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Random question of the moment: What was the earliest biography written in comic book form? Or rather, in comic form. Maybe a comic strip or sequential narrative mural or something. Who was the earliest subject?

Wikipedia has an entry for autobiographical comics. The earliest one they cite is Mangaka Zankoku Monogatari by Shinji Nagashima circa 1961. (The article also notes that, while Justin Green is considered an autobiographical comics pioneer, Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary didn't appear until 1972.) That surely can't be the earliest, right?

Well, let's check out some other "obvious" candidates. Parents' Institute, Inc. published a book called True Comics from April 1941 until August 1950. Each issue had several, not surprisingly, true stories told in a comic format. The lead story was usually a little shy of 20 pages, and the others ranged between five and ten pages. And there we have, in the first story of the first issue, a 17-pager called "World Hero No. 1." It's a biography of Winston Churchill.

(The same group put out Real Heroes several months later with the lead story being a 16-pager about "The Most Important Man on Earth" -- Franklin D. Roosevelt.)

In 1935, a cartoonist by the name of Clayton Knight put out a comic strip called The Hall of Fame of the Air in which he spotlit aviators, starting with Charles Lindbergh. He only used one strip per aviator, so they're incredibly short and truncated as far as biographies go, and whether or not what he did are actual comics could be debated. Personally, I'd liken these strips to Ripley's Believe It or Not! (it debuted in 1919) which featured more quick vignettes than actual biographies. Knight's work is clearly more involved, but still seems to fall short of "biography."
I can't find anything earlier. Does True Comics #1 really contain the first biography in comic form? What am I missing?
This past weekend, my local Half Price Books had a massive clearance sale. They rented out out of the available retail outlets further down in the strip mall where they're located, threw in a slew of folding tables, and dumped books on them. Nothing was marked because everything was two bucks. Grab any book off any table -- two dollars. Every now and again, you could find a very small or thin something or other for one dollar or maybe even fifty cents, but by and large, everything was two bucks.

There was some broad categories like Biographies, How To, History, etc. but there was no real organization on the tables themselves. Everything was just kind of dropped wherever there was room. Understandable, of course, since so many of the books were so steeply discounted. That meant that most everyone there was going up and down the tables scanning every title and author; it's not an environment where you can really look for something in particular. And the whole time, employees were stopping by with cardboard boxes full of more books, which would get set on the tables quickly.

I wouldn't be mentioning all this if they didn't have a comics section, of course. Lots of comic strip material, especially Garfield , Dilbert, and The Far Side, and lots of manga. Some even in the original Japanese! I managed to find a few other things of interest (seen here).

But, on to my point!

The basic business model of Half Price Books is that they take books that are no longer viable as normal retail (bought back from individuals, of course, but also remainders and such from publishers) and sell them at a discount relative to the list price. They don't have a great selection of the latest books, but they do have a wide variety of titles you won't find in many other bookstores, many of which are long out of print. For readers, this is great because they can get more reading material at bargain prices. Those of an environmental bent also get something of a warm fuzzy in knowing that they're not contributing to additional deforestation and/or an ever-increasing pile of garbage in the nearest landfill.

Nothing really new there so far. Successful commercialization of (niche) flea markets and garage sales, right?

What struck me, though, was the volume of books at this clearance sale. This photo isn't from the event I attended, but a similar one...
These are not just used books. These are used books that Half Price Books can't sell for more than two dollars. They deal largely with publishers' and individuals' overstock, which makes this stuff Half Price Books' overstock! Over-overstock? Kind of the last chance these books have before becoming landfill.

I suppose I'm mostly surprised at the sheer volume of material we're looking at here. Thousands upon thousands of books, all in perfectly fine condition, that even a bargain seller is having trouble getting rid of. That's a lot of overprinting of books. And it makes me wonder... for as many problems there are with comics' direct market, in particular the issues surrounding pre-ordering from solicitations months in advance that puts most of the responsibility on the retailer instead of the publisher or distributor, I wonder if there's something there that could be used to better serve the book industry as a whole. Because there seems to be literally tons of leftovers at this point that simply are going unsold. That seems like a huge waste of everybody's resources, so I wonder if there's something to comics' print-to-order approach.
Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: On Business: The Fall of Rat Queens

FreakSugar: Fanthropology: A History of Exclusion

Kleefeld on Comics: On History: First Fumetti

Kleefeld on Comics: Weekly Comics Links

FreakSugar: Webcomics Wednesday: Batching & Rhythm

Kleefeld on Comics: On -isms: Public Restrooms

Kleefeld on Comics: On Strips: Re-Runs

Rina Piccolo recently got hit with one of the long-standing problems/concerns of newspaper comic strip creators: she lost a paper. The Chronicle Journal of Thunder Bay, Ontario dropped Tina's Groove. That's a harsh pill to swallow in these days or declining newspaper sales who are cutting costs (like comics) all over the place. But to make the matter even worse, they replaced it with For Better of For Worse, Lynn Johnston's long-running strip that has been in re-runs since 2008.

Let's add a little context.

The Chronicle Journal actually switched up their comics section early this year. For Better of For Worse was a long-time staple of the paper, and Johnston was in town for a gallery exhibit of her work in January, but that strip was dropped shortly afterwards. Also dropped were Garfield, Non-Sequitur, Frank & Ernest, Flo & Friends and The Wizard Of Id. New additions included Sherman’s Lagoon, Bizarro, Between Friends, Intelligent Life, Mother Goose & Grimm and Tina’s Groove. As with any comics line-up change, letters were written about all the bad decisions the editor made.

Back in February, one of the letter-writers noted that it was a bit harsh to drop Johnston's strip literally a week after her visit. Particularly as Johnston is Canadian, and The Chronicle Journal should support Canadian values over U.S. ones. The same commenter also pointed out that Piccolo, too, is Canadian and her inclusion made more sense than Intelligent Life, which makes frequent references to U.S. holidays and culture and wouldn't always resonate with a Canadian audience.

And then, less than two months later, the paper dropped Tina's Groove in order to bring back re-runs of For Better of For Worse. At the time, The Chronicle Journal explained these newer changes in this exerpt...
Some old faces have returned to The Chronicle-Journal comics page. Flo & Friends, Non-Sequitur and For Better or For Worse are back in the daily comics page.

The decision to bring them back was made after careful consideration of reader feedback - both good and bad - in response to the introduction of several new strips last month.

The wry and topical Non-Sequitur has a unique take on everyday life that its fans support passionately. The older characters of Flo & Friends gives us a grin for all generations to enjoy.

From 1979 to 2008, For Better or For Worse followed the lives of the Patterson family. The re-run of their stories by Canada's Lynn Johnston are still enjoyed by readers new and old.
No mention was made of Piccolo or Tina's Groove.

It's somewhat telling that much of the language used speaks to the comfort of the status quo. "Old faces have returned..." "Older characters... for all generations to enjoy." "Re-run(s) are still enjoyed..." Their current readership apparently doesn't like change all that much, and wants to see the same comics they've enjoyed in the past. In some cases, literally the exact same ones. And the newspaper is willing to cater to that mindset.

Newspaper readership has been declining for a couple of decades now, and they've spent much of that time bemoaning their situation and how they can't seem to turn the tides of falling sales. But if, two decades on, they continue catering to a "let's not change anything ever" mindset, they've got no one to blame but themselves.
Public restrooms seem to be all the rage these days, so here's a simple step-by-step guide for using them courtesy of Joey Alison Sayers and The Nib...