Why read comics?
There’s the Internet, there are video games, apps, TV shows, movies, music, books, theater, radio plays, museums, art galleries… There are bills to pay, jobs to get to and/or find, homework and chores to do, people to be with (or avoid)…
Finding a reason to do something else is real easy.
But once you stumble upon that first comic book or graphic novel or manga or web-comic that connects with you in a way like nothing else, it’s even easier to realize that comics can’t be ignored. They can be an exceptionally engrossing form of entertainment and a transcendent form of artistic expression.
The short version is – THEY’RE AWESOME!
Sure, it’s a great way to spend some spare time. It’s a fun way to be entertained. Some light escapism is great. And if you’re looking for more, there’s plenty of that too. They have unbridled freedom for creativity and expression. They can be crazy, bizarre, unpredictable, adventurous, sublime, hilarious, romantic, informative, brazen, crass, gentle, healing, and so much more.
The longer version gets a little deep, so hold on.
We may think of comics as old newspaper strips, superheroes and funny animals, but the art form and language have pervaded our entire culture.
Some in literary circles see the graphic novel as the young upstart to the established prose novel. But comics actually predate print and the written word. Pre-historic cave drawings used symbols, imagery and sequential storytelling like a primitive comic strip mural. The written language could even be said to be the evolution of these kind of devices. Just as our brains have been trained to understand that a big, lazy orange cat that eats lasagna and hates Mondays is Garfield, so too do we understand that a circle with the right side missing is the letter ‘C’ and that it makes certain sounds in our language. Taken further, we also understand that a red octagon means we should STOP. We understand that words over someone’s head means they are speaking those words. All of this representative symbology could be said to be related to the development of comics. They are a deeply engrained aspect of our basic visual communication.
Because of these fundamental building blocks, comics are arguably the most powerful, pervasive and instant form of communication. And whether you agree or not (it’s not really a contest, after all), comics have proved themselves to be just as capable forms of entertainment worthy of some time as any other. I hope you’ll give them a chance.
Keep checking back here at The Comics Observers for more Intro to Comics articles, where we’ll explore basic aspects of the big world of comics so it doesn’t seem so daunting and overwhelming to check something out. (And me we might touch more on theory from time to time.) If you’d like to see if you can find something you might like, check out What to Read. If you have a question or want to see something explained, post a comment below, or write through Facebook, Twitter or email.
And here we are!
If you got here from my comics coverage at CoreyBlake.com or from DigComics.com, thank you for your continued interest. You’ll find that all of my comics-related articles from CoreyBlake.com have magically teleported over here, along with some even older articles from here and there.
If this is your first time, thank you for taking the time to stop by! You’ll see some new articles from the last month and tons more to come!
So what can you expect? The world doesn’t need yet another comics news site, so while I will be providing my own commentary and unique coverage of current events in comics, the site will look to provide a gateway to people just getting into this massive form of entertainment and also give occasional recommended reads. As visitors get more comfortable, they can dig deeper by looking at spotlights on unique experiments in comics and fun facts of the past. And as a special bonus for local readers here in Los Angeles, I’ll feature events like signings and conventions in and around the LA comics scene. To learn more, see the About page.
It’s very likely you’re here for only a few of these things and that’s OK! Just use the handy navigation menu at the top to see the articles you’re interested in.
We’ll have guest-bloggers, like this Friday’s coverage of an LA play that merges theater and graphic novels. We’ll take a look at a publisher’s digital exclusive comic and see if it succeeds as a promotional tool. What else? If there’s anything you’d like to see, let me know. If you have questions about comics you’ve always wanted to ask but were embarrassed, ask away (anonymity provided upon request). Post in the comments below every article, join The Comics Observer Facebook page, follow @ComicsObserver on Twitter, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To start, the site will update Wednesdays (new comics day!) and Fridays to keep the focus on quality over quantity.
Thanks again for stopping by. We’ll see you on Friday!
We’re getting closer to the beginning of the big summer blockbuster season and once again, comic book adaptations are making up a very visible percentage of the big cinematic spectacles. But before Green Lantern, Thor and Captain America, before Iron Man, Batman, Spider-Man and Superman all had their own superhero movies, there was Happy Hooligan.
Over 100 years ago, newspaper comics were still refining the language of comics but at the same time they were becoming a hugely popular form of entertainment. It was basically TV for the masses before there was television (or even radio, for that matter) in America’s living rooms. In 1899, one of newspaper’s biggest moguls, William Randolph Hearst, hired a respected illustrator of humor magazines to add to his growing roster of newspaper cartoonists at the New York Journal. Hearst quickly found that comics significantly increased readership and was a powerful communication tool, and he was a fan himself. He paid better rates to steal creators from his competition, and would fight for less successful creators he believed in. Hearst’s respected illustrator was named Frederick Burr Opper and one of his big creations was Happy Hooligan, which debuted March 11, 1900.
The comic strip was about a disheveled tramp with the worst luck. Happy would frequently try to do good, only to fall (usually literally) to some accident conveniently witnessed by a passing cop who thought Happy was causing the trouble. Most comics ended with Happy being dragged off by one or more cops to serve some excessive amount of jail time. Someone in the legal system must have taken pity on Happy because the following Sunday he would be getting into trouble all over again.
Above is an example from August 24, 1902, preserved and represented by Barnacle Press, which has a veritable treasure trove of old newspaper comics. The physical comedy is played out seemingly second-by-second in each panel. The main fun is in following each step of the small disaster as it unravels, and how each chess piece moves around the space and interacts with the others. In this instance, the chess pieces are Happy, the woman, her horse, Happy’s brother Gloomy Gus (essentially serving as our point of view), the police officer that runs onto the scene, and the tree. The tree’s broken branches and Happy’s pocket knife also serve as secondary chess pieces. Even the bush in the background seems to respond to the action in each panel. And Happy’s ever-present tin can hat adds to the whole. It might look like it vanishes but it’s still on his head at the end, flattened from the action in panels 6, 7 and 8.) You can re-read the strip following just one of the chess pieces. Speech balloons helped direct attention to certain chess pieces at specific moments. The “camera” holds at one angle throughout, similar to vaudeville theater at the time (Gloomy Gus even breaks the fourth wall and talks to the readers/audience at one point). But this also enhances the effect of following the action. We’re a witness to this unbelievable accident as though we were walking by. It also makes it easier to track the action, allowing each panel to serve as a before and/or after comparison of the panels around it. It seems primitive at first (the panels are numbered to make sure readers understood the reading sequence), but it’s really quite a wonderful bit of choreography, and was probably really eye catching to readers of the time. It still holds a lot of delight. I love the horse’s faces! And there’s something really bewitching about Gloomy Gus’s spotted hankerchief, which seems to know more than it’s letting on.
The comic must have hit a chord with people fairly quickly, because within the year the silent film producer/director J. Stuart Blackton (who also created the first American animated film) began making live action short films based on Happy Hooligan. Blackton himself played Happy, complete with torn clothes and a tin-can as a hat. Six shorts were made between 1900 and 1903. Sadly, nearly all of the shorts have either been misplaced or dissolved from the passage of time. Fortunately, The Library of Congress has been able to retrieve and digitally save about 1 minute of one of the last shorts in 1903. This scene was shot on June 15, 1903, at the New York studio of the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, the production and distribution company for the shorts.
Cute bit, definitely a classic. But from the start, you can see that movies already had a challenge in adapting comics that would dog them for a century. The visual effects just can’t recreate the madcap slapstick and physical choreography of the comic strip. And this was a good 35+ years before superheroes introduced superpowers and flashy costumes into the mix. Movie-making technology has come a long way since then but it’s still a challenge to get the visuals right. Just last week, the reveal of Wonder Woman’s costume for the new TV series caused much outrage and ridicule online. We’ll see how this summer’s movies tackle it.
Meanwhile, Happy Hooligan went on to influence Charlie Chaplin’s tramp and other lovable homeless characters with bad luck. Happy had three brothers, one of which was named Gloomy Gus (seen in the comic above), a term that’s still sometimes used today to describe an excessively depressed person. Happy also had three nephews that looked nearly identical and spoke in unison, likely influences for Donald Duck’s nephews Huey, Dewy and Louie. The strip has also been cited as the comic to establish the consistent use of speech balloons as the regular comics form of depicting dialogue. Before that, comics typically had dialogue below the panel as a caption. While the comic might take work for some readers to adjust to its aging style of storytelling, it will always hold a significant place in history.
I was trying to figure out what comic strips were running in The Boston Globe when I started reading the comics section as a young lad. I know there was Garfield, probably the Amazing Spider-Man strip, Peanuts most likely, For Better or For Worse probably, but I can’t really remember what else. I think I started regularly reading the comics pages just before Calvin and Hobbes started, as I remember that being “the new strip”. So probably around 1984? I would love to have that information.
I was hoping I could find a scan of a random page from the ’80s to help refresh my memory. You can find everything online, so I figured this might take some clever Googling but should be doable. Well, apparently not. (Or I’m just not a very good Googler.) I did an image search at “the Google” for said random scan but no such luck. Then I did a search of all the internets, every single one of them, hoping for some ugly GeoCities fan site created by an obsessive-compulsive Globe reader who had cataloged every comics page, preferably using HTML tables and yellow font on a gaudy background. Maybe a dancing Calvin & Hobbes gif to really seal the deal? Well, GeoCities is gone, so maybe it took this hypothetical site with it. Once again, no such luck.
So this got me thinking. This is something that should be out there. All of the major newspapers with comics sections: The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune – it would be a great historical resource to know which strips ran in which papers when and for how long. (Last night on Twitter, I mistakenly included the New York Times in my initial wish list, but they don’t have a comics section.) Getting smaller papers would be great too but at least the major papers initially. And this information undoubtedly exists. The syndicates surely have extensive records of this information and more, although they probably have little motivation to provide it. So it will likely fall to the people to collect this information. So come on, everyone, let’s head to our local library‘s microfiche and get this going!