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CSotD: Issues of Continuity

Today’s Judge Parker (KFS) has set me thinking about continuity strips, and, since there are only a few left, that puts me in the somewhat uncomfortable position of criticizing this one, which isn’t my point.

I think there should be more continuity strips, because, whether they would induce people to buy newspapers, they’d at least induce them to come to the on-line sites regularly and that is becoming a larger and larger part of the business.

What got me thinking about the topic is that my response to this was not “Oh no! Not the warehouse!’ but “Wait a minute, warehouse trauma is Neddy’s issue, not Sophie’s.”

It’s an issue that goes back five years, to a moment of crescendo in which Neddy’s planned warehouse fell into a sinkhole, while Sophie was involved in what seemed like a drunk-driving accident but developed into a mysterious kidnapping, and, if this is deja vu, it’s asking a lot of readers.

There are more strings to be followed in the strip, and, if you haven’t been reading it, hang in, because even people who read it every day have problems sorting things out.

Which is (A) not the fault of Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley, writer and artist on the strip, because they inherited it, but is (B) a good focus for discussing continuity strips in general.

I follow several of the Vintage strips over at King Features, some for camp value but others because they’re well-written and well-drawn. I wish more current strips were like them.

 

Judge Parker has always been known for long, involved stories, and the current Vintage version from the ’70s looks like it’s finally wrapping up a storyline that has involved blackmail, extortion, a trophy wife, a philanderer and a villainous housemaid, unfolding at a glacial pace with just enough action to keep you tuned in.

This episode is an example of the sort of trivia that often made things drag. Going up a driveway could be a whole episode.

In any case, we will never again see the bellhop or anyone specific to this story arc. Sam Driver will corner the killer, confront the housemaid, restore the inheritance, collect his fee and launch the next adventure.

By contrast, somewhere between the 70s and current days, the strip became centered on the families of Driver and Parker and nearly anyone they met along the way, turning it from crime story to soap opera.

 

And lest anyone think I’m picking on the current Parker team, the same thing has happened over at Rex Morgan, MD, where Rex and June and the kids and their friends have become the focus of a strip that once doled out medical education in clinic-based serial stories.

I would note that, when “Jump the Shark” was a hot phrase, its website had lists of ways in which TV shows could make self-destructive decisions, and one of them was “They Did It.” That category was about two main characters finally falling into bed, marking the end of a tension which held the show together, e.g., Sam and Diane in “Cheers,” though I’d also extend it to Hawkeye and Hot Lips becoming allies instead of enemies in “M*A*S*H.”

Having Rex and June, or Sam and Abbey, marry and settle down makes the characters more central than the action and their relationship the main dish instead of the spice.

 

Rip Kirby had an established girlfriend, Honey, who popped in and out of his life from time to time but otherwise allowed him to pursue crooks and perhaps kiss a few pretty girls when necessary. In today’s episode, he’s simply trying to smoke out a murderous acrobat by smooching a dancer who had flirted with him earlier, and, as you can see, it’s a successful ruse.

 

Johnny Hazard had an adventurous photojournalist girlfriend with whom he used to get into scrapes, but we haven’t seen her in awhile. He tends to segue from one adventure to the next without a clean break, having just had an extended thriller in the Middle East from which he was rescued by an odd Scotsman who is supposed to be meeting his lady love but she’s been swapped with an evil woman by a wicked plastic surgeon only his real girlfriend managed to drop her ring as she passed Johnny and he’ll be following up on the clue.

It takes two “Meanwhiles” just to get through this complicated Saturday cliffhanger, but it’s still self-contained and will resolve, after which I’m sure Wee Dorrie and Wee Laurie will be happily married and out of sight forever.

 

As for Buz Sawyer, his current adventure — which I earlier recommended that you follow — seems about to wrap up, and he’ll move on, but not without his wife Christy, whom we saw throughout this story being unaware of his secret mission and thus jealous when he was meeting up with a blonde skindiver who was really a British agent.

It was less a plot point than an amusing complication, as Buz struggled to pretend to be an innocent vacationer.

On the other hand, Christy was always game to come along, more Laura Petrie than Nora Charles, but welcome nonetheless. (For more, here’s the Comics Journal article about them from which I snagged this example.)

The unifying issue in all this is that, while adventures sometimes flowed from one into another a generation ago, they were more apt to be capped with finality and the next adventure started new, with only a skeleton crew of characters continuing from one to the other and only very rarely with any reference to previous plots.

 

Now let me fend off some objections by conceding that there are exceptions, and, while Thimble Theater began with Castor Oyl as the central character, it is now known as Popeye because of a character who appeared in one adventure and proceeded to take over the strip. (I kind of miss Castor Oyl.)

Beside the Jeep, a holdover from a recent arc, the current adventure also included a brief appearance by the Sea Hag, whom readers were expected to know.

The moral being that, if you can come up with something as brilliant as this, all rules are off.

(Which is how most art works.)

 

Community Comments

#1 Frank Hanley
August/7/2021
@ 7:28 am

There are plenty of continuity strips online- a necessity since newspapers are dying off. The best ones are Indies- they’re not constrained by size/formatting requirements and can be more creative and adult-oriented.

I’ve followed Christopher Baldwin’s strips for years (Spacetrawler and others) and his page provides links to many others.

The most impressive online continuity strips (IMO) are created by Powree (artist) and Oliver Knorzer (writer). Their “Gaia” masterpiece has just wrapped up after a 10 year run, and their “Sandra and Woo” strip continues to delight. They have a huge international fan base and are financially successful.

As more and more newspapers transition to digital, some have included a comics page. I expect this addition will help drive subscriptions just as the paper strips have done for generations.

#2 Mike Peterson
August/7/2021
@ 9:51 am

I’ve followed Christopher since Bruno days and have also collaborated with him. I agree that continuity strips have a natural home on the web, as noted above — but I was discussing syndicated strips, thus the passing reference to the Internet.

BTW, one thing I liked about Bruno Baldwin was that it had a somewhat noir atmosphere. It feels like most online strips are ironic, silly or full of swords-and-sorcerers. Bruno was thoughtful and thought-provoking.

Speaking of Bruno and the olden days, I also liked Bruno the Bandit, which had the kind of shorter, self-contained stories discussed above. This gave new readers a place to jump in, rather than expecting them to go back and scroll through everything. It was funny but always with a bit of wit. I miss it.

#3 Bob Harris
August/7/2021
@ 12:34 pm

Dan Thompson’s Rip Haywire certainly qualifies as a continuity strip. Syndicated but I don’t know any specific papers that carry it. He’s incorporated at least two DIScontinuities (similar to the Bobby Ewing dream on Dallas) in the past few years.

And Dick Tracy of course.

#4 Mike Peterson
August/7/2021
@ 2:00 pm

Rip Haywire is, of course, a comic-continuity and a fun spoof of the adventure strips, which puts it in with (see previous comments) Spacetrawler and Bruno the Bandit, either of which took the format a little more seriously though not much.

I could have added Tracy to Judge Parker and Rex Morgan as strips that have lost their sense of noir-ness. And, of course, Mark Trail.

Maybe this is why the young folks (damn them) accuse us old timers of watching Law & Order reruns instead of something more ironic.

#5 Sharon Tuttle
August/7/2021
@ 3:12 pm

Another thoughtful and thought-provoking (also very character-driven) web comic that my older son hooked me on:

Harbourmaster

…by Melissa DeHaan, a.k.a. Wayward Martian.

Its current page is at:

http://www.waywardmartian.com/

…but you really want to start at:

http://www.waywardmartian.com/harbourmaster1/001-001.html

You’re welcome. 8 – )

— Sharon Tuttle

#6 Sharon Tuttle
August/7/2021
@ 3:14 pm

(…oops, that is also a continuity comic…)

#7 Richard Furman
August/7/2021
@ 5:01 pm

The thing to understand about today’s Judge Parker is that Sophie has just realized that the fire is not at the warehouse, but at Spencer Farms, i.e. her house.

It’s hard to understand that because Ces doesn’t always show everything he needs to, and Judge Parker has been somewhat marred by a tell-don’t-show approach. It’s a real pity because, as Phantom shows, if you give Mike Manley some nice juicy action to illustrate, you get phenomenal results, but if you give him talking heads, you get precisely what you deserve.

#8 Johnny Walker
August/7/2021
@ 5:58 pm

I like Gil Thorp continuity stories. My newspaper, the Aiken Standard, runs it on the sports page separate for all the other comics for some weird reason. But I’m not complaining, that’s space for one more comic on the comics page.

#9 Paul Berge
August/7/2021
@ 7:48 pm

The Chicago Tribune has been running Rip Haywire.

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