On Strips: Format & Contemporaneousness

By | Friday, July 01, 2016 Leave a Comment
The last Calvin & Hobbes strip ran on December 31, 1995. We're over twenty years past that now. Which means that, for anyone under the age of, say, twenty-five, they have never read Calvin & Hobbes as a newspaper strip. For them, it has only been available in collected editions.

(Yes, I understand there were/are a handful of newspapers who continue to print re-runs of the strip, but those are becoming increasingly rare.)

Beetle Bailey
, Garfield, even Barney Google can still be found in newspapers. But Calvin & Hobbes (or, for that matter, any strip that ended before 1995) is only known through collections now. I've never read Pogo as Walt Kelly intended; I'm only familiar with the strip through books.

Why is this significant? Don't the books do a better job of reproducing the strips, generally speaking?

They do, but the difference in presentation can drastically change a reader's perception. Most notably, the strips in a book format show up one after another and can be read in a fairly short time-frame. With the newspaper, though, you usually had to wait a full 24 hours before you could read the next installment. Which means that creators frequently provided a recap of the previous day, and would sometimes reuse gags. This is unobtrusive in a daily venue, but it stands out like a sore thumb in a collection.

Furthermore, book readers are inherently missing any context. Since the books come out significantly later, anything that may be a commentary on or reaction to some contemporary aspect of culture will be more removed. In the newspaper, you were not only reading the most current iteration of the strip, but you could flip a page or two of the paper to find all sorts of contextual clues in the paper itself if you were somehow removed from any other context! It's a newspaper; it has the day's news.

I talked about this with regards to comic books a couple years ago, but I think it can be more important in comic strips. And while you might think that a "timeless" gag strip like Calvin & Hobbes can exist perfectly fine without cultural context, how about some of these examples...
Kmart hasn't regularly used "blue light specials" since 1991 (before the strip ended). They've been revived a handful of times, but never for very long.

When was the last time you used an encyclopedia, much less a Britannica?

VCRs? They're old enough that there's a Kids React video about them.

Not to mention the old tube televisions, corded phones, etc. As good as Calvin & Hobbes still is, it will always be a product of its time, and it's being read and experienced now in a manner very different than how you may have first read it.

Let me leave you with one final strip...
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