In 1977 Stan Lee achieved a lifelong goal of writing a hit comic strip. The Amazing Spider-Man comic strip by Lee and Romita, debuting in newspapers on January 3, 1977, was a success from the get-go. This led Marvel Comics and the Register and Tribune Syndicate to quickly develop another comic strip.
They decided that the new fan favorite Howard the Duck would be perfect for newspaper readers. Howard creator Steve Gerber used the character to parody genres all all kind and as a tool to criticize society. Howard the Duck, as a daily and Sunday comic strip, appeared in newspapers six months after The Amazing Spider-Man on June 6, 1977
Unfortunately Steve Gerber was already behind on the Dreaded Deadline Doom with his comic books and adding a daily comic strip, even one that borrowed plots from earlier comic books, became an impossible task for the writer. Gene Colan, the artist of the strip and the comic book, soon gave up; and then Marvel and the syndicate took the strip away from Gerber due to chronic lateness. With that the strip was taken over by Marv Wolfman and Alan Kupperberg. The parodies remained while the biting social satire disappeared. Howard the Duck, both comic strip and comic book (where Gerber was also relieved of duties), became merely a funny animal character. The Howard the Duck comic strip ended on October 29, 1978.
But just as the Register and Tribune syndicate had planned a replacement for Stan Lee‘s short-lived Says Who! comic strip with The Amazing Spider-Man replacing that in the few papers still running it, so had they set up something to fill Howard the Duck’s newspaper real estate – and, like the successful Spider-Man, it was written by Stan Lee.
As a pilot move in 1977 and as a mid-season replacement in early 1978 The Incredible Hulk was a television hit worth continuing. It also made the Hulk a character familiar with a much wider audience than just comic books. So why not comic strips?
The Incredible Hulk comic strip, by Stan Lee and his brother Larry Lieber, first appeared October 30, 1978, the day following the last Howard the Duck.
Stan Lee’s name remained on the strip but for the first year it was really a Larry Lieber production. This “hero” proved more successful than Howard the Duck, lasting four years. Four years with continually changing list of creator credits. By the time the strip ended it was an Alan Kupperberg solo effort.
It looks like the end of The Incredible Hulk was a late decision. Alan Kupperberg had already done the first two Sunday pages of the next story:
Before The Incredible Hulk started as a comic strip, while Howard the Duck was still running,
there was an age undreamed of…hither came Conan the Cimmerian.
Conan the Barbarian by Roy Thomas and John Buscema debuted September 4, 1978
By 1978 Conan the Barbarian was a best selling comic book. The character was popular enough to be appearing in a few different comic book formats. And I could picture the syndicate thinking: here’s a sword and sorcery non-superhero in the Prince Valiant vein that might take the funny pages the way it took the funny books.
John Buscema adapted his style very well to the three-panel daily format, unfortunately he only drew the first story and then turned it over to Ernie Chan.
In the comic book world Roy Thomas left Marvel Comics for DC, resulting in the powers that be pulling him off the comic strip. And like the Hulk there was a rotating roster of artists on the strip. By the time it ended on April 12, 1981 it was being written by Doug Moench and drawn by Thomas Yeates (the current Prince Valiant artist).
With a next adventure slug on that last strip it seems Conan ended as suddenly as did the Hulk.
And since Alan Kupperberg was mentioned and shown in the Howard and Hulk strips…
Marvel and the Reg. & Trib. Syndicate offered one more item, not a comic strip but a puzzle page featuring Marvel characters imaginatively called Marvelous Fun and Games and was by Owen McCarron. It started the same time as Conan, the Sunday only page first appeared September 10, 1978 (or maybe September 3?). The page ran until November 16, 1980.
No first and last for this, but Allan Holtz tells us more about this puzzle feature.