Category Archives: comic strips

Comic Strips Can Make Me Cry

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I have been a cartoon nut for a long, long time.  I think it goes back to a time before I really have memories.  I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know who Cat in the Hat was, or that Pogo was a possum and Albert was an alligator, or that Daisy Mae constantly had to chase Lil’ Abner afore they could git hitched.  And I have always known that cartoons and comic strip characters weren’t real.  But there were a few times in life when comic strips made me cry.  Am I really that much of pansy that I wilt in the face of cartoon tragedy?  Yes.  Whole-heartedly!

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Take for instance Tom Batiuk’s long-running spoof of teenagers and life in high school, Funky Winkerbean.  One of the first things that makes this comic special is that the characters have lives that expand into the deepening depths behind the daily gag and four-panel strip.  They grow and age.  Les Moore (the geeky kid with the dark hair and nerd glasses, the character I most identified with) grew up to become an English teacher in the same high school where he had to deal with the issue of teen pregnancy.  Lisa, the girl he liked, was pregnant.  Les helped her go through the pregnancy and give the child up for adoption, and then eventually married Lisa.  Les would go on to raise his daughter with Lisa and then have to live with the fact that the child Lisa gave away wanted to find his real mother.

The strip added layer after layer to the over-all story, making me feel like I knew these people.  Funky turned his after-school  job at Montoni’s Pizza into a partnership and a career as a restaurateur.  Les would. like me, become a teacher and a writer.  Crazy would go on to be a postman and… well, Crazy.  And then the story added more layers by not always being funny.  I cried when Wally Winkerbean stepped on the mine in Afghanistan and I thought he was dead.  I cried again when Wally’s wife, Becky, moved on and married again.   And then, there was what happened with Lisa…

The artist himself had a bout with cancer.  He. like me, was turned into a cancer survivor.  It chills the bones and changes you on the inside to have a doctor tell you that you have cancer and it is malignant.  And it became a part of the story.  Lisa became first a breast cancer survivor, and then… sadly… a victim.  She died of cancer.  Her husband, Les, took up the cause and started the Lisa’s Legacy Walk for the Cure which he pursued religiously every October.  And Tom Batiuk made it real.  You can donate real money to the real Lisa’s Legacy Fund.  It is a cancer fund and fund-raising event that honors the struggle and death of a fictional character.  It makes me cry again at this moment.  They are real people to me, too, Tom.

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…And it doesn’t end with Funky Winkerbean.  Today’s re-blog of Stories From Around the World’s post does an absolutely wonderful job of encapsulating the essence of Lynn Johnston’s family comedy strip For Better or for Worse.  This engaging story of a family who also grows up, changes, and shifts from one generation to the next also tore my heart out with the un-funny episode where the dog, Farley, saves youngest daughter April from drowning and then expires from the effort, dying a hero’s death.  Another memory that causes me tears even today.

I do not regret reading comic strips.  My life is richer for all the second-hand and third-hand experiences they have given me.  Not just Popeye and Pogo and Beetle Baily making me laugh, but comic strips that make me weep as well.

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The Golden Age

I am certainly no expert on the Golden Age of Comics. I was, in fact, born the year that the Golden Age ended. I am a child of the Silver Age (1956 to the early 1970s) and those were the comics I grew up with. But I admit to a fascination with the initial creation of the characters I love, including Batman, Superman, the Flash, Captain America, the Phantom, Steve Canyon, Wonder Woman and numerous others who were first put on the comic book pages in the Golden Age. And being subject to comic book prices that zoomed upward from a dollar an issue, I was bedazzled by the ten cent price on old comics.

Comic books owe their creation to the popular newspaper comic strips from the Depression era and WWII wartime. Originally, comic strips were gathered and printed on cheap paper. Dick Tracy, Prince Valiant, Terry and the Pirates, Flash Gordon, and other adventure strips would lead to the war comics and hero-centered comics that would morph into superhero comics.

Some of the artwork in Golden Age comics leaves a lot to be desired. Especially original, straight to comic book publications that were produced fast and furiously by publishers who would open one week, produce three issues. and go out of business three weeks later. But in the mad scramble, some truly great artists formed the start of their illustrious careers, Will Eisner, Hal Foster, Milt Caniff, and Bill Elder learned to master their craft in the newspaper strips, and all later created comic books and graphic novels. True geniuses like Jack “King” Kirby and Bob Kane and Jack Davis grew directly from comic book studio madhouses into comic-book-artist immortality.

As with most things that have a Golden Age, the truth was that later comic book eras were superior in most ways. But this Golden Age was the foundational age for an American art-form that I truly love. So, flaws and warts are overlooked. And some of these old ten cent books on super-cheap paper are worth huge amounts of money if you still have a rare one in mint condition. Ah, there’s the rub for a manic old collector guy like me.

Most of the Golden Age comic book images used for this post were borrowed from the ComicsintheGoldenAge Twitter page @ComicsintheGA. If you love old comics like I do, you should definitely check it out.

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Three Books at Once

No, this isn’t some kind of multiple-book book review.  This is an ungodly silly claim that I can actually read three books at once.  Silly, but true.

Now I don’t claim to be a three-armed mutant with six eyes or anything.  And I am relatively sure I only have one brain.  But, remember, I was a school teacher who could successfully maintain a lesson thread through discussions that were supposed to be about a story by Mark Twain, but ventured off to the left into whether or not donuts were really invented by a guy who piloted a ship and stuck his pastries on the handles of the ships’ wheel, thus making the first donut holes, and then got briefly lost in the woods of a discussion about whether or not there were pirates on the Mississippi River, and who Jean Lafitte really was, and why he was not the barefoot pirate who stole Cap’n Crunch’s cereal, but finally got to the point of what the story was really trying to say.  (How’s that for mastery of the compound sentence?)  (Oh, so you could better?  Really?  You were in my class once, weren’t you.)  I am quite capable of tracking more than one plot at the same time.  And I am not slavishly devoted to finishing one book before I pick up the next.

I like reading things the way I eat a Sunday dinner… a little meatloaf is followed by a fork-full of mashed potatoes, then back to meat, and some green peas after that…  until the whole plate is clean.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson is the meatloaf.  I have read it before, just as I have probably had more meatloaf in my Iowegian/Texican  lifetime than any other meat dish.  It’s pretty much a middle-America thing.  And Treasure Island is the second book I ever read.  So you can understand how easy a re-read would be.  I am reading it mostly while I am sitting in the high school parking lot waiting to pick up the Princess after school is out.

fbofw1Lynn Johnston’s For Better or Worse is also an old friend.  I used to read it in the newspaper practically every day.  I watched those kids grow up and have adventures almost as if they were members of my own family.  So the mashed potatoes part of the meal is easy to digest too.

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So that brings me to the green peas.  Green peas are good for you.  They are filled with niacin and folic acid and other green stuff that makes you healthier, even though when the green peas get mashed a bit and mix together with the potatoes, they look like boogers, and when you are a kid, you really can’t be sure.  Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter wrote this book The Long War together.  And while I love everything Terry Pratchett does, including the book he wrote with Neil Gaiman, I am having a hard time getting into this one.  Parts of it seem disjointed and hard to follow, at least at the beginning.  It takes work to choke down some of it.  Peas and potatoes and boogers, you know.

But this isn’t the first time I have ever read multiple books at the same time.  In fact, I don’t remember the last time I finished a book and the next one wasn’t at least halfway finished too.  So it can be done.  Even by sane people.

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Milt Caniff

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My 1967 Captain Action Steve Canyon action figure.

I have always been a deeply devoted fan of the Sunday funnies.  And one of the reasons I read the comics religiously was the work of Milt Caniff.  His comic strips, Terry and the Pirates, Male Call, and Steve Canyon set a standard for the age of action comics and adventure strips.

I read his comics in the 1960’s and 1970’s and always it was Steve Canyon.  But this, of course, was not his first strip.  I would discover in my college years the wonders of Terry and the Pirates.  When Caniff started the strip before World War II, he set it in China, but actually knew nothing about China.  So he did research.  He learned about people who became oriental hereditary pirate families and organizations.  He learned to draw authentic Chinese settings.  His comedy relief characters, Connie and the Big Stoop, were rather racist parodies of Chinamen and were among the reasons that the original strip had to mature into his later work in Steve Canyon.  But perhaps the most enduring character from the strip was the mysterious pirate leader known as the Dragon Lady.

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Steve Canyon is a fascinating study in the comic arts.  When he left the Terry and the Pirates strip in 1946, it went on without him.  It was owned by the Chicago Tribune-New York Daily News distribution syndicate, not Caniff himself.  Steve Canyon would change that.  He created it and owned it himself, making Caniff one of only two or three comics artists who actually owned their own creations.  Canyon started out as a civilian pilot, but enlisted in the Air Force for the Korean War and would remain in the Air Force for the remainder of the strip.  Some of the characters in the strip were based on real people.  His long-time friend Charlie Russhon, a former photographer and Lieutenant in the Air Force who went on to be a technical adviser for James Bond films was the model for the character Charlie Vanilla, the man with the ice cream cone.  Madame Lynx was based on the femme fatale spy character played by Illona Massey in the 1949 Marx Brothers’ movie Love Happy.  Caniff designed Pipper the Piper after John Kennedy and Miss Mizzou after Marilyn Monroe.

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I am not the only cartoonist who was taken with the work of Milt Caniff.  The effects of his ground-breaking work can be seen to influence the works of comic artists like Jack Kirby, Bob Kane, John Romita Sr., and Doug Wildey.  If you are anything like the comic book nut I am, than you are impressed by that list, even more so if I listed everyone he influenced.  Milt Caniff was a cartoonists’ cartoonist.  He was one of the founders of the National Cartoonists’ Society and served two terms as its president in 1948 and 1949.  He is also a member of the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame.

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Gray Morrow

Comic book artwork grabs me constantly and makes me wonder about the lives behind the pen and ink.  Artists basically draw themselves.  Whether you are drawing Tarzan, Buck Rogers, or Flash Gordon… when you draw them, you are drawing yourself.  My first encounter with Gray Morrow was when he drew Orion in Heavy Metal Magazine (the English version of the French Metal Hurlant).

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He was capable of drawing both the grotesque and the beautiful.  Violent action juxtaposed with soft and romantic moments filled with subtle colors and complex emotion.  I began thinking that Gray Morrow must be a complex and interesting human being.  I was soon to discover his other selves.  He was the artist behind the Buck Rogers strip starting in 1979.  He and Marvel writer Roy Thomas co-created the muck monster Man-Thing.

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He also worked on Tarzan, Flash Gordon, and The Illustrated Roger Zelazny.  Unfortunately he died in 2001 at age 67.  Luckily an artist puts himself into his work, and for that reason we still have Gray Morrow with us.  It is a kind of immortality.

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This cover from Monsters Unleashed gives you an idea of how well Gray Morrow could draw.

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Hidden Kingdom… (Chapter 2 through page 19)

If you would like to see the complete Chapter One, you can find it at this link; https://catchafallingstarbook.net/2018/11/24/hidden-kingdom-chapter-1-complete/

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Comic Book Heroes Who are Older Than Me

I don’t know if you know this, but I am in reality older than Spiderman. I am also older than the Fantastic Four. All of the Avengers except for Captain America are younger than me. Well, you could argue that Thor and Hercules were around longer than me. And the Sub Mariner, And the original Human Torch, the one that Ultron would eventually turn into the Vision. But I am turning 65 this year, and only the Golden Age comic-book characters are actually older than me.

Superman, from the date of his actual creation, not first publication, is turning 88 this year. Schuster and Seigal drew the first Superman strips in 1933.

At the beginnning of June, 2021 the Spirit will be 81 years old. Created by Will Eisner in 1940 the Spirit got an entire full-color page in more than 20 newspapers with a total circulation of more than 5 million copies nationwide. Denny Colt got his super crime-fighting powers by basically being a ghost, back from the dead to punish his killers and other criminals every Sunday until 1952.

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Sheena, Queen of the Jungle is turning 83 this year, being created in 1938 by Jerry Iger working with Will Eisner, among others. She looks pretty good for her age. But, consider this, she is based on the character Rima the Jungle Girl from William Henry Hudson’s 1904 novel Green Mansions. Rima, if she had become a comic book character too would be 117 this year.

The Shadow, too, is pretty damn old. He celebrates his 91st birthday this year if you consider his pulp fiction origin in 1930. He was also the narrator of a radio show before actually becoming a comic book hero. The old man of this essay was a billionaire who could become invisible thanks to his mind-control powers. And he also had peerless martial arts prowess. He is an obvious inspiration to Bob Kane’s Batman.

Batman and Robin, as understudies to the Shadow are virtually the same age. Batman was created in 1939 in Detective Comics, and Robin would appear for the first time before the year was out. That makes them both 82 years old this year.

The first time they appeared in their own title was in 1940, so that makes the Joker, Alfred Pennyworth, and Catwoman 81 years old.

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Alex Raymond’s imitation Buck Rodgers comic, Flash Gordon, first appeared in newspapers in 1934. That makes Flash, Dale Arden, and Dr. Zarkov all celebrate their 87th birthday this year.

The Green Hornet is 85 years old.

Wonder Woman is 80 years old.

So, even though I am old and creaky, reading comics with the older superheroes in them makes me feel like a kid again. An old, creaky kid.

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Hidden Kingdom… Chapter 2 Complete

Here is the link to the complete Chapter 1https://catchafallingstarbook.net/2018/11/24/hidden-kingdom-chapter-1-complete/

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Rise of the Bargain Bin Goon

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One of the biggest problems with being an action figure aficionado with raging hoarding disorder is the fact that every new dolly has it’s own personality… and sometimes its own evil agenda.  Once you own too many of these things, especially the evil ones, it is no longer possible to properly pay attention to what they are up to.

The last installment of Action Figure Comics had the hero, Captain Action (specifically Captain Carl Action) thwarting the evil Doctor Evil by taking away his evil removable brain.  (I know I use the word evil far too often in describing the evil Doctor Evil, but he is also repetitively redundant.)  I had thought this Achilles’ heel of Dr. Evil’s… er, rather, this Achilles’ brain of the evil Doctor Evil was just too convenient a solution to the problem presented by this irrepressible evil bad guy.  But as a rule I find ignorance is bliss.     I know now that I was wrong.  That was a terrible rule to follow.  As a former teacher you are supposed to know that ignorance is not bliss… it is evil.  After 31 years of fighting the War Against Ignorance in my classroom, you would think I would remember this.  I should’ve been watching Emperor Ming of Mongo more closely… or should that be closlier?  Battle scars from the War have left me unsure.

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One has to recall that Evil Emperor Ming is really just another incarnation of the evil Doctor Evil under his mask… although not one with a removable brain.  Notice that his minion, the evil Doctor Mindbender is no less evil when it comes to redundant use of the word “evil”… and he even commits the further sin of repetitively saying “no-good goody-goody”.  “Ach!  Ja!  Evil use of bad grammar makes my battle scars hurt more!” cries the former teacher driven to write this hopeless drivel.

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What’s this?  He means to destroy the new bargain bin wrestler doll… I mean, action figure that I just bought?  I had meant to keep that as a mint in box collector’s item until the lucha wrestling fans of Sin Cara are as old as I am now.  Then I will find one of them with hoarding disorder and sell it for possibly eight dollars.  I will have made a whole dollar by the time I’m 109!

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Yes, I should’ve been watching that dang evil Emperor Ming more closely!  Now he has ruined my mint-in-box action figure by taking it out of the box.  What bad thing will he do next?  Stay tuned to this goofy old blog.  You never know, I may actually continue this story if I can keep better track of what these goofy little dolls are doing.

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The Golden Age

I am certainly no expert on the Golden Age of Comics. I was, in fact, born the year that the Golden Age ended. I am a child of the Silver Age (1956 to the early 1970s) and those were the comics I grew up with. But I admit to a fascination with the initial creation of the characters I love, including Batman, Superman, the Flash, Captain America, the Phantom, Steve Canyon, Wonder Woman and numerous others who were first put on the comic book pages in the Golden Age. And being subject to comic book prices that zoomed upward from a dollar an issue, I was bedazzled by the ten cent price on old comics.

Comic books owe their creation to the popular newspaper comic strips from the Depression era and WWII wartime. Originally, comic strips were gathered and printed on cheap paper. Dick Tracy, Prince Valiant, Terry and the Pirates, Flash Gordon, and other adventure strips would lead to the war comics and hero-centered comics that would morph into superhero comics.

Some of the artwork in Golden Age comics leaves a lot to be desired. Especially original, straight to comic book publications that were produced fast and furiously by publishers who would open one week, produce three issues. and go out of business three weeks later. But in the mad scramble, some truly great artists formed the start of their illustrious careers, Will Eisner, Hal Foster, Milt Caniff, and Bill Elder learned to master their craft in the newspaper strips, and all later created comic books and graphic novels. True geniuses like Jack “King” Kirby and Bob Kane and Jack Davis grew directly from comic book studio madhouses into comic-book-artist immortality.

As with most things that have a Golden Age, the truth was that later comic book eras were superior in most ways. But this Golden Age was the foundational age for an American art-form that I truly love. So, flaws and warts are overlooked. And some of these old ten cent books on super-cheap paper are worth huge amounts of money if you still have a rare one in mint condition. Ah, there’s the rub for a manic old collector guy like me.

Most of the Golden Age comic book images used for this post were borrowed from the ComicsintheGoldenAge Twitter page @ComicsintheGA. If you love old comics like I do, you should definitely check it out.

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Filed under artists I admire, artwork, comic book heroes, comic strips