The Aging of the Funnies

I found myself staring at the fine-print on the comics in today’s edition of the Bend Bulletin, our local paper – things like the date, the syndicated company, and the name of the artist.  Curiously, that latter bit of info – the artist – turns out to be different from the creator a fair amount of the time.  Odd, right?  Maybe not, considering how long many of these strips have been around.  While wondering about just how old these strips were, and who’s penning them now, I compiled the following list.  It’s a rundown of each comic in our paper, along with when it was started, by whom, and who is responsible for the strip today:

  • Peanuts – Started in 1950 by Charles Shultz (deceased 2000).  It is still the headline comic, reprinting old strips.
  • Garfield – Started in 1978 by Jim Davis. Still penned by Jim Davis.
  • Dilbert – Started in 1989 by Scott Adams. Still penned by Scott Adams.
  • Doonesbury – Started in 1970 by Garry Trudeau.  Still penned by Garry Trudeau.
  • Beetle Bailey – Started in 1950 by Mort Walker.  Penned by Mort’s son Greg.
  • For Better Or Worse – Started in 1979 by Lynn Johnston.  Story line “restarted’ in 2008.  Lynn still writes and sketches, but final art done by other artists.
  • Dennis the Menace – Started in 1951 by Hank Ketcham (deceased 2001).  Now penned by his assistants, Ron Ferdinand and Marcus Hamilton.
  • Blondie – Started by Chic Young in 1930 (deceased 1973).  Now written by Chic’s son Dean, drawn by John Marshall.
  • The Family Circus – Started by Bil Keane in 1960.  Written by Bil, with ink/color by his son Jeff.
  • Hägar the Horrible – Started in 1973 by Dik Browne (deceased 1989). Now drawn by Dik’s son Chris.
  • The Wizard of Id – Started in 1964 by Brant Parker (deceased 2007) and Johnny Hart (deceased 2007).  Now penned by Brant’s son Jeff.
  • Zits – Started in 1997 by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman.  Still penned by Jerry Scott.
  • Frank & Ernest – Started in 1972 by Bob Thaves (deceased 2006).  Now penned by Bob’s son Tom.
  • B.C. – Started in 1958 by Johnny Hart (deceased 2007).  Now penned by Johnny’s grandson, Mason Mastroianni.
  • Born Loser – Started in 1965 by Art Sansom (deceased 1991).  Now penned by Art’s son Chip.

Notice a theme here?  On average, these strips are 44 years old so it’s not surprising that half of the creators are dead – a handful, several decades so.  And yet their strips live on, drawn by the creator’s children, or even grandchildren, or their assistants.

It’s a rather sad situation.  Comics are an artform that does best when driven by a mind that holds an insightful, creative spark.  But most of these strips lost that spark long ago, either when the reigns were handed off to someone else, or when the artist simply ran out of places to go with the strip’s characters.  But they are so lucrative that there is a lot of incentive to keep them going for however long they can be milked.  The result are tepid strips growing ever more dated with each passing year.  The real tragedy is the lost opportunity to showcase some of the talented young comic artists that are (surprise!) emerging on the Internet, who are creating strips like XKCD, Wondermark, Questionable Content,The Abominable Charles Christopher, Cyanide & Happiness, and Drawn By Mouse, to name a  few.

David Malki, who pens Wondermark, analzes this phenomenon in more depth and insight than I could ever provide in the final post of his “Comic Strip Doctor” series.  It’s worth a read, as are any of the other posts in his Comic Strip Doctor critiques.  So go learn something about these strips you may have been reading your whole life.   Meanwhile I’ll be here staring at the list above, wondering why it is readers have tolerated this situation for so long.

2 responses to “The Aging of the Funnies”

  1. Years ago I wrote the features editor of the Raleigh News & Observer begging her to axe Peanuts, which hasn’t elicited a laugh from me in decades. She responded that she, too, found Peanuts dull, but if she cut it, greybeards would come out of the woodwork to complain. The zombification of the comics page prevents new artists and writers from emerging. Its too bad that more folks don’t have the guts to do a Watersson and retire at their peak, making room for new strips.

  2. I’ve grumbled under my breath about that most times I glance at the comics. What a waste of that public space! Just never seemed quite important enough to take action, but once you laid out the grim reality… well you ought to send that to a journalist. It would make a fascinating article in the NYtimes and might just shake loose some editors.

    Speaking of how animation can “illustrate” a point, check this out-