As opposed to the Webcomics we discussed previously here and here this post will highlight regular newspaper strips syndicated by the big guns in the funny business. There are quite a few syndicates who work with a range of cartoonists to sell them to newspapers across the world. But we will concentrate on those who display it online and provide you with a daily tickle even if you don’t get that joke in the daily newspaper you subscribe.
First on our list is the obviously named comics.com. They have some big toons on their portfolio. So lets get these publicity hogs out of the way. There is peanuts by the late Charles Schulz. Yes he passed away but left a long running series which is being rerun with considerable success by public demand. Charles had refused anyone else to draw his strip after he stopped making them so it lives on by its archives. Another such legacy is that of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan which is a serial strips which means you have to read it daily to follow the story. They call it Tarzan Classics while there are newly drawn strips on Tarzan Sundays. Another easily spotted biggie is the office nerd dilbert by Scott Adams. It is easily the best office humour you can get. Recent strips has the Indian IIT grad die in space on a poor prototype of Dilbert, gets cloned and reincarnated into a new body. The twist? Carol used Asok’s DNA bottle to store Snickers bars, so Asok’s clone who is part human and part candy after “guided reincarnation” uses “advanced shapeshifting” to get back to his normal self (Apparently he learnt that at IIT).
Now to come to the truly under-appreciated comic strips. These are gems that should be in every news rag but isn’t. First on my should be world-famous list is the late Bob Thaves who had an unlimited supply of puns at the disposal of his creation frank and ernest (the strip title itself is a pun). It is the first comic panel to appear as a strip. The duo has appeared as a variety of beings and even inanimate things in different times, places and worlds. His son draws the strip now after Bob passed away in August 2006. boNanas was a great strip on Life and World until its creator John Kovaleski decided to end the 4 year popular run. He will be selling his BoNanas books signed copy soon at his website and you can read the last week of the comic strip at his website.
Stephan Pastis has a great offbeat comic strip called Pearls Before Swine (yes, reference to the Bible sentence) in which an ego-maniac rat stars alongside a simpleton pig, pig’s pet duck (very violent but obedient pet), an intellectual goat, a good-natured zebra and the insanely stupid crocodiles who want to hunt but can’t. This is the fastest growing comic strip in recent comic history. The cartoonist sometimes makes an appearance in his strip and also has guests from other popular comic strips. It is as wicked as you can get conventionally in a daily print medium. Wizard of Id has been there for a long time and I don’t find its appeal any less though not many people appreciate its unique humour. The cast is great with the wizard, his belligerent wife, the egoistic arrogant King, the cowardly Knight, the village drunkard, the poor man behind the dungeon cell (for what seems like an eternity) etc. Last but not the least is Diesel Sweeties by Richard Stevens. This was a webcomics phenomenon where the cartoonist established a business on his website solely through the popularity of his comic strip. In the newspaper version of the same you get a sobered down strip but funny nonetheless. If you want to read the uncensored version get to Richard’s website. It is offbeat but not far from truth.
Finally if after visiting and browsing through the past 30 days of these comic strips at the given links you think you want to look for yourself then the wonderful people at comics.com have an index where you can search comics by category and suit yourself. You can navigate to the comic’s page and read 30 days worth of strips free. So bookmark your favourites and let me know about them too.
Let us move on to our next big online laughter club gocomics.com. This has considerably larger playground of comic strips appearing daily with an accessible backlog of 30 days. There are some repeats from comics.com discussed in previous post, namely – BoNanas, Frank and Ernest and Wizard of Id.
So let’s clear out the hogs popular and surely you have heard of them. First up is the ever hungry, ever scheming and ever loved orange cat Garfield by Jim Davis. Jon the “master” (only for technical accuracy) is a cartoonist with his stupid dog Odie and of course the lazy cat named Garfield. As Jon goes through his boring days the capers of the cat kicking the dog and befriending the mice and swatting spiders keeps us entertained now for over 2 decades. Appearing in 2570 newspapers around the world this comic strip has critics who are disgusted with its gross commercialisation and merchandising while 263,000,000 daily readers still love the furry evil incorporated cat. Guinness World Records has named Garfield “The Most Widely Syndicated Comic Strip in the World.” You have seen the TV animation, you have seen the movie, now catch up on his daily strips.
Next heavyweight is of course the only Pulitzer Prize winning comic stip in history – Doonesbury by Garry Trudeau. Started in a college newspaper it now appears in 1400 newspapers. Having witnessed more wars by USA than most of its readers, the characters and the creator have battled politicians and editors with the strong support of its dedicated fans. He has now successfully caricatured both Bush Senior and Bush Junior. Being a long running series with many characters it may be difficult at first to recognise and associate with the regular people in the strip. But it is addictive nonetheless. Garry’s 60 books have sold over 7 million copies. Check out the Doonesbury Town Hall.
Another giant, albeit a dormant one is the archives of Calvin and Hobbes by award winning cartoonist Bill Watterson being rerun in newspapers with the same zest as shown for Peanuts. Bill stopped making the strips and refused anyone else the right to draw them. It appeared in 2400 newspapers at its height of fame. The cute imaginative Calvin and his stuffed pet tiger Hobbes have become part of culture in America. Bill was one of the cartoonists who opposed mass commercialisation and spoke against Garfield’s Jim Davis’s strategy. Bill Watterson’s books and strips continue to sell in large numbers still. In 1986, Bill had became the youngest person to win the prestigious Reuben Award for “Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year” from the National Cartoonists Society.
Well I am sure you already knew and loved these but just for documentation I have to mention 2 other long-running comic strips which both have strong leading characters and are both serial strips. Brenda Starr is still keeping the flag aloft for sincere journalists everywhere with writer Mary Schmich and artist June Brigman keeping it afloat in the media of which Brenda Starr is fighting to keep principles over the bottom line. Another public hero is Dick Tracy running his 75th year since his first investigation in 1931. A Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist Dick Locher is running the show for this strip now. Note that he won the Pulitzer for Editorial comic and Garry Trudeau is still unique in his win.
Okay! Finally the ones that may have gone unnoticed by you in the clutter of strips you come across. Non Sequitur is Wiley Miller’s take on absurdities of everyday life. Though the title describes its content it does have some regular characters who have a theme for a few days. The Sunday strip currently has a fantastic tale told like a running comic book serialised. Published in over 700 newspapers it is clearly successful with the audience. It is the only comic strip to win the coveted National Cartoonists Society award in its first year of syndication and the only one to ever win in both the best comic strip and best comic panel categories.
Rich Tennant is more famous for his cartoons appearing in the publishing phenomenon “For Dummies” series. In The 5th Wave he continues to surprise us with a daily panel that relates to the average user. He is the father of the computer cartoon. Scott Stantis has a controversial politically active comic strip called Prickly City. Deriving its title as a metaphor from the American Southwest desert where “everything is designed to prick you, wound you or eat you” it has a liberal Coyote pup named Winslow befriended by a conservative coloured kid named Carmen. Lot has been said about Scott’s strip but discover the humour in the local news and politics for yourself after browsing at least 15 of the 30 strips displayed online. Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks was popular until the creator headed for Hollywood stopping his work on the comic strip. It is a unique look by an African-American cartoonist at the racial relations between his characters and media’s view of this ethnicity. It is still having reruns though and the political and social satire is worth a click.
David Alvarez is the only cartoonist I have watched, interacted with on a forum and had a conversation before he hit it big time with the syndication of his strip Yenny. He is a talented guy who has worked years in comic book industry, has had his own previous comic series and worked on Looney Tunes series as well. Yenny of Villa Los Kubos beach is a 22 year old wannabe model who has friends, pets (an iguana and a turtle), competitor, boyfriend troubles, etc keeping her on the toes of her large feet. She has her own site as well. Post syndication there has been not been any major change in the erstwhile webcomic as it was pleasant and acceptable as always. David sure has a keen eye for the female form and the pretty ladies on the strip will keep you coming back for more fun.
Last but not the least for all you feminists starved for a comic strip to relate too, your wait is over. Presenting C’est la Vie by Jennifer Babcock. Starring transplanted Parisienne Mona Montrois and her friends in the City of Angels this strip will relate to most urban women. And of course she has the advice of confidant, adviser Monsieur Smoke, her stuffed bunny, when she has had enough smokes. Deal with boyfriends, roomies and the city with your daily dose of UCLA undergraduate Jennifer’s brilliant work.
So you still hungry for more? Yes, let me show you to the gocomics buffet right here. Let me know what you love and like.