January 8th, 2014

Ask A Cartoonist: A Fine Vintage

by Countess Tea

One of the most popular features on Comics Kingdom Royal is the vintage selection— and with good reason.  When I first started working at King Features, I wouldn’t leave at lunch– I would just sit at my desk and page through the amazing vintage comics– lots of Quincy, Heart of Juliet Jones, Little Iodine, and Krazy Kat for me! And of course, Flash Gordon.  As a kid, I had a load of Flash Gordon serials on video, and they were one of my favorite things to watch. So, in honor of Flash’s birthday yesterday, I decided to ask our cartoonists about their favorite vintage comics!

What are some of your favorite classic or vintage comics, or favorite classic cartoonists?

The best comic strip ever created, as everyone knows,  is Nancy by Ernie Bushmiller. Three rocks. ‘Nuff said. — Bill Griffith, Zippy the Pinhead

I love the dark humor of Charles Addams, and James Thurber. I also like a lot of the British cartoonists like Thelwell, Giles, and Ronald Searle.  — Isabella Bannerman, Six Chix

I love the style and story arcs of Barnaby by Crockett Johnson (of Harold and the Purple Crayon fame). — Alex Hallatt, Arctic Circle

Windsor McCay’s Nemo in Slumberland was visionary, using the poetry of images to tell a story while having immense fun in the process. It remains an unequaled landmark.  — Bill Holbrook, On The Fastrack and Safe Havens

Skippy was a phenomenon to me. The art is so free and energetic and has such vitality. Percy Crosby’s visual shorthand was breathtaking. In addition to Hank Ketcham, Mort Drucker’s incredible penwork set the standard for me growing up. Disney Animated movies were the Mount Olympus of inspiration.  — Ron Ferdinand, Dennis the Menace

Actually, I have quite a few favorite vintage strips. Popeye by Segar was very good. Al Capp, creator of Li’l Abner was one of the very best. I really liked his storylines, the characters and the art. His Fearless Fosdick is a true classic example of comics strips. Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo was incredible. His art and writing was so very inspiring. One thing that always shook me up was that ‘toonists like him had just as much time as we do today, yet their art was far superior than anything I have seen in recent years. Little Iodine was very funny as was The Wizard of Id by Brant Parker. It was their styles that really drew me in. I have always been a fan of great art and storylines. — Ray Billingsley, Curtis

Like almost every kid who dreamed of being a professional cartoonist because they could already see themselves freezing up during the MCATs, LSATs, and the application for clown college, I took great inspiration from Peanuts, even identifying with Charlie Brown to a disturbing degree, only with a more varied wardrobe and minus the preadolescent alopecia.  But I also read and was fascinated by the numerous long-running serial comics that ran in my hometown newspaper, including the constantly maturing characters of Gasoline Alley (which made me fear one day I would see Walt drop dead of old age as I ate my Cocoa Puffs), the intrepid adventures of ace reporter Brenda Starr (whose journalist credentials somehow remained unscathed even after being portrayed by Brooke Shields in the movie version) and the constantly missing/perhaps dead/probably visiting his other family husband of Winnie Winkle (my mom’s favorite comic when she first moved here from Portugal), along with many others. But perhaps the “soap opera” strip that intrigued me the most was Dondi. Maybe it was because it was about a five-year-old Italian WWII orphan who was still a five-year-old Italian WWII orphan in the 1970’s (making one wonder if the strip was actually the graphic novel version of The Tin Drum). Maybe it was because he was the only character in the Sunday funnies with such a pronounced ethnic name like myself. Or maybe it was because I always hoped he and Annie would team up to form an orphan private investigator firm that fought crime with martial arts, because it was the 70’s and if you weren’t practicing kung fu you better damn well be doing the hustle. — Francesco Marciuliano, Sally Forth   

The Little King, by Otto Soglow.  I actually found out about him through Comics Kingdom, and just bought the anthology of it as a Christmas present for myself.  (I can break the rules around Christmas, being Jewish and all.)  From the book. I found out that The Little King first appeared in The New Yorker and William Randolph Hearst (who started King syndicate) lured him away.  Dark dealings aside, The Little King fits into my favorite types of comics– it’s a one page story, there’s always a clever joke, there’s a lot of white space, and he uses as few words as possible.  In fact, most of the time there are no words at all.  It’s really funny.  — Hilary Price, Rhymes With Orange

I still love Peanuts and have bought some of the collections. Schulz’s lines looked so deceivingly simple yet were so full of expression. I also loved Herriman. Krazy Kat is timeless and almost  futuristic in its surreal landscapes and dialogue.  — Stephanie Piro, Six Chix

This is a good question for me personally because it gives me the opportunity to tell you of my experience with the comic strip Krazy Kat by George Herriman. For much of my early career, I used to listen to other cartoonists talk about Krazy Kat as though it was something magical, or extraordinary. I would read it and think Yes, okay, it’s a great comic strip… but, magical? Extraordinary? I just wasn’t drinking the same Koolaid.

Until one day I had a collected Krazy Kat book on my lap and some time to kill. I sat there and consumed an enormous amount of strips in one sitting, and then it suddenly came to me like a thunderbolt: I was completely immersed. The world Herriman had created with pen and ink was no longer a gag and a drawing on paper, but an actual fantastic reality come to life in my head. I don’t want to get all kooky, but the word existential comes to mind when I think of it.  I even said out loud, What the hell is this? Whatever it was, I was completely taken by the weird atmosphere of the Krazy Kat world. Its events, its players, and its surreal landscapes suddenly coalesced, and left me in a wonderful, but strange, mood. That’s some tasty Koolaid.  –Rina Piccolo, Tina’s Groove and Six Chix

What are some of your favorite vintage strips– here on Comics Kingdom, and elsewhere?




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