Monday, May 24, 2010

Legacy strips: frozen or fresh? Part 1

The big news in sequential art (newspaper comic strips) was the demise of Little Orphan Annie. After 86 years, the strip's syndicator called it quits. In honor of the event, Time Magazine published a list of the 10 longest-running comic strips. It's an interesting lineup.
  1. B.C.
  2. Dennis the Menace
  3. Beetle Baily
  4. Annie
  5. The Katzenjammer Kids
  6. Gasoline Alley
  7. Blondie
  8. Dick Tracy
  9. Prince Valiant
  10. Brenda Starr
As I view it, the strips seem to fall into two categories: those hampered by their legacies, and those trying to build on them.This post we'll look at former from Time Magazine's list.

What happens when a legacy strip's frozen? It's pretty much the way the original artist left it. The style of the artwork is followed as closely as possible. The cast of characters doesn't change.The clothes, the gags, settings and tropes don't change, and everything remains just the way the artist left it. From Time Magazine's list, here are the frozen:

B.C. - Did you know the original creators are long dead? You can't tell from the strip, which hasn't changed at all. B.C. is so frozen its got freezer burn.

Dennis the Menace - The art's changed slightly, but the last new character added was tomboy Gina, back in the 1970's. Dennis still bugs Mr. Wilson, still reveals embarrassing secrets, and so on. Brrr.

Beetle Bailey - The addition of Gizmo as the tech-crazy IT guy updates the strip slightly, but you can count on seeing Sarge falling off a cliff and hanging from a branch at least once a month. And Beetle will appear beaten to a pulp at least twice monthly. Pretty frosty

The Katzenjammer Kids - The hi-jinx of these mischevious kids has been toned down as sensibilities changed, and the art is cleaner and less detailed -- a nod to the shrinking panel size. Although still set in German South-West Africa (as it has since its inception in 1897), the native population has virtually disappeared from the strip, primarily due to evolving attitudes about depicting the same. In terms of creative development, though, it's still 1916. Slightly thawed, but only slightly.

Blondie - Although the characters don't age, there have been changes to the strip. Since Chic Young died, Blondie has started a catering business, Dagwood now carpools instead of catching the bus, J.C. Dithers and CO. uses computers instead of typewriters, etc. Although the basic gags remain the same, this is a strip that comfortably works within its established boundries rather than be hampered by them. Defrosted.

Dick Tracy - Max Allan Collins stove mightily to update the character after the death of creator Chester Gould, but he was only partially successful. Dick Tracy is no longer involved with the Moon men (don't ask), but he still fights an endless stream of grotesque villains with Dickensian name in the pattern established by Gould. The only real difference is that the art is less detailed (shrinking space) and the story arcs are shorter. The current Dick Tracy does little more than recycle past glories without the seat-of-the-pants inventiveness Gould brought to the strip. Permafrost's building on this one.

Next: Fresh not frozen! The comic strips that effectively build on their legacies.

No comments:

Post a Comment