Swinging with the oldies.
Tuesday newspaper strip day.
One of the biggest surprises when I started looking at the newspaper strips from the forties, was Chic Young's Blondie. First of all, I had gotten the impression that the forties was a barren wasteland for newspaper strips, full of dying strips and half dead zombies being kept alive by the assistants of the assistants. Some strips we associate with the thirties took as long as till the end of the fifties to finally make place for the new crop. Meanwhile the real innovation was being made in the magazine cartoons and in animation. These fields were the breeding ground for the new generation of strip artists, most of which got their opportunity in the fifties or early sixties. This is still true, but reality is more complicated (as always). Some of the assistants turn out to be quite good artists themselves. This was more true in the realistic strips, but in the cartoon strips as well, some fine work was done. I think, for instance, that the artist taking over Popeye from Segar, is a lot better than people take him for. Maybe I'll show you some samples at a later point.
But the major revelation was Blondie. I know Blondie from two periods. The early period has been reprinted a lot, and although it is interesting from a historical point of view, it is to much rooted in the cartoon traditions of the thirties to be really interesting. And of course, I know the strip from it's later years, starting with the side burn years of the late sixties and seventies to the rejuvenation by cartoonist extraordinaire Stan Drake and the subsequent dullification by the sixth generation of creators.
But those Sunday pages from the forties are really something else. The strip is for of life, slapstick and some really great observational humor. Now, as I understand it, Chick Young was still doing the strip by himself, although he did employ the assistant who later in the sixties would take over the strip completely. If you take a closer look at the art, you'll see that it is still rooted in the circle and sticks basic style of the thirties, but in the years since that, Young (or his assistants) had developed an ink line that was razor sharp. Everything I like about the cartoonists of the fifties, is already there. Take a look at the mouth of the titular heroin Blondie, for instance... this is the same mouth that Dan deCarlo uses on all his characters. In fact, that mouth and the black dotted eyes are the two trademarks that hold together all the great modern cartoonists of the fifties and early sixties. Even Bud Blake owed some debt to Young...!
One of the major reasons, I never noticed before how lively Blondie had been , is te way the strip was formatted. Underneath I will show you one sample from 1952, that is formatted in the way I got to know Blondie. Twelve panels on half page, which seems like the intended format for the strip. But when you look at the two other samples (one from 1950 and one from 1952) from the Puck section, you'll see how the strip was really intended to be shown. In this format of twelve square panels on two thirds of a page, the panels are all packed with action. The nationally syndicated Puck section was the only one presenting the strip in this form, as far as I know. If the topper strip (a silent strip about a Duchess) was added, a whole Chick Young page was created, but even Puck didn't do that. Instead they added a two tier version of Beetle Bailey or another popular comedy strip to the first page. All the other papers printed Blondie with elongated panels to fit it in a half page, which take out all the life and energy and make it seem a lot more bland than it is. Later, a tabloid version was also offered, which used the elongated panels as well. It was in this form that I got to know and hate Blondie for the first time, when it was published on the back page of a Dutch television guide.
All in all, I'd say that Blondie is the victim of publishers habit of starting with the earliest strips. The only reason I am buying the complete Terry and the Pirates is because it is being done in a great format and complete in six books. But I only need the fifth and sixth book, because all the other strips have been reprinted here and there so many times, that I have read every story at least twice. Same with the intended reprinting of Pogo by Fantagraphics. We now have the first years of this strip in three different forms. Of course, they will be the first to include the Sundays, so I will certainly be buying these books if and when they finally appear, but why not map out the books in advance and start with tome #16 to give us the never reprinted Pogo in Hysteria sequence from 1966? No one is ever going to do a complete Blondie... and if they do, they will have to start at the beginning, which will scare of potential buyers and the series will not progress beyond the early forties. But if Fantagraphics or anyone would do a complete edition of 1948 in the same format they are using for Popeye... they might have a whole new audience.