An All-Time Top Ten

One of the cool things about this space is that we can play with presenting a variety of strips in slightly offbeat ways. Several times we’ve done a faux comics page that represents various strips selected from a specific date—and we’ll likely do more of those in the future—but it recently occurred to me to try something different.

Below are noteworthy installments of daily strips that grab me for a variety of reasons, culled from the mid-1920s all the way up to 1980. It’s not as simple as saying these comprise my all-time Top Ten, but certainly it’s a Top Ten view … even though tomorrow I could easily assemble another such view, and the next week another, and the next month another still. The variety that informs the rich history of the American comic strip makes it difficult to talk in the terms of absolute-bests; that’s one of its many strengths.

Take a look-see at my choices, then I’ll rejoin you on the other side for a quick discussion …

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[Click on each strip for larger version]

My first selection, from Thimble Theater, is a slice of Segar’s first, last, fabulous Popeye/Bluto donnybrook, surely one of the greatest throw-down in all of comics history. I like this strip because it encapsulates the qualities that make Popeye a character I yearn to write: his amazing physical prowess, his indomitable will, and his heart of gold. I sigh, delighted by Segar’s unique verve and wishing more kids today had a role model like Popeye …

Contrast the frenetic nature of Thimble Theater with the wonderful heartfelt emotion in this August, 1926 selection from Gasoline Alley. I confess: the soap opera from the strip’s earliest days revolving around Mme. Octave and Col. Coda doesn’t sustain my interest, but my heart melts when Frank King hands us tender moments like these.

My Little Orphan Annie selection illustrates one of the reasons I adore Punjab (I’m partial to The Asp, as well). What self-respecting kid wouldn’t like to have a trump card like Punjab up his sleeve when the bullies come a’calling?

Here at LOAC we’re big Roy Crane fans, and I believe this extract from Buz Sawyer must havereally shook up readers when it was published, on February 5, 1946. Newspapers had to be rotated, then eyes fully absorbed the image and brains flashed the conclusion: “Tot Winter ain’t walking away from this one!” As indeed she didn’t … Because many computing screen don’t rotate as neatly as a newspaper does, we’re also providing you the strip in a vertical format:

 

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Doonesbury has covered some remarkable territory in its four decade-plus run, but I love it best in its early 1970s incarnation, when the characters were played a bit more broadly, and the connection to headline-making news was still fresh and new. Mark Slackmeyer failing to retain his journalistic equilibrium as he tap-dances on the heads of the Watergate conspirators tickled me greatly when I first read it, and it still makes me grin today.

Max Collins has noted several times that no one was better than Chet Gould at depicting weather—and he’s right, of course. Here, from January ’45, we see Tracy wrapped in snow and Shaky comes to a fitting end.

My affection for the work of Jack Kent is well documented, so naturally I’d include an installment of King Aroo in this feature. It’s a work that is simultaneously smart, gently, and endearing—a rare combination that reflects Kent’s own sensibilities.

Here’s where you may say, “What? No Raven Sherman?” regarding my choice from Terry and the Pirates. While Raven’s final scenes represent the pinnacle of adventure comic stripping, the sequence as a whole is stronger than its individual parts. And I’m partial to this 1938 sequence, the only time Burma and the Dragon Lady were brought together.

I used to read Tumbleweeds religiously in The Boston Globe during my school years and it still amuses me to this very day. I suppose it’s not exactly politically correct, but I’m enamored of deadpan humor and “long takes,” and Tumbleweeds was a reliable home for both flavors of humor.

Finally, who doesn’t laugh uncontrollably at the sight of one of Calvin’s grotesque snow sculptures? Thumbing through its Complete collection makes me realize how much we still missCalvin & Hobbes. And though no one’s asking (and though Bill Watterson’s own series-closer was sublime), here’s a summary of “the last Calvin & Hobbes Sunday” I carry around in my head …

A few decades in the future, a man (obvious the grown-up Calvin) discusses with his wife their shy, quiet son—they’ve tried a number of things to get him to open up to the world and they’ve all failed. What else can they do? Calvin gets an idea, goes upstairs, and opens up a trunk—in the living room, the boy looks up as his Dad introduces his son to an old friend—and Hobbes suggests some mild deviltry to the boy, who laughs at the thought. “What would my Dad say if we did that?” the boy asks Hobbes—and as he starts walking the boy off to get his first taste of mischief, Hobbes says, “Ohh-h-h-h – I think he’ll understand …”

So there’s a rundown of Top Ten dailies from me. If you have a Top Ten of your own, why not send it to us at info@loacomics.com? If we can find all the strips, we’ll even print the ones we like best right her in this space.

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