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Here's a curious find from ebay: a series of watches from Sutton Time featuring characters from various King Features comics. In the mid-1980s, Sutton evidently licensed the rights to use Nancy, Blondie, Hagar the Horrible, Hi & Lois, Robot Man, and Beetle Bailey on a line of watches...
Beetle Bailey Watch
Blondie Watch
Hagar the Horrible Watch
Hi & Lois Watch
Nancy Watch
Robot Man Watch
The whole idea seems to stem from the "Comic Times" name that's kind of a pun, but not a very good one. As you can see, the bands all feature a variety of non-sequential panels, with another on the watch face itself. My guess is that choosing random panels was to get them to fit on the band. Most are in color, but Robot Man is not for some reason. It's also the only one to feature the logo/name of the strip. The copyright on it is two years earlier than the others, so it might be a preliminary run.

Kind of an odd marketing piece, but there are stranger ones out there, I suppose. But here's the thing that really bugs me about these, though. The only panel that you would be able to read while using the watch in a naturalistic way (i.e. on your left wrist with your arm bent at a right angle so you can read the time) is the one on the face. The others would be sideways when you look at the watch normally. But worse yet, there's no way you could read the panels right-side up while wearing one of these! If you held your arm up parallel to your body, the comics would all be upside-down! You'd have to really twist the hell out of your arm to read those panels. Unless the idea is to just show it off to other people who would be looking at it from the other direction? But how often would you do that?

How many people had to approve these, and how did no one catch this? It's not like it would be overly difficult to fix, just rotate the art.

On a curious side note, the Nancy watch with a series of random panels pre-dates Scott McCloud's idea for Five Card Nancy by over a decade!
Many people, myself included, have talked about the banality of newspaper comic strips. The very context of the strips almost inherently means that cartoonists can't do anything too edgy for fear of alienating readers. So nearly everything you read on the funny pages is incredibly broad in its scope, and often not very original. Rina Piccolo of Tina's Groove was commenting on this just last week. You get jokes like the ones you see in Hi and Lois or Born Loser or Garfield. They were mildly amusing the first time you read them a couple decades ago, but not even that much any more.

Editorial cartoonists, by contrast, usually have a bit more bite to them. They're designed to speak directly to current events and are expressly made for the sake of social commentary. But that's why they're not included in with all the other newspaper comics.

But then I posted a link to this strip on my Facebook page...
It's Tuesday's The Knight Life by Keith Knight. Pointed commentary on the current discussions of race in America. And it dawned on me that's not the first time I've posted one of Knight's comics on Facebook because of the social commentary. Here's some others from the past few months...
Now, he still does his share of "safe" jokes...
... he still does his "Life's Little Victories" and "Creepiest Guy in the World" bits, and he still shows his wife being terrified of spiders and the cute antics of his kids. But he continues dropping in these very pointed and poignant strips about race. It's almost as if he's getting his editorial comic, (Th)ink, mixed up with syndicated-in-the-newspapers one.

Which I'm not mad at! I'm thrilled that this kind of cartooning can get out there in what everyone thinks of as a tepid space. It can get a positive message out to those people who wouldn't ordinarily be receptive to it. Darrin Bell does that to some extent in Candorville, too, but I frankly haven't been reading it long enough to see how barbed he can get compared to Knight.

So what I'm curious about here is how these strips get past the syndicate editors and the newspaper editors onto the printed page? Aren't these precisely the types of strips that newspaper readers are likely to complain about? I can't imagine that Knight hasn't offended large swaths of newspaper readers. Are people not complaining? Or are the complains so blatantly racist that they're dismissed out of hand?

I used to wonder how Zippy the Pinhead remains syndicated. Now that I think about, I'm more baffled how Knight Life is.
Apologies for missing yesterday, but I'm running more than a little behind on my writing this week. Now for this week's links...
Atena Farghadani
  • Deejay Dayton has a history/summary of Cliff Cornwall, an obscure Golden Age DC hero.
  • Mahsa Alimardani of PRI looks at Atena Farghadani and her impending trial for drawing a cartoon criticizing Iran's leaders for restricting access to contraception.
  • Mellanie Gillman noted that she enjoys "digging through obscure newspaper archives looking for evidence of pre-1900s queers." She drew this comic of a couple from the late 1880s, and she just posted another about a queer stagecoach robber that you can see if read if you support her on Patreon.
Last month, Corey Blake over at Robot 6 started a new regular feature called Store Tours in which he talks with comic shop owners about themselves and their businesses. It includes a lot of shop photos and plenty of anecdotes about general store policies, strategies, and tactics. Blake describes it as "the retailer version of Shelf Porn."

Downtown Comics
I want to highlight this series, and try to drive more people to regularly read it, for two reasons. First, I think relatively few comics readers have much understanding of what's really involved in the retailing side of comics and, as a consumer, would do well to have at least a nominal grasp of how the industry that feeds their fan passions operates. Second, I think it can be incredibly useful for other retailers to provide them with ideas and approaches to improving their own businesses.

Historically, there have been two big challenges in getting information about running a comics shop. There are very few instances where someone owns/operates more than one shop. Since they're pretty much all independently owned, it's much more difficult to disseminate information in any sort of cohesive fashion. That's improved in recent years, thanks to both the internet generally and ComicsPRO specifically, but it's still far from comprehensive. Additionally, most comic shops have little to no competition. They operate almost exclusively at a local level, and only the larger cities are big enough to sustain more than one shop. That means that it's easier to not be as effective a retailer as you might be because you would essentially run a local monopoly. Think of the challenges Jeff Albertson faced when Coolsville opened across the street from The Android's Dungeon.

One of the benefits retailers might find with Store Tours is that they can gain insights and even directly copy good practices without seeming like a copy of the first store. The disparate locations largely keeps stores from competing with one another so, for most customers, the ideas will look fresh and interesting instead of just a copy of the shop from across town.

As a general rule, I'm in favor of more transparency in business and comics have spent too, too long being run in an opaque manner. Kudos to Blake for starting the column! You should all make a point to head over there and check it out!
Several months back, I pointed to a 1963 interview with Jimmy Swinnerton, one of the earliest newspaper cartoonists. He had a long career, starting as a teenager in 1892 and eventually retiring on his Little Jimmy strip in 1958.

Swinnerton, working for William Randolph Hearst, developed a comic strip called The Little Bears. It was originally based on some spot illustrations that Frank Noble did as a sort of mascot for the San Francisco Examiner in 1893. Although initially drawn in a fairly realistic style, Swinnerton made the character more cute and cartoony as time went on, and he was given a semi-regular spot in the paper to accompany the weather. The character was launched in a strip in 1895. Children were added to the strip in 1896 and it was renamed Little Bears and Tykes.

In 1898, Swinnerton moved to New York and, evidently at the request of Hearst himself, continued a variation of the strip using tigers instead of bears. Eventually, one of the tigers became the star of the strip and was dubbed "Mr. Jack." The character proved popular enough that he was give his own strip in 1903 titled, appropriately enough, Mr. Jack.
Mr. Jack

Mr. Jack was, in many respects, a typical-of-the-time caricature of a husband. He was always out drinking, carousing, and flirting with women, often at the protest of his wife. Given the frequent adult nature of the strip, it was moved to the sports section (then considered a more mature section of newspaper than children would not be interested in) within its first year. The strip lasted until early 1906 (though the last year, it was somewhat sporadic). Swinnerton brought the strip back in late 1907 and it ran until 1919. It was brought back a third and final time in 1926, lasting until 1935.

The real significance of the strip, however, is that Mr. Jack is generally considerted the first truely anthropomorphic character in comics. There were previous animal characters that spoke or wore clothing, but Mr. Jack was the first to really be represented in a human-like manner, walking upright with human appendages. Despite being a common sight in comics and cartoons today, perhaps first popularized through George Herriman's Krazy Kat, this simply was not a convention of any sort before Swinnerton. It was Mr. Jack who broke the notion that comic characters were simply exaggerations of people and animals, and they could blur the line between species. Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, and so many other characters that you've loved owed a huge debt to Swinnerton and Mr. Jack.
Not every character is for everyone. I never liked Iron Man, for example. I never cared for Captain America, either, but I wound up buying quite a few Cap comics just to figure out why. For me, Thor was a character that I didn't dislike, but he never really sparked any interest with me either. He was more interesting than Cap, I thought, and more likeable than Iron Man, but not so much as I had any particular interest.

When Marvel announced that the new Thor was going to be a woman, there was some media hype, of course, and a lot of fanboys started screaming that Thor couldn't be a woman for this irrational reason or that irrational reason. That seemed to have mostly died down in the wake of, you know, the story evidently being pretty good. ("Evidently" because, as I said, I have little interest in Thor and haven't read the issues in question.) What I hadn't realized until this week was that Thor had so far just been presented as Thor with no secret identity. With no backstory at all, for that matter. But with some preview images this week, readers have learned that Thor does indeed have a secret identity and a rather fleshed out backstory.

(I'm assuming my audience here either doesn't care about Thor comics to worry about spoilers, or are involved enough to have already seen the preview images. I'll try not to spoil anything here regardless, but I don't know exactly what is "common knowledge" at this point.)

I'd recently read a piece (which I can't find at the moment) about how the current Thor's lack of history allowed the character to be a sort of everywoman. Does putting a specific identity on the character negate that? Yes and now, I think. I think anyone who has been along for the ride thus far can continue to identify with the character as an everywoman (as much as they could before, at any rate, given the very European features she's shown with, even with the mask) but I suspect newcomers won't be able to step into her shoes quite as readily. With her identity known, she's got a backstory that people will be at least passingly familiar with (even if only through the movies) and that could skew their perception and ability to relate since she's no longer a blank slate to project onto.

Interestingly, that backstory also serves as a "shut the fuck up" message to haters. Their cries of discarding continuity or whatever are thrown aside by pegging her identity to one very much involved with past Thor continuity. She was one of the three characters that I immediately thought of when I'd heard that her identity was revealed, and it's the one that makes the most sense from the perspective of an old school fanboy. Marvel is effectively throwing their bitching right back in their faces, and making it look EVEN MORE hypcritical than it was. Whether that was a specific intention or not, I don't know, but it's certainly an amusing side effect.

I suspect all of this was actually done from the standpoint of telling an interesting story. Providing a reveal like this is more dramatic from a storytelling perspective than simply announcing it at the outset. But it happens to work well from a marketing perspective too, allowing A) the same event to pop up in the news cycle two different times several months apart, and B) a lesson to be provided to many of those who obnoxiously complained of the change initially. Hopefully, it's a lesson that they'll take to heart, and one that can also be applied elsewhere.
David Gallaher
  • You know that poorly researched attack on comics Jill Lepore had in the New Yorker recently? G. Willow Wilson has posted an excellent and thoughtful response.
  • The Calgary Herald has a nice piece up on Nick Sousanis and his recent dissertation-turned-book Unflattening.
  • The Frederick News-Post, similarly, has a nice write-up on David Gallaher.
  • The New York Times talks with Alison Bechdel about no longer being so marginalized, both as a comics creator and as a lesiban.
  • An old high school friend of mine found this older piece on how valueless comics are any more. Someone else responded on his Facebook post that he was forced to sell his collection, which included complete runs of the original Iron Man and Sub-Mariner titles, for $200. It's not news per se (the article is from 2013) but it's striking to me in light of the 4000 comics (2000 I mentioned here, plus another 2000 the following week) I recently found sitting on the curb with the trash.