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.

“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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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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Connie and Frank Godwin’s Gentle Realism

Frank Godwin’s 1927-1941 adventure strip Connie should have been among the standout strips of its day on a number of counts. While its launch as a Sunday light-hearted take on the modern working gal (a la Tillie the Toiler, Ella Cinders), its extension to a daily in 1929 turned the lithe and stylish Connie Kurridge (yes, “Kurridge”) into one of the first comic strip adventuress. While others consider her the pioneering female adventure character, it seems to me Harold Grey’s Little Orphan Anniehad already been working this genre since 1924. Still, Connie was the first woman in strips to take on the typical tropes of pulp drama – globe-hopping, eccentric villainy, world-shattering consequences. She employed a combination of savvy, courage, physical daring and comely attraction to both overcome and disarm her antagonists. And the scene-shifting was impressive. In the first years of the strip she moves from being an aviator to reporter to charity worker and eventually in the 1930s as a white defender against the “Yellow Combine” when she time travels to 2349 AD.

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Like a Comet: Frazetta Races In

On Jan. 28, 1952, Frank Frazetta’s breathtaking talent for dramatically charged action and erotic, muscular figure drawing finally made its way into newspapers with one of the most gorgeous, if short-lived, strips of the decade, Johnny Comet. The eponymous adventure was set in the racing world, a theme that should have tapped naturally into the car customization craze of the 50s. It was ceonceived and distributed by the McNaught Syndicate, ghost-written by Earl Baldwin, but co-credited to Frazetta and 1925 Indianapolis 500 winner Peter DePaolo who served more as an advisor and was attached to the project to lend an air of authenticity. Hobbled perhaps by uninspired scripting, Johnny Comet failed to catch on despite its standout visual poetry.

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