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First and Last – The Fantastical Tales of Norb

When Berke Breathed’s Bloom County ended on August 6, 1989 King Features Syndicate had an unconventional comic strip to offer newspapers to replace the popular feature.

Norb (I can find no example of “The Fantastical Tales of…” being used on anything but the promotional material) by Daniel Pinkwater and Tony Auth debuted on Monday August 7, 1989:

As Daniel Pinkwater tells it:

Tony Auth was a brilliant artist. He had an important day job as editorial cartoonist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. I think it was his first job, which he held for decades, and he was a Pulitzer Prize winner. We talked about doing ‘something’ together for a couple of years. Tony wanted to do a daily/Sunday newspaper strip, so we did that. Every day we’d remind one another, ‘keep it stupid.’ The fact was, we had no idea how stupid a commercial strip needed to be.

The Sunday debuted six days later on August 13, 1989 and explained it all:

Back to Daniel Pinkwater:

So we went to work. My part was utterly easy. I would write the dailies and the separately plotted Sunday strip every Saturday while watching Dr. Who. Tony was putting in long hours in addition to his job at the newspaper. The strip launched in something like 70 papers, and I was told this was a big launch and unusual for the times.

Allan Holtz shows some nice Sundays and gives his insights.

Reading Norb without any knowledge of whence it came, you’d might well guess that it was an unusually lucid strip from a later issue of Zap Comix. It does seem rather drug-induced, what with the chameleon narrator and all. But no, this was a comic strip actually accepted and distributed by King Features Syndicate.

My opinion is that the strip, while a valiant effort, mostly demonstrates that even accomplished creators can’t work miracles in the tiny confines of modern micro-strips. While the Sundays are pretty cute, the dailies just can’t keep a story moving forward very well in their tiny confines.

Daniel and Tony decided to end the strip.

The response from readers consisted entirely of actual hate-mail, letters saying it was hoped we would die, crude drawings of tombstones and daggers dripping blood. The only piece of positive fan mail I remember came from Jules Feiffer.

Tony regarded the comic strip as the product of his heart, and was hurt by the unfair criticism.

So, at the end of the first year, Tony, exhausted by working two full-time jobs, depressed by the evidence that nobody seemed to like the strip, unwilling, as I was, to follow the advice from the comics/humor expert at King Features, let me know that he was not having any fun.

The last Sunday appeared on July 29, 1990:

The last daily was August 4, 1990 and that week also hinted at an ending:

Cartoonist Tony’s Philadelphia Inquirer carried the full run of the strip.

Who’s Out There has Daniel Pinkwater’s entire story of the fantastical tale of Norb.

Justin at Struat has more of those colorful Sundays in color.

Community Comments

#1 David Accola
@ 9:19 am

Since I first heard of Norb earlier this year, I have been scouring the internet for a way to purchase the book collection of its dailies (the now defunct MU Press, 1991). I’ve come up dry–nothing on Amazon, AbeBooks, eBay, etc., so if anyone knows how to get ahold of that nowadays, let me know!

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