Happy Birthday, Dennis

On March 12, 1951, Hank Ketcham’s Dennis the Menace premiered. Ketcham’s artistry only looked effortless. In fact, every aspect of the strip was thought through and expressive of the strip’s deeper joys. I wrote about this early last year, but resurfacing it for Dennis’s birthday. And here is a bit of 1950s gender studies, via Dennis.

Mandrake The Weird

For all of their international popularity, I confess I could never warm up to Lee Falk’s proto-superheroes, Mandrake the Magician and The Phantom. Of course, historically they were significant mainly for introducing the idea of the ridiculously costumed adventure hero to mass audiences, paving the way for the juvenilia that defined comic books through much of WWII and then again after the early 1950s comics scare. And Falk’s creations remain among the most recognizable comic strip characters of all time. Therre is not getting around their sheer iconic import. And yet, I myself never found Falk’s storylines especially compelling or tense, nor his villains daunting. His early defining artists, Phil Davis on Mandrake and Ray Moore on Phantom become merely competent if anodyne figure artists, and their use of panel progression and framing is, again, meh.

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“All the Moose That’s Fit to Print”: Bullwinkle in Print

On July 24, 1962, the successful Rocky and Bullwinkle Show made its way onto the newspaper comics pages. Written and drawn by Al Kilgore, who had worked on the comic book iterations of the successful TV cartoon series, and some scripts for the show itself, it was a rare instance of faithfully translating popular cartoons to daily print. From this first strip, Kilgore embodied the wry self-consciousness of the Jay Ward Production. the inaugural story “Big Bomb” carried the same absurdist satirical tone and topicality of the TV series.

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Hugh Hefner’s Cartoon Chicago

Hugh Hefner was famously supportive of cartooning in the pages of Playbpy for decades, in part because he was a frustrated artist himself. Samples of his own attempts at single panel humor surface from time to time in biographies of the legendary publisher and the history of his landmark magazine. Less well-known is that in 1951 and prior to his meteoric Playboy fame he published a collection of his own comic work focused on the theme of his beloved Chicago., That Toddlin’ Town: A Rowdy Burlesque of Chicago Manners and Morals. This was very much an insiders’ cartoon revue, as Hef broke the volume into Chi-town’s famous districts and infamous institutions like The Loop. Michigan Avenue, Bug House Square, North Clark Street, The El, and the activities for which they were famous: strip bars, b-girls, the city’s multiple newspapers, soapbox orators.

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Skyroads: Flying As Fetish

After the fast success of Tailspin Tommy in 1928 from the Bell Syndicate, the John F. Dille company responded with Skyroads about five months after the syndicate introduced Buck Rogers. The otherwise forgettable strip is perhaps most notable as a stable for artists on more important projects.

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Prince Valiant Launches

On February 13, 1937, Hal Foster launched his legendary epic Prince Valiant with these first three panels. The scans are from his original uncolored art (via the Fantagraphics Studio Edition) and illustrate Foster’s masterful use of light and shadows to render his forms. Full first Sunday below

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