On Strips: Short-Lifers

By | Friday, July 24, 2015 1 comment
One of the reasons I started an "On Strips" series here was to force myself to learn more about comic strips. I've spent literally decades focused almost exclusively on comic books and, while I certainly read comic strips growing up, it's only been the past few years that I've really tried to learn about them. A few years back, my parents gave me a birthday gift of Allan Holtz's American Newspaper Comics: An Encyclopedic Reference Guide. It's a thick book that basically just lists out every single newspaper strip, along with a short synposis. More significant strips naturally get larger entries, but many of the listings are pretty bare because the strips are so obscure. But that's still frequently more information than is available online.

I was thumbing through the book last night, and I happened to catch something I hadn't noticed before. Nearly all of the entries in the book list start and end dates, but what I only just noticed was just how short-lived many of these new comics were. Opening to a random page, here's what is listed...
Romantic Raymond, June 1919 - January 1920
Romantic Rhoda, October 1908
Romantic Rosalind, April - July 1913
Romeo, April 1905 - November 1907
Romulus of Rome, April 1961 - December 1963
Rooftop O'Toole, May 1976 - August 1980
Rookie from the 13th Squad, October 1917 - 1918
Rookie Joe, July 1939 - March 1942
The Rookie, November 1942
Room and Board, May 1928 - 1932
Room and Board (2), June 1936 - November 1958
The Roosevelt Bears Abroad, February - June 1907
The Roosevelt Bears, 1905 - July 1906
Rosalie Reduces, April - May 1933
Roscoe the Rooster, March - May 1907
Rose Is Rose, April 1984 - Present
Rosie's Beau, October 1916 - April 1918
Rosie's Beau (2), June 1926 - November 1944
Rosie; The Joy of New York Life, October 1911 - January 1912
Rosie the Roller, August 1906
Rosy Posy Mama's Girl, May 1906 - June 1909
That's 21 comics. Ten of them lasted less than a year. Only four of them lasted four years or more, and one of those only barely. And it's not like these were all just done by crappy artists or something; there are some big name creators who worked on these like George Herriman and Geoge McManus.

We often think of the comics page today as almost a snapshot of the past, with not only long-lived legacy strips like Blondie and Beetle Bailey, but also reruns of Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes, and others. And while I won't deny that much of the churning listed above (and indeed throughout the book) occurred nearly a century ago, I think that makes it that much more fascinating an aspect of the comics pages. There was a measure of figuring out what a comics page should look like, and what kind of strips readers responded to. It was that churn that led to Krazy Kat and Bringing Up Father. I wonder if that kind of churn is needed once again to breathe more life in that snapshot we see today.
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Jeff Baker said...

My gosh! I just stumbled across a scrapbook I have where I saved comics including "Rooftop O'Toole" which was about a paperboy who delivered to the Carter White House. Characters included a maid, "Cobweb" the mailman and the ghost of President Fillmore. It was in our paper when I was in High School for about a year around 1976/77. The strip probably folded because Carter's term ended. Thanks!