Are They Still Strips?

By | Friday, November 18, 2022 Leave a Comment
I've been reading comic strips since I was a kid. My parents got two local newspapers, and I'd go through both of their funnies pages even though most of the strips were the same in each, but there were a handful that were only carried in one paper. I wasn't religious about reading the funnies; I tried to read them every day throughout high school but if I missed a day for whatever reason, it wasn't a big deal. I wasn't reading any strips with ongoing continuity anyway.

But by and large, I was reading the strips as they were originally intended to be read: one installment per day over the course of weeks and months. It didn't matter which strips, they all appeared one day at a time. One gag at a time.

For some of the strips that I was especially partial to, I picked up some of the collected editions. Garfield in the early '80s, The Far Side a bit later, Calvin & Hobbes after that, Doonesbury when I was in college, Foxtrot after I graduated... Again, I wasn't religious with these collections and only picked up a smattering of each, but I got to read many of the individual strips I had missed when they were first printed.

Sometimes in late 30s, I came to the realization of how very, very little I know about comic strips compared to comic books. I wanted to make a concerted effort to change that (my interest is in comics en masse) so I've been trying to pick up collections of older strips that were over and done with before I even heard of them. Little Nemo in Slumberland, Steve Canyon, Barnaby, Sky Masters of the Space Force... Those are, effectively, the only way I can read those old strips.

But here's the thing...

I'm not able to read them properly. Even if I did have the patience to read only one installment per day (which I mostly certainly do not!) they're still all presented in an entirely different context. I'm not seeing Peanuts next to Quincy next to Hi and Lois. They're not all sitting opposite the crossword and horoscopes. I'm getting these strips in a very undiluted form.

Now, in a very few cases, that's okay. Guys like Milton Caniff were supremely talented storytellers and a collection of his strips read like he had planned it as a graphic novel anyway. Other are more difficult to wade through. Much as I love Winsor McCay, for example, Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend gets repetitive really quickly if you try to read through a bunch of them in one sitting.

So here's what I'm wondering: are these still really comic strips when they're in a collected form? The really good ones, like I said, read like graphic novels when they're all together. And the not-as-good ones have the rhythm entirely screwed up because the different between the last panel of one strip and the first panel of the next strip is the same as the difference between the first and second panels of the same strip; the reader doesn't get a 24-hour breather in between. By virtue of them all being bound together, they're treated for better or worse as a single reading unit (i.e. a book) instead of a string of snippets independent of one another. There's an implied, if not inherent, continuity just by the strip's proximity to one another in the book that isn't (usually) present in the newspaper.

So do they still qualify as comic strips when they're in collected form?
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