Saturday, January 22, 2022

COMIC STRIPS OF THE 1960s, part 1

When a giant star runs out of hydrogen to burn, it fades and dies but not before it flares up in one final burst of heat and energy, called a supernova.

The supernova era for traditional illustration was the mid 20th century.  The magazines and newspapers that had been the platform for illustrations and comic strips were fading away.  Magazines that fueled the golden age of illustration either died (The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, Liberty, Scribner's, The Century) or changed their business model, turning primarily to photography (Life, Vanity Fair, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, Sports Illustrated, Esquire).  Similarly, The newspapers that carried comic strips were passing away at an alarming rate as they lost readership to television and then to computers and mobile phones. 

In an effort to win back readers, art directors became more adventuresome, seeking attention-getting images and graphic styles that TV and computers could not offer.  This created a burst of new freedom for artists.  Excellent cartoonists rose to the challenge and produced strong work, but in the end talent was not enough to overcome the laws of economics. 

I've previously offered a series of posts about magazine illustrations from this period.  Now I'd like to do the same for the art of newspaper comic strips.  The classic strips from the golden age (Flash Gordon, Prince Valiant, Terry and the Pirates) had already faded away.  Circulation was dwindling and size was shrinking.  But before the comics page evolved into today's simplified format, dozens of strips such as Apartment 3G, Big Ben Bolt, Friday Foster, Mac Divot, Rick O'Shay and Tales of the Green Beret came and went.  These strips were less famous than their legendary predecessors but still showcased skillful, well composed drawings by artists who cared about their work.

I usually try to display images here from the original art, but for the next several days I'll be showing images on yellowed newsprint, with occasional smudges and shadows as they were originally viewed. 


 I think that's a more fitting way to remember this moment in the history of art.  


Li-An said...

First time I see Rick O’Shay but it’s quite stunning for Belgian/French audience as the charging officer lives the same running gag seen in another parodic western : Les Tuniques Bleues from Cauvin and Lampil (see Cpt Starck).

T said...
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T said...

Wow, the third image of the cart dropping the bags is something spectacular...perspective, detail, proportions etc.. fantastic.

Vanderwolff said...

This one was a jolting rush of vertiginous nostalgia (verstalgia?).
Of no particular import other than an example of degrees of geographical corners reached, I remember Stan Lynde's amazing work on Rick O'Shay as a transplanted gringo kid growing up in Michoacán, Mexico in the very early 70's. Every six months we had to travel back up to the Mexico/US border to renew our tourist Visas, and Mom would stack up on a half-year's worth of American magazines and different newspapers, just to give us a tenuous connection to home between trips. Along with Gus Arriola's Gordo and Frank Robbins' Johnny Hazard, studying those few precious samples of Stan Lynde's endlessly creative onomatopoeia, slick linecraft and nimble figure-work brewed up in a nine-year-old's imagination an indescribable convergence of admiration, wonder and the urge to try to emulate that particular magic. I knew nothing at the time about earlier masters Will Eisner, Alex Raymond or Milton Caniff, but this was my own epochal encounter with sequential narrative greatness. Not knowing, thankfully, that the fuse had already been lit on the demolition of that last pyrotechnic hurrah of the American comic strip.
Thanks for highlighting this often-overlooked period David!

Anonymous said...

What comic strip is the "plop" panel from?

David Apatoff said...

Li-An-- I looked up Capitaine Starck and enjoyed him. It seems like captains yelling "charge!" is a universal phenomenon.

T-- I'm glad you liked it, I think you may be surprised by the number of quality drawings I will be unearthing over the next several days. There's really a wealth of material by less-than-famous artists of the 60s who were producing three drawings everyday, more on Sundays.

Vanderwolff-- Ah yes, Rick O'Shay was a favorite of mine as well, and the next post is about that strip in particular. Artists such as Eisner, Raymond and Caniff hogged the spotlight but I think the artists who were part of "that last pyrotechnic hurrah" did excellent work and maintained their standards as it became more and more clear that they were on the losing end of history. I give them extra points for valor as newspaper circulation declined, soap opera strips fell out of favor, and compensation went down. The Peanuts model of simplified strips with no backgrounds, details, perspective or shadows was about to dominate the newspaper comic page, but of course no one knew that.

Anonymous-- The "plop" panel was from when Dick Moores took over drawing the comic strip Gasoline Alley. More excellent drawings from him will be coming up soon.