Comic Chronicles – This Was Then

Not forgetting comics’ past.

McDougall’s Monsters

When a child picks up a newspaper, it is often to see the wacky adventures of Snoopy or if Garfield still hates Mondays. Flashback to 1902, children who expected the funny pages instead found the scary drawings of Walt McDougall.

Believe It or Not in 1902 cartoonist Walt McDougall had a newspaper feature for children
that starred creatures that could give the little ones nightmares.
The syndicated feature was called Good Stories For Children.

The stories included text with a lesson or dialog from the strange creatures, which gave some context to the disturbing images oozing off the inked pages. McDougall created this series to show children that despite the wonders of the world, there is always danger afoot.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not fills us in on the newspaper monsters.

Monster Brains shows us more of the illustrations with links to the stories.


Pre-Bear Berenstains

Back before the BERENSTAIN BEARS children’s books and the videos, husband and wife cartooning team Stanley and Janice Berenstain were regularly cartooning.

During the 1950s and 60s, they produced a regular feature for McCall’s, and they were putting out a lot of paperback collections of family humor. Some were original works, other were collections of the McCall’s feature. So many of these went into multiple printings and so much of their early work (the pre-Bear cartooning) is forgotten, including a comic strip Sister, that ran from 1953 to 1956.

Mike Lynch treats us to some Stan and Jan cartooning before the Bears.


Before Alison Bechdel and Howard Cruse was John Sam Allen

When The Advocate first debuted in September 1967, it did so in the wake of violent, anti-LGBTQ+ police raids in Los Angeles — Cooper Do-nuts (1959), New Faces and Black Cat Tavern (both 1967)  — and at San Francisco’s Compton’s Cafeteria (1966).

The Advocate’s stated purpose was, “To publish news that is important to the homosexual — legal steps, social news, developments in the various organizations…at the same time, The Advocate will present a generous portion of feature material to entertain, to inform, and perhaps to provoke.”

Right alongside the editorial announcing the paper’s purpose, and just above the letters section, was the first cartoon to appear in The Advocate.

The cartoon was the brainchild of John Sam Allen. Like most everyone associated with the early Advocate, John Sam Allen used pseudonyms. Sam’s cofounders of The Advocate transformed from Richard Mitch into Dick Michaels and Bill Rau to Bill Rand, and early contributor A.J. Laurent to P. Nutz.

The Advocate profiles Sam Allen, their first cartoonist.


The Suburban Life of Charlie Brown

Schulz, the celebrated Minnesota son who would have turned 100 this year, both presaged and captured the alienation of the suburban condition. Never one to be patronizing nor blindly optimistic, Schulz’s Li’l Folks (Peanuts’ original title before syndication)—widely considered a composite of the artist’s id—comprised a true community, one often at odds, even despondent over the state of things, yet always reaching a détente, egos be damned.

During the strip’s early years, from its debut in 1950 to roughly 1970, Schulz’s work deftly portrayed the unique anxieties associated with things like child rearing, overpopulation, environmental depletion, and nuclear fallout, all through the lens of the children themselves. Gary Trudeau, the creator of Doonesbury, once observed that Peanuts “vibrated with ’50s alienation.” And writer George Saunders fondly recalled poring over them in the “dank basements and mod parlors of the [1960s]” and, for the first time, experiencing the “heady sensation of seeing the world I lived in represented in art … set in a new-lawned and new-treed and under-furnitured suburb much like the one where I lived.”

Justin R. Wolf’s essay for Common Edge on Peanuts‘ suburbia.


Back to the Beginning


Artist Andy Bleck’s Andy’s Early Comics Archive is an excellent resource for those seeking to discover early examples of the form that have yet to be reissued in a collected edition.

The newspaper format was much larger and cheaper, providing a lot more empty space to fill. The audience was less sophisticated, but (possibly because of this) more open to a particular type of experimentation, despite the dumb and lowbrow humor… these American Sunday pages became the breeding ground for something new. Weirder, rougher, slapdashier. Also easier, for children, but not childish. More popular. More … somethingier.

Ayun Halliday, for Open Culture, critiques Andy’s Early Comics Archive.

And finds it good.

Andy’s Early Comics Archive can be searched chronologically, or alphabetically by artist’s name. Enter here.