On Strips: Curtis

By | Friday, February 13, 2015 1 comment
Ray Billingsley and Curtis
A couple years ago, I learned that a friend of mine did his MFA thesis under the tutelage of cartoonist Ray Billingsley. I knew he had worked on the comic strip Curtis, but honestly, I didn't recall much more than that.

I vaguely remember reading Curtis in high school. I assumed at the time that it was simply a recent addition to our local paper, but that it had been running for several years. Since the 1970s maybe. I suspect that I was aware, even then, how difficult it was to make it as a newspaper cartoonist, so Billingsley must have been working for several years.

I looked it up recently. Curtis debuted in October 1988. I don't know when our local paper started running it, but the later-than-I-figured launch means I couldn't have read it for more than a year and half before I left for college. Which would explain why I didn't remember it as well as, say, Hi and Lois or Funky Winkerbean, which were always in the papers as far as I could recollect.

The other consideration here, too, is that I was basically reading Billingsley's first year on the strip. You know, the first year where he's still figuring out who the characters are, and how his personal style of comedy comes out on the page. I've never gone back and looked at that first year of strips since they debuted, but I daresay what Billingsley is doing now is much better and more confident on all fronts than what I initially read.
Curtis comic strip

Since I had so little time with Curtis, it wasn't a strip I really ever went back to. The handful of times I've picked up a newspaper since I first left home didn't carry it, and by the time I got around to looking up strips to read online, I had frankly forgotten about it. It wasn't until my friend had mentioned working under Billingsley that it really registered with me.

But here's the weird thing: I still haven't gone back to reading Curtis.

Part of the problem is that there's not an easy way to slide it into my online reading list. Most of my comics get pulled into my feed reader, and the handful that don't are ones that I was able to write a simple script for to pull down the latest installment from their respective sites. (Which only works for comics that use a consistent file naming convention based on the date.) Curtis doesn't fall into either of those categories.

In fact, there isn't even a Curtis website. Billingsley has his own site, and he talks about his strip there, but the strip itself is nowhere to be found. I was talking just last week about how even some of the oldest strips from King Feature have basic websites; Curtis doesn't even have that much.

Still, I did manage to find work-arounds for other strips in similar situations. The only explanation I can come up with is that, because I could scarcely remember that first year of strips, I must have assumed it wasn't particularly good. Which isn't much of an excuse.

I sat down today to write something about Billingsley. Kind of a general bio type piece since I don't know that he gets that much attention relative to other cartoonists. But I quickly realized that I know so little about him -- basically what I scanned from his own bio just now -- that whatever I write would do him no justice whatsoever. So let me start reading Curtis (I've found an only slightly questionable work-around) and I'll get back to you on Billinsley.

Join me, won't you?
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Mike said...

KFS comics are easily accessible (even if you don't pony up the twelve bucks a year that gets you into the Stan Drake/Alex Raymond vintage stuff)