Sunday, June 14, 2015

What's Wrong With American Newspaper Comics?

Hal Foster, "Prince Valiant" Sunday page (panel), April 22, 1951. Hal Foster was a great landscape artist, but that's all... Notice also the great coloring job.

A couple of posts at The Crib have been, lately, about how American newspaper comics have been and should be reprinted. The coloring was the main focus of my attention, so, no Fantagraphics' Peanuts (because the Sundays are reproduced in black & white) or IDW's Dick Tracy reprints (ditto).

It all began with Fanta's Prince Valiant, to continue with a couple of Gasoline Alley editions.

Yes, but, what's my critical opinion of these series, you may ask? Where does The Crib critically stand re. both series in particular and American newspaper comics in general?

OK, The Crib´s header is part of a Krazy Kat panel by George Herriman and that must mean something, I guess...

I can't deny that I like Krazy Kat as much or almost as much as the next guy... I can understand why some people may consider it the best comic strip of all time (cf. also Fanta's list a while back). To the heirs of the French auteur theory Krazy Kat is the perfect comic. As comics qua comics it certainly has inventive language and page layout. Also, Herriman's highly artificial painted backdrop desert is visually gorgeous.

And yet... I can't stop feeling that something is missing. Sure, I like the naive main character and some poetic moments a lot, but is this enough? Not for yours truly. Something visceral is missing; something utterly realistic about the human condition. Something brutally adult.

Same with Gasoline Alley (some Sunday pages where Walt and Skeezix just walk around are wonderful, but nothing really harsh happens to the cardboard characters) and Prince Valiant (with its great landscapes, but also with it's adventurous vacuous melodrama and kitschy family life).

So, what's wrong with newspaper comics, you may ask? It's a commercial medium that must both entertain and sell paper(s). In spite of their straitjackets some great comic strip artists did remarkable work once in a blue moon, I'm not denying that, but from the moment that 99 % of what they did isn't that good they're overrated in The Crib's book.

"Matt Marriott" by James Edgar and Tony Weare excepted, of course, but "Matt Marriott" and "Carol Day" are Brit realistic newspaper series. And those are a different animal altogether. It's a shame that no one ever noticed the difference.

Frank King, "Gasoline Alley" daily strip, January 18, 1929. Racist imagery is a real problem in old newspaper comics.