The Sunday Funnies

By Jeremy Meltingtallow

“The Sunday funnies” is a phrase that conjures up nostalgic images.  Family members arguing over who gets the comic section first.  Kids on their hands and knees reading the funnies on the living room floor.  Dad taking a Sunday snooze in his easy chair, the comics spread across his lap.  The Sunday funnies have been a tradition in American life for more than a century.

When Hi and Lois started in 1954, newspapers were still one of the primary sources for daily information and entertainment.   Radio, which was introduced in the 1920s, coexisted with print publications and both mediums continued to thrive.  This began to change in the subsequent decades as television lured readers and listeners into its seductive universe.

In 1950, TV sets were owned by only 3.1 million homes.  Within five years the number jumped to 32 million.  By 1959, the average family spent six hours a day, seven days a week, in front of the “boob tube.”

Adventure and story strips suffered from this competition because newspaper editors assumed that readers no longer had the patience to follow plots that took weeks to develop when they could watch a complete episode on television in thirty minutes or an hour.  Humor features, which delivered daily laughs, began to replace story strips as the dominant genre in newspaper comics.

Hi and Lois was a beneficiary of this shift in readership. The Flagstons, like most American families watched their favorite TV shows but also continued the tradition of reading the funnies.  In this Sunday page from 1962, Hi give the twins a lesson in comics appreciation.

Hi and Lois Sunday page, February 4, 1962. Hi and Lois Sunday page, February 4, 1962.

Newspapers are now competing with digital media for their readers’ attention.  Comic strip syndicates have responded to this challenge by setting up web sites on the Internet where readers can create their own personal comics pages.

This Sunday page from 1999, summed up my attitude at that time about traditional printed newspapers versus the new technology.

Hi and Lois Sunday page, March 21, 1999. Hi and Lois Sunday page, March 21, 1999.

King Features Syndicate felt this episode provided a positive statement about what newspapers provide to their readers.  They made large (19” x 13”) color prints of the Sunday page, which we signed, and sent them to all of our newspaper clients.  It was a good public relations move.  As newspapers struggle to remain commercially viable in the 21st century one of their cost-cutting solutions has been to eliminate their comics pages. Hi and Lois is one of the few features that has avoided cancellations and continues to maintain its list of subscribers.

I have since adapted to the changing times.  I stopped reading the New York Daily News after they dumped one-third of their comics, including Beetle Bailey.  I now subscribe to two digital comic services, DailyInk and GoComics, and follow close to thirty comics a day online.  You can’t fight progress.

– Brian Walker