In the years that I’ve been collecting, I’ve noticed a strange dichotomy among comic collectors and fans regarding comic strips.  Many times, the two forms are treated as separate and distinct entities (even though comic book art as we know it evolved from collections of newspaper strip-art), with strips considered to be “lesser.”  Part of this, I’m sure, stems from the fact that newspaper strips were/are even more disposable than traditional comic books, and much harder to find or collect.  Even with the extensive work of artists like Will Eisner, George Herriman and the decades-long narration of Garry Trudeau (among countless others), comic strips are still often dismissed as assembly-line kid’s stuff.  Even though comic books have been able to embrace an older audience (or, to be honest, the aging of their existing one), it’s difficult to argue that the average mindless crossover fighty-fighty is quantitatively superior to Calvin & Hobbes or the best of The Far Side.

Also, Snoopy could totally beat up Batman.

The MS-QOTD (pronounced, as always, “misquoted”) has never found a satisfactory answer to this question, even within my own mind, asking:  In your eyes, are comic books and comic strips artistic equals?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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8 Comments

  1. July 25, 2013 at 11:36 am — Reply

    Honestly, yes. It’s like the divide between TV & movies in a way – they use the same basic medium in different ways, and the best in both fields can stand alongside each other as benchmarks of artistic quality. The sad reality of comic strips being dismissed is that the traditional print-only field of strips has become dominated by legacy strips churned out by syndicates & written solely so as not to confuse or offend your grandparents, so it’s become easier to dismiss them as a field. Webcomics, meanwhile, suffer from Sturgeon’s Law and cover such a vast sub-category that finding that good percentage has a steep learning curve. It’s a case where finding the good comic books has become easier than finding the good comic strips, so it makes the strips look “less good” as a side effect.

    Also, was your goal to drive people mad by choosing that cartoon? It has a tendency to do that…

  2. July 25, 2013 at 12:24 pm — Reply

    I agree with Mela, strips are a unique presentation of the comics form. Brevity is the soul of wit, which is why strips are suited to more comedic approaches. There is a separate and distinct skill set for a successful strip, especially a humor strip that also has progressing continuity. It is a real challenge to write a gag complete and satisfying today, and also push a story forward for tomorrow.

  3. July 25, 2013 at 1:40 pm — Reply

    Fundamentally, yes. The TV/movie analogy is a good one. A great strip (or panel, or collection of strips) is much better than a mediocre comic book — and there are plenty of those. What can be done in each form is somewhat different, making this a bit of an apples and oranges question, but given the common root and expression, I’ll stick with yes.

  4. Gary
    July 25, 2013 at 3:29 pm — Reply

    I don’t think the TV/movie analogy is a good one actually. In terms of time, it’s more like commercial/movie. Strips, like commercials, rely on very quickly grabbing your attention, and punching you in the face with their message or joke. Books on the other hand have more freedom of form and length, so there’s more time to be subtle, dramatic, etc.

    Are they equal? On the whole I’ve got to go with the books as being better. Just compare the top ten lists. I’m not going to argue about Dark Knight vs Calvin and Hobbes, or if Watchmen beats The Far Side. But, when I start comparing my #3 book to #3 strip, and #4 to #4 and so on, the books very quickly start to win out. Are there examples of mediocrity on both sides? Certainly…

  5. Oldcomicfan
    July 25, 2013 at 7:59 pm — Reply

    These are some good thoughts here. But I propose that it depends on the era you are talking about. In my youth there was a huge variety of comic strips available ranging from the Katzenjammer Kids to Prince Valiant. Humor, Sci-Fi, Westerns, Pogo, Adventure Strips, Spy Strips, Soap Opera strips, you name it! (Trudeau was not the first with decade-spanning storylines, by the way, some of Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie stories ran for years!) I mean, look at that Charles Addams cartoon you posted above. In one single panel – without words – he said as much as a whole issue of Courtney Crumrin!

    But with the passing of the old guard, and the reduction in the size of newspaper pages, the simple “gag a day” strip replaced nearly every other genre of comic strip, which is a pity, because we used to wait eagerly for the sunday funnies to appear so we could see the next installment in our favorite ongoing adventures! Now I can go years without seeing a Sunday strip and not miss them.

    On the other side of the coin, the comic books of that era were, for the most part, pretty pathetic. Blippo the Super Monkey? Bat Mite? Mr. Tawney the Talking Tiger? Batroc the Leaper? Oh, give me a break! The art was mediocre compared to today’s standards and the coloring was a joke. When I look at modern comic books, there is no comparison! Except when they go off on some “event comic” tangent the stories are superior, the art is far better, the coloring fantastic and even the paper much nicer!

    So my answer is this: No they are not equal. They trade places in the spotlight like ice dancers in slow motion. I’d have to say that the comic book industry of the 50s-60s was the unwanted bastard child of the newspaper strip industry, but as the newspaper strip industry entered its dotage and was regulated to the nursing home of history, the comic book industry has become the heir apparent who has surpassed its predecessor in every respect.

  6. July 25, 2013 at 9:58 pm — Reply

    Agree with some of the other comments that you can’t compare today’s gag strips to masterpieces like Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon, Rip Kirby, Prince Valiant et al. Stories that took weeks or months to tell allowed for character development that comic books hardly ever achieved. Characters were part of the readers’ lives – pen and ink celebrites as it were, even the more fantastic ones lie Flash, Buck, Mandrake and the Phantom. They celebrated Christmas and New Years with us,either in the storyline or paused for one-off holiday greetings; look at the reaction of everyday readers to Normandie’s death in Terry, Dick Tracy’s wedding, the birth of Sparkle Plenty, Annie’s Sandy being run over by a car … fan reaction to the death of Gwen Stacy didn’t come near – and that was only from comic book fans. (and that was back when character death meant something). During a newspaper strike in NY, Mayor Laguardia read the comics over radio so that nobody missed what was going on with their favorites. Today’s “characterization” in comic books written with minimal dialog boils down to Batman is dark and gritty, Wolverine is mean, Starfire is sexy, etc.

  7. July 26, 2013 at 1:19 am — Reply

    As someone who creates his own weekly strip, (feel free to check it out through my URL!) there is something to be said for strips being a version of the medium with “less commitment”. The whole reason I do a strip and not a narrative that carries week-to-week is that I don’t have to work the story too hard. There’s a short-hand at play thematically and visually, so I don’t have to put in the writing chops like someone would do for a 22-page issue, let alone a continuity wide crossover.

    The brevity of the medium also allows the art to be less detailed. Black and white strips raise far less eyebrows than black and white comics for example. Again the visual shorthand allows for a more cartoony, humour-driven sketch to suffice instead of heavy shaded, cross-hatched perfect human anatomies. I feel that a strip with David Aja’s art would be kind of a waste for some reason.

    • Oldcomicfan
      July 26, 2013 at 8:20 am — Reply

      Yes, with the minuscule space allowed for comic strips in todays paper, what you say is true. With the decline of the comic strip, there are whole generations out there who have only known Dilbert and Garfield, and never saw the glorious and goofy art of the comic strip masters, nor enjoy the epic storytelling of Milt Caniff or Harold Gray. If you want to see visual shorthand, take a look at Harold Gray’s art, which was often derided as being simplistic but when you study it or try to duplicate it, you realize just how good the man truly was at his art. Or take a look at Hal Foster’s art on Prince Valiant which was almost good enough to put on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Todays comic strips are a pale shadow of what they once were. They are like trying to make chicken soup using only the shadow of a chicken. It’s not as fulfilling as the real thing.

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