I loved getting the newspaper and reading the comic strips when I was growing up. I wanted to be a cartoonist. I saved my allowance to buy the latest Peanuts, Pogo, and B.C. paperbacks and then I’d read them over and over again. I created my own strips, made whole books full of them, and wormed my way into every school newspaper as their resident cartoonist.
Although I later moved on and pursued other interests, I never stopped reading the comics. My shelves are still full of the collections, although they now include Pearls Before Swine, Get Fuzzy, Doonesbury, Lio, and many others. I even ended up writing the afterwords to a collection of Candorville strips (I’m a big fan).
Newspapers carry fewer and fewer strips these days and often the ones they do have are zombie strips — where the original artist has died and someone else is trying to recreate the original feel, which is like going to see a Robin Williams impersonator and wondering why he isn’t as funny. (I’m looking at you, Blondie. And Beetle Bailey. And Hagar the Horrible and Nancy and Dennis the Menace and…) So mostly I read comics online these days, and there is a boom of good strips online — although many would never be allowed in any newspaper.
Anyway, here is my list of the best newspaper comic strips of all time that are no longer around, in my opinion (and in no particular order.) A list of the best current strips will be posted later.
Peanuts: You cannot overestimate the importance of Peanuts to modern cartooning. Prior to Peanuts, most strips were adventure strips with continuing stories, even if they had a lot of humor to them. Strips about kids were mostly innocent and fun, and the kids rarely argued or fought (except maybe the Katzenjammer Kids from decades earlier). Peanuts created characters that people actually cared about, and was often quite funny as well. I mean, come on, I can’t not have Peanuts on this list.
Calvin and Hobbes: Great artwork combined with a wonderful memory of what it was like to be a kid made Watterson’s creation so memorable. Here it is, years since he retired the strip, and the books are still selling and Calvin is still pissing on things (none of which are approved by Watterson). I love re-reading my books every now and then.
Pogo: My parents were huge Pogo fans and had all the books, which I read over and over again. I missed a lot of the political satire when I was young, but the absurdity struck me in the same way I also loved Alice in Wonderland and Edward Lear.
Bloom County: Although at first it seemed to be a Doonesbury copy it soon established its own identity and world view which was so creative and ground-breaking I could hardly wait to get the Boston Globe each morning to read it. Breathed later retired the strip and then tried Sundays-only strip “Outland” which seemed to be more Krazy Kat than Bloom County, and it just did not have the same charm. A few of his more recent projects have also failed to captivate.
The Far Side: What a year that was, when the artists who did Bloom County, Far Side, and Calvin and Hobbes all decided to retire. The Far Side was so outrageous and funny; seriously, who doesn’t like this strip?
Li’l Abner: While I obviously disagreed with Capp’s politics and misogyny in the 60s and 70s, he had some wonderfully imaginative stories and very expressive artwork.
Popeye / Thimble Theater: This is the oldest strip on my list. Popeye started off as a one-shot character in an adventure with Olive Oyl but soon became so popular he took over. So many wonderful stories and adventures ensued, as well as the words “goon” “jeep” and “wimpy.” They have aged well and are still fun to read — well written, well drawn, with good pacing and surprises.
Yes there are more that were really good but they didn’t match up to these in my opinion. I mean, yeah, Krazy Kat and Little Nemo in Slumberland were amazing and creative for their time as well as being influential but they just don’t interest me to the point where I’d re-read them over and over again.