I cobbled this photo together in the early days of Comic Strip of the Day, but, as the blog turns 14, I am pleased that, while a few people have felt stung by criticism, nobody has ever asked me to stop using their work here.
However, before I launched things on Feb 6, 2010, I checked in with the major syndicates to make sure I wasn’t going to run into legal problems. I knew what I had in mind was fair use, because I intended commentary alongside the cartoons, but even a defensible position can get expensive if challenged.
But let’s start with my intentions: I began CSotD in response to a blog that mocked comics not in a critical sense but just from a wiseass point of view. Apparently, the writers were only picking on the strips that ran in their city’s major paper, but they attracted a large audience for these merciless, repeated put-downs of the same eight or 10 strips.
I thought someone should compliment good work and, since I was in a prolonged period of unemployment at the time, who better?
Here’s all it was in the beginning, which isn’t much. It was, literally, the comic strip of the day, where to find it and, if the artist had a book out, how to find more.
But in May, 2011, I went to a public showing of One Fine Sunday in the Funny Pages in Boston, in connection with the NCS Convention there. I’d emailed with several cartoonists by then and interviewed some by telephone, but I’d only met a few IRL. The place was packed with familiar names who now had faces.
I mentioned what I was doing to a few people there and they showed enthusiasm for promoting good work instead of tearing down the art form, which encouraged me to keep going.
Here’s how I wrote up the day, and you’ll note that, by then, I’d moved on from a single strip and a single sentence.
You may also note that I have a statement of purpose in the rail that says “I read some 175 or more comics a day.” That’s gone up to 249, but that’s inexact, since not all of them update daily while some are compilations and may have several new strips on a given day.
The number includes both strips and editorial cartoons. I pull out nominees and have an informal rule that strips age out in a week. I’m a little more lenient with editorial work, as long as it remains contemporary in terms of the day’s theme, but I don’t let them sit very long. News should be new.
There are, admittedly, strips and editorials I come back to often, but that’s their fault for doing consistently good and/or challenging work. There are some I don’t bother reading at all, mostly because they are repetitive, which can make them popular — people enjoy familiar humor — but doesn’t make their work discussable.
And there are some I read every day but rarely use, but it’s a particular joy when they pop up with something excellent and it makes keeping them in the mix well worthwhile.
My routine is that I start reading at 3 am and have a 9 am deadline, since that’s when the Daily Cartoonist robot sends out the email announcing the day’s new entries.
The total so far is 5114 posts, since I work a seven-day week, and the only days I haven’t filed were when I had surgery in 2016 and Friend-of-the-Blog Brian Fies pinch hit for two weeks, keeping the streak alive (and doing a good job of it).
So I’m a retired guy who puts in a 40-hour work week. I guess that’s the part they don’t tell you about “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Now for all the folks who come here to ignore the babble and read the comics, and as a reward for those who do wade through my deathless prose, here are some favorite strips, most of which are older than the blog. (Maybe I’ll do editorial cartoons on next year’s birthday.)
But first, a request of cartoonists
I’d like to write about how the centralized corporate purchasing of strips has hit syndicated cartoonists, one way or the other, but realize it’s a very personal situation. I will guarantee anonymity if you’ll email me with your situation and prospects at email@example.com
Now, bring on the funnies!
This 1988 Calvin and Hobbes (AMS) was one I used in my work teaching media literacy in schools. Good teachers laughed, I didn’t much care if the others didn’t.
Speaking of education and miseducation, Frazz (AMS) is a favorite and this 2003 example is typical of how the strip asks you to think a little. Sometimes it asks you to think a lot.
Frazz began with the title character a stalwart against bad teachers, but Jef Mallett has eased up a little on that and is more apt to depict Mrs. Olson as wanting to do the right thing even when she falls short. Normally, turning a villain good is deadly for humor — making Hot Lips Houlihan a sympathetic character gelded M*A*S*H and turning Fonzie loveable destroyed Happy Days — but softening Mrs. Olson has added more subtlety and subtexts to the strip.
I identify strongly with Arlo, but I’m glad the element of life in this Arlo and Janis (AMS) is not a major issue for me.
In fact, when I told my folks I was dropping out of school for a year to write, I challenged my dad to do what he wanted to do with his life. A few weeks later, at 49, he quit the steel industry and began a new job in a new town in a whole other career field.
So when are you gonna do what you want to do with your life?
By the time Christopher Baldwin dropped this Bruno in 1999, I had realized I wasn’t going to be J.D. Salinger or Turgenev, so I could laugh at it.
As it happened, about a year later Christopher and I began partnering on some children’s newspaper serial stories, and he also turned me on to Dylan Meconis and Clio Chiang with whom I collaborated. The man knows his way around a drawing board.
Nemi was a favorite, but the English translations disappeared with her Mirror contract, and I can’t read Norwegian.
BTW, in Irish, the idiom is to “have” a language rather than to “know” it or “speak” it. I feel that gets closer to the reality of being even moderately bilingual. I don’t quite have French, but, to use a translated Irish idiom, I am almosting it.
Cleats (AMS) should have worked. Bill Hinds tapped into the rising phenomenon of youth soccer, but ran into the reality of sports page editors focused on colleges and the pros, combined with managing editors determined to serve only readers of retirement age, not young parents and certainly not kids.
Can you tell I was a youth soccer coach for several years?
I had a chance to see Richard Thompson’s sheaf of proposed strips for Cul de Sac before AMS picked it up, and my critique was that it was absolutely brilliant but I feared it would be hard to market to editors who have no sense of humor or metaphor and who are locked into what comic art should look like.
I think I was right: This strip should have exploded onto every newspaper in the country, but remained a treasure that never reached all the people who would have loved it. My mother was particularly amused by this one and began referring to herself as my deranged stalker.
Richard and I were good on-line friends, and finally got to meet in person at that exhibition in Boston. I miss him like hell.
Rhymes With Orange (KFS) has the advantage of no recurring characters and the only constant theme is whatever amuses Hilary Price and, well after this 2003 strip ran, Rina Piccolo.
FWIW, we didn’t forbid our boys to have toy guns, as a result of which they got tired of their unarmed friends coming over and wanting to play guns when they’d rather throw a ball around or something.
Kevin and Kell explained the economics of on-line cartooning back in 2001. This is a bit of comic exaggeration, but generally in the ballpark. The number of Penny Arcades raking in kabillions is small; really good webstrips that remain a labor of love is more the default.
BTW, you don’t have to send money to support a favorite blog. “Likes” help drive traffic, “shares” do even more. Those of you in the expensive seats, just rattle your jewelry.
This Pardon My Planet (KFS) remains a favorite 21 years later.
Long experience tells me that some readers probably managed to not get it, but there’s a point at which spoon-feeding them ruins the gag for everyone else. This is well played.
Bizarro (KFS) tells us that now it’s time to say good-bye to all our company, with a tip of the hat to all the cartoonists who weren’t featured today because I had to set some limits and I’m already well over my usual word count and number of featured strips.
Keep reading. There will be more!