah, it did, but some changes worked out in it's favor.  For example, the King has COMPLETELY changed from his original version which was more akin to a playing card king and thus more distinctive.  The artwork as a whole became smaller, probably as the space for comics shrunk over the years.  They're still identifiable between the versions, but you can tell there's a difference there.  The personalities, though, are virtually unchanged, so these are the same characters.  And there is a solid core of them, unlike Beetle Baily and it's mountain of characters, there are relatively few in Id and they each have there own roles to play.

Wizard of Id is a pretty generic comic any more.  Nothing special or great about it, but nothing godawful either.  Occasionally it's quite funny, but usually it's just a passing glance.  It's a shame, given it's edgier roots, but even those roots aren't THAT edgy.  There are worse comics out there, and there are better.  The only real thing I can say about it is that it's a great example of people working together to create something new, even if Parker went on to run the comic alone.  Beyond that, it's there, and that's about it.

Next time, I have to do some touching base.

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