Saturday, April 12, 2008

Circus People

All in all the seventies were not an exciting time for newspaper strips. Papers were disappearing, paper was getting more expensive, newspaper strips were shrinking and downsizing and there was very little room for experimentation. Most people blame the gag-a-day strips for the downfall of the great American newspaper strip tradition. In their view it was those strips that pushed out the story-strips, thereby taking away the necessity for the reader to come back every day. Many of these new gag strips were drawn simpler as well, making it easier for the newspapers to put more and more of them on the same page.

I have never felt comfortable with that view, because there were so many great gag-a-day strips made in the late fifties and early sixties. Cartoonists who had been perfecting their skills in advertising agencies or the weeklies, were given a chance to use their graphic skills on the larger canvas of the newspaper strip. It is those often forgotten strips I intend to give my attention in this blog. The real crunch, I feel, came in the seventies, when things settled down and the winners were seperated from the losers and for a whole decade it seemed that nothing new was added, either in form or in actual strips. The only thing we got was spin-offs in the form of more strips from the assistants of succesful series. Some of them quite good, but graphicly not very exciting.

One of the 'spin-offs' I really like, is P.T. Bimbo, a strip about the sarcastic undersized manager of a group of circus performers. The artist was Howie Schneider, who already had a succesful strip with Eek & Meek. But while Eek and Meek was more about the gags than the characters, P.T. Bimbo had one of the most well-balanced casts of any strip I have ever seen. There was P.T. Bimbo himself, his much too human dog, the trapeze artists, the sad clown, the cleaners who wanted to be performers themselves, the living cannonball and many more, each with their own personality. For the sunday gags, Schneider often relied on very well drawn slapstick. This strip, in my opinion, is a cartoonist's dream - chockful of very wel designed cartoon action with a fresh sarcastic sensibility. very remeniscent of B.C. in fact, as was the style.

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