The Syncopated Syndicate

Continuing our look at a century of King Features Syndicate offerings in advance of our King of the Comics retrospective, here are some “DVD Extras” that reflect the state of both KFS and newspaper comics during the period of the 1960s through the 1980s …

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The changes on the comics page that had begun during World War II took firm root during the 1960s. The size of strips shrunk to the point where adventure strips were literally being squeezed off the newspaper page. Gigantic strides made by television—which began the decade by televising the first Presidential debate and broadcast prime time fare “in living color” by 1969—put a further choke-hold on action comics, as the audience increasingly turned to the small screen for its daily dose of derring-do.

The generation gap also played a major role in the 1960s—the audience was growing younger as baby boomers came of age, while the master cartoonists of comics’ golden age were now well into their fifties and sixties, their pioneering days now behind them, an audience they no longer fully understood before them.

Comedy continuity and gag-a-days were increasingly becoming the order of the day, and King Features had new offerings such as Frank Ridgeway and Ralston Jones’s Mister Abernathy. Here’s a snowy New Year’s Day sample from 1962:

J61_ABERNATHY

By the middle of the decade King had introduced its own “kids’ strip;” though very different from Sparky Schulz’s Peanuts, the new Tiger, by cartoonist Bud Blake, quickly staked out its own winsome, heartwarming territory on hundreds of newspaper comics pages.

J62_TIGER

Combative married couples were a time-honored entertainment trope: The Bickersons had a popular radio run, Jackie Gleason’s Honeymooners were must-see viewing on the DuMont Network, and Bringing Up Father already had a half-decade of comic strip success under its belt. As the ’60s wore down a new single-panel entry into the “Love & Marriage” sweepstakes appeared in the form of The Lockhorns. This delightfully barbed series has entertained readers through the remainder of the 20th Century and into the 21st. This particular example was too muddy for us to consider using in King of the Comics, but the zinger cracked me up so much, I wanted to share it with you here. Plus, one we DID use.

J63_THE_LOCKHORNS

J63_LOCKHORNS

By the early 1970s social change was visible everywhere. All in the Family had debuted, anchoring what would become a powerhouse Saturday night lineup for CBS-TV while making politics, sex, and the generation gap subjects for thought-provoking laughs. Into that newer, more open entertainment environment, Thaddeus “Ted” Shearer helped put African-Americans onto the daily comics pages with his endearing Quincy:

J64_QUINCY

The talent behind The Lockhorns, Bill Hoest, took on a second, multi-panel series in the 1970s. Here’s an intro/promotional strip and a late-November 1977 example of his Agatha Crumm:

J65_Crumm_Promo

J66_AGATHA_CRUMM

As the ’80s unfolded King began acquiring other newspaper syndicates and absorbing their comic strip offerings to expand its own mammoth holdings. Among those acquisitions was the most popular adventure-strip to launch in roughly two decades, a series that was added to the LOAC stable earlier this year. Here’s a 1989 selection from The Amazing Spider-Man produced by the brother Lieber, Stan and Larry:

J67_SPIDEY

To those of us for whom the ’70s and ’80s seem like yesterday, it’s a bit shocking to realize there’s still a quarter-century of King Features history that follows the Spidey strip above … but it’s true. We’ll wrap up our King Features retrospective next time!

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