On Strips: King Features' Supplement

By | Friday, December 04, 2015 2 comments
Last month, King Features celebrated a century of their comics by offering a special supplement section to newspapers. There were a few variations, and it looks as if papers ran them at various times during the back half of the month. I picked up the Plain Dealer edition which came out on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

The text portion was written by comic strip writer and historian Brian Walker, son of cartoonist Mort Walker. Not surprisingly, the piece focuses on King's specific role in comic strip history with an again not surprisingly heavy focus on William Randolph Hearst. It's a solid enough piece for what it is, although people not very well versed in how comics work might express a little consternation at the absence of mentioning favorite strips like Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes. If your local paper did not carry this, it can be read online at King's site.

Personally, I was a bit confused by the choices of comics they choose to run with the piece. The title selections were, by and large, obvious. The Yellow Kid, Krazy Kat, The Little King, Flash Gordon, Steve Canyon, etc. What struck me, though, was that most of the specific selections weren't particularly good. I mean, I'm far less knowledgeable about newspaper strips than I'd like (one of the reasons I started this "On Strips" column) but I've seen much better examples of all these strips. I was sitting here thinking, "Well, this joke could've been done better if he'd changed the dialogue a little" or "That's not a very good angle for that shot" or whatever. And I know these creators have done better. I fully get that they're going to have off days and not every strip is going to be a gem, but it seems odd to select ones that clearly weren't gems when you're putting together a special 100th anniversary package. If that was all that was available because they were limiting themselves to pieces that had good reproductions or even original art for, I'd understand, but...

The other part that didn't work well, I though, was that except for the very most recent strips, they were all scanned from old newspapers. Which in some cases, particularly with the older strips, is all that is available any more, but they weren't really cleaned up for printing again. So we not only see the original mis-registrations and printing errors, but the yellowing of the old newsprint and some odd moire patterns from the original line-screens being reprinted at something other than their original size. (Presumably for space reasons, all of those old full-page strips were run at about half size.) Consequently, most of the strips looked a bit fuzzy and muddied. I know the paper quality has improved somewhat over the years, but trying to emulate the look of old newsprint on new newsprint seems like an inherently bad idea from the start. I think they would've done well to try cleaning up the art more if they wanted to showcase their old strips.

It was a decent enough supplement if you happened to be getting the paper anyway. I'd have been a little annoyed if I went out of my way to get a paper specifically to see this. I'd have been pissed if I had to hunt to find a paper that carried it. (Offhand, I don't know how many/which papers may have run this.) But I happened to be in the Cleveland area visiting my parents for Thanksgiving and they already subscribe to The Plain Dealer, so it was effectively zero effort on my part. But if you missed it, just check out the online version -- the content is the same and the strip reproductions look better to boot!
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Unknown said...

Haven't seen a hard copy of the supplement, only online versions.
That said I can understand them going with the yellowed paper to
impress on the readers that these are hundred year old strips
(see the title of the supplement).
The color registration,splotches, and bleed-through from the pdf
version I saw didn't look bad. Certainly not like it could have
been to those of us old enough to remember how bad it was at times.

Their choice of titles for images to display was odd to me.
No Blondie sample? Until Peanuts and Garfield got big Blondie was
the most widely circulated comic strip in the world.
Then they present a Sunday Dennis the Menace, when it is
widely known that creator Hank Ketcham only did the daily panel.

This brings me to the apparent mandate that this newspaper insert
was to be a showcase for Sunday comic strips only, no dailies.

Works of black and white ART are nowhere to be seen.
King Features Syndicate had Jose Luis Salinas' Cisco Kid,
Alex Raymond's Rip Kirby, and Stan Drake's Juliet Jones.
One of Roy Crane's claim to fame was his brilliant use of
black and white and craftint in his dailies, but they show
one Buz Sawyer Sunday panel that may, or may not, be by him.
And KFS had the greatest realistic comic strip artist of
the 21st Century, Eduardo Barreto, but didn't show either
his Judge Parker or an example of his The Phantom.

if you want to see a greatly expanded (306 pages) version
of this supplement get the IDW book King of the Comics.
An uncritical look at King Features Syndicate that features
the great black and white work of Crane, Raymond, Drake, and
Salinas, among others (sadly, still no Barreto).

Unknown said...

Oh, one more thing.
The supplement was the first official acknowledgement
that the world's longest running newspaper strip, The
Katzenjammer Kids, stopped running new strips in 2006.
Under the page 2 Katz. Kids image they have
"The Katzenjammer Kids (1897 - 2006)". 2006 is when
Hy Eisman produced the last new Katz. Kids strip.