Another of my early influences were the newspaper comics. However, by the time I was reading them, which would have been somewhere between 8 and 10 years old (1970-72), the newspaper comic strip was well past its prime. The size allotted for daily strips had shrunk to nearly half the size that they once inhabited, and the the sunday strips were a mere shadow of their once glorious past. I discovered older comic strips in ‘nostalgia magazines’ and in comic strip collections in the library, and marveled over the artwork that made the daily paper I was reading look pale in comparison.
My first love, as far as newspaper comics went, was, of course, Peanuts by Charles Shultz. I tended to gravitate towards the earlier strips from around the late fifties and early sixties that were collected in paperback anthologies, rather than the current crop that appeared in the daily paper at the time. Snoopy had just begun his elaborate fantasy life, and, in effect, had hijacked the strip from the Charlie Brown/Lucy/Linus crowd (who I found much more interesting, with their discussions of topics like depression and loneliness and angst).
However, from an illustration standpoint, the Peanuts world was less than fascinating. A product of its times, and perfectly fitted towards the shrinking available space, with its simple iconic characters and minimal detail. I had some other favorite strips that I found less interesting to read, but more intriguing to look at for their drawing skills. Alley Oop was one that appeared in our local newspaper that really captured my imagination (and my fascination with dinosaurs didn’t hurt).
Eventually, through my reading on comics history in the library, I discovered Krazy Kat and the world of George Herriman. I was enthralled by his endless variations on the simple theme of a brick throwing mouse and the love triangle between Ignatz the mouse, Officer Pupp and Krazy Kat (who could either be a girl or boy depending on the daily whim of the cartoonist), and the crazy shifting backgrounds, and the wonderful wordplay and panel design. I don’t think any cartoonist has come close to Herriman in terms of creating ‘art’ out of the daily comic strip.
The daily newspaper comic has greatly diminished in the passing years to the point where I rarely, if ever, bother reading the sunday comics section. A few other great strips, however, demand an honorable mention; Pogo by Walt Kelly, Bloom County by Berkely Breathed, Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, Cul De Sac and Richard’s Poor Almanac by Richard Thompson and Mutts by Patrick McDonnell.