Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Judge Parker - Sophie's Crash, Part 2

Last week I shared a major development in Judge Parker. Writer Francesco Marciuliano and artist Mike Manley are past masters at the art of newspaper comic strip storytelling. And it is an art.

Since the  1950s, real estate for comic strips has shrunk. For editors, it allowed them to put more strips on fewer pages -- but it also meant leaving less room in each strip for art and text.

Gag-a-day strips managed the transition, but adventure and dramatic (soap opera) strips struggled. For a continuing story strip, each daily installment must provide a synopsis to get readers (both old and new) up to speed and significantly advance the story. Here's an example from Judge Parker from 1952.

Note the level of detail, particularly in the background. The first panel sets the scene and provides the synopsis. Mr. Santo has an incriminating letter, and he needs to see the judge. The last panel shows us the men who want to stop him and promises danger tomorrow.

By contrast, here's Judge Parker today.

In order to have any dialogue at all, Manley's forced to use two panels instead of three. There's no space for a synopsis, but the caller's dialogue sets up the situation. And the picture of that angry father with a shotgun should encourage readers to come back tomorrow to see how this will play out.

As for the art, note the thinness of the lines. Manley uses simple block shadows instead of cross-hatching and textures. There's a reason for that.  Look at what happens to our 1952 example when shrunk to modern dimensions. The text is difficult the read, the drawing details just make the panel look cluttered.

Despite these restrictions, Marciuliano and Manley excelled in November 2016. In addition to the Sophie storyline, Marciuliano kept three other storylines in play.

1) Neddy, Sophie's adult sister was building a clothing factory to produce her fashion line.
2) Judge Parker, retired and now a best-selling author, was working on a screenplay for his most recent book.
3) His son Randy (also a judge) and his wife April are expecting their first child.

Then tragedy struck all four story lines simultaneously. And the week after Sophies' crash, these daily strips followed.

Neddy's factory collapsed into a sinkhole, leaving her to face the consequences.

Sophie's body is missing from the crash site, so her adoptive parents don't know if she's alive or dead.

The screenwriting project is stalled, leaving Alan Parker to doubt his abilities to write, Plus, their daughter-in-law April is missing.

April's father and his associate (both with espionage backgrounds), head for Europe on the trail of April. 

It was a powerful week of reading if you (like me) had been following all these story lines. And they're not yet all resolved. But there's still plenty of incentive to keep me reading every day. I can't remember another instance of a comic strip -- current or vintage -- that had more than two story arcs going at the same time. 



  1. do you have any more 1952 judge parker strips?

  2. No, I'm afraid I don't. I found that online. There are scattered examples from the 1950s and 1960s, but no archive that I know of, unfortunately.