Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Seaching Hi and Lois

Tuesday gagstrip day.

This weekend I posted another one of those early fifties Johnstone and Cushing ads that could be by Dik Browne or Gill Fox. One poster preferred to go with Browne on that one and I tend to agree with him. So today and tomorrow I thought it best to throw in some more material for comparison. Today I start with a couple of early Hi and Lois pages.

Hi and Lois started as a daily strip in 1954. Immediately, Dik Browne's style began to take on Mort Walker's characteristics. His angular style making room for Walker's more rounded forms. In 1955 the style of the series seems to have been set. In 1956 a sunday page was added. Unfortunately, I have no samples of those first years, only one sunday from 1957 which seems to have been lost in my scan pile. So for today you'll have to make do with a couple of samples from 1958 and 1960.

The series was sold to the papers as 'a humorous look at suburban life' and in the first couple of years the focus was as much on Hi's work and his commuting as on the family life. In the late fifties, this began to change. More and more gags were based on the home situation. For a while, there were a couple of gags about the garbage men to break the monotony, but in the early sixties even they disappeared to be replaced by gags about the neighbours. For me, the series lost all it's appeal when the baby started talking to a sunbeam.

Another thing making the strip exciting in the early years, was Dik Browne tendency to showcase his many styles in the sunday. Many gags were written for him to show off his skill with color and lines. Many of these special pages have been reprinted in the excellent The Best of Hi & Lois, available from Amazon and if I remember well, directly from the Walker estate. They did Best of books about Hi & Lois, Beetle Bailey and Hagar, which I can all recommend.

In the Sundays shown here, you can see the focus n Hi's work situation in the first two gags. The boss character with the light bulb head was a recurring one. In the first gag, Browne also shows his cartooning skills in the way he draws the nerveousnous of the characters. The 1960 tabloid examples are alreay more laid back, but they also show the humor and skill of this trip in it's early years. It may seem a bit tame to our taste, but it was very modern in it's time. It actually looks and reads to me like a comic strip version of The Dick van Dyke Show, with modern gags about a modern couple five years before Carl Reiner got to do it on television. All the other family strips were still doing a variation on I Love Lucy or the dumb husband stuff from Blondie.

Hi and Lois are even shown to be sleeping in the same bed in 1958. When The Dick van Dyke Show did it, it was considered a breakthrough, but Browne and Walker beat him to it in a newspaper strip. And we all know how conservative they could be. It all starts with Dik Browne's drawing style, I think. He just oozes sophistication.

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