Year in Review: The Wisdom of the Crowds

I posted a lot this past year and attracted thousands of new visitors along the way. And so as the year ends I wanted to surface some of the most popular items of the past year that might be of interest to newer readers of the blog.

Moon Mullins on the Margins” was the most-read post this year, and it was part of a mini project exploring several comics characters on the edge of social respectability that flourished in the 1920s. Frank Willard’s deft touch with comic timing and raw flurries of insults and put-downs really impressed me this time through just a sampling of his work. I wish more of his strips were available in reprint. I used this old short edition, which is still available from used booksellers.

Likewise, the piece on Mutt first meeting Jeff in 1908 explored how the acerbic relationship between these two scallawags grew. Bud Fisher used this scheming duo to take aim at social and political trends, and could be suprisingly edgy. In one case they plotted to dodge the draft for WWI. Mutt and Jeff is another classic that could use a reprint. The most recent one, which I used for this post, was part of NBM’s Screwball reprints in 2007, still available, however.

Maurice Ketten’s short-lived ”Hurry-Up New Yorker” series in 1906 for The New York World was a wonderful find for me this year, as it seemed to be for many of you. Ketten’s modernist style embodied the theme of this strip and was among many visually interesting takes on the new urban environment in the comics pages. And to get on my hobby horse again, I think this very theme of urban change is one of those places where the American comics distinguished itself in Americasn culture. Few other popular or high art forms were capturing the new experience of urban environments as richly and as consistently as comics artists.

Discovering the wondrous Nell Brinkley was one of the highlights of my comics journey this year. She was a trailblazer in so many ways. Her heroines were flapper feminists, and her ideal of modern femininity replaced the Gibson Girl with that Brinkley Girl. I discovered Brinkley in my favorite book of last year, Trina Robbins’s ”Flapper Queens,” which I can’t recommend enough. Still widely available at a good price for the size, quality and scope of this look at several of the most popular women cartoonists of the 1920s.

The idiosyncratic style and worldview of comics strips is one of my main attractions to the form, and I got to revisit two of my favorite extremists of the form this year. The cranky Harold Gray’s populist vision of humanity and society in Little Orphan Annie was established in every aspect of the strip’s plainspoken art style, plotting and characterization. Human character was the real subject of the strip. And to this day I find no cartoonist more compelling and absorbing than Chester Gould. As the Library of American Comics wound down its massive 29 volume reprinting of Dick Tracy, it gave me an excuse to come at the strip from several angles, all compiled here. I especially enjoyed reviewing the many ways Gould doled out retributive justice in the grisly ends to his gruesome villains.

Looking forward to 2022 here at Panels & Prose, I have some thoughts on Hank Ketcham and Dennis the Menace on deck. I’d like to dig into The Bungle Family, especially if I can get hold of more dailies than are reprinted in the indispensable LOAC Essentials volume. Tuthill’s was a uniquely dark vision of 1920s family and social dynamics. Similarly, I don’t think E.C. Segar’s Thimble Theatre both before and after Popeye’s arrival, for its highly critical view of modern American character and acquisitiveness. As Fantagraphics starts reprinting the Sunday Popeyes, it makes a fine occasion to revisit the contentious Oil clan and its many machinations.

Also I hope to enrich Panels & Prose with some more forays into the larger reach of comic strip media in American culture. The many film and radio serials inspired by comics series, as well as the invention of the situation comedy itself, all beg for greater scrutiny. Finally, I also hope to step up my postings about new books of special interest to comic strip fans. There are so many resources online aimed at comic book collectors, but no one I have seen is focusing on what is new and available during this new golden age of comic strip reprints.

Many thanks to all of you who have been reading my musings this year.

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