History for the Rest of Us

The Far Side

The Far Side

May 21, 2014

The Far Side first appeared in newspapers on January 1, 1980 and ran for fifteen years, it’s last appearance being on January 1, 1995. All 23 Far Side compilation books were on The New York Times Best Seller list. The single-panel cartoon was created by Gary Larson who originally worked in a music store. Bored at work, he picked up a pencil and began to draw cartoons. He sold the first six panels to a local magazine. He created additional cartoons that he then sold to the Seattle Times, and was eventually syndicated through the San Francisco Chronicle. His cartoons caused the reader to look at everyday things in a bizarre, hilarious way. Perhaps Larson’s most well-known cartoon depicts something we all can relate to – pushing on a door that clearly says ‘Pull’. This classic cartoon appeared on mugs, t-shirts, and was pinned to many office cork boards. His book The Prehistory of The Far Side gave insights into some of the comments Larson received from readers as well as some insights into his thought process for creating the cartoons. One particular cartoon he discusses shows God playing a Jeopardy-like game show (hopefully, for Larson’s sake, God has a sense of humor). Of this cartoon Larson said, “First, I made God look the way I think most of us are pretty sure he looks. Secondly, I made sure he was really winning hands down. Even if Norman had only ten points it would have meant that he beat God to the buzzer at least once, and someone would have gotten mad.”* *Larson, Gary. The Prehistory of the Far Side. Universal Press, 1989. Related Stories: Bugs Bunny Garfield The Incredible Hulk Batman Li’l...

Peanuts

Peanuts

May 14, 2014

On October 2, 1950, one of, if not the greatest, cartoon cartoon characters of all time was born. Charlie Brown, the blockhead created by Charles M. Schulz made his first appearance in the comic strip Peanuts on that date. Peanuts had, at its peak, a readership of 355 million. The strip included memorable characters like Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, Woodstock, Sally, and Peppermint Patty. Nearly 50 years later, on February 13, 2000, Charlie would make his final appearance – one day after the death of his creator Mr. Schulz. The Final Strip: Most Memorable Characters: Charlie Brown Charlie was the product of Charles M. Schulz’s formative years. Charlie, despite his numerous failures is always determined to try his best regardless of the outcomes. For example, how many times did he try to kick that football that Lucy was ‘holding’ for him? Snoopy Charlie Brown’s dog was quite the opposite of Charlie. Confident and self-assured his vivid imagination led him to believe he was a World War I Flying Ace who was often flying his ‘Sopwith Camel’ (doghouse) in pursuit of the Red Baron. Snoopy had six siblings, five of which made appearances in the strip (Andy, Olaf, Marbles, Spike, and his sister Belle). Lucy Lucy van Pelt first appeared on March 3, 1952 and was typically the rock in Charlie Brown’s shoe. She was smug, highly confident, crabby, bossy, and full of advice – as demonstrated by the sign on her booth ‘The doctor is “in”‘. She was in love with piano-playing Schroeder who barely gave her the time of day. She also hated being licked by Snoopy, who seemed to relish licking her. Linus Famous for his ‘security blanket’, Linus was the philosophical younger brother of Lucy who first appeared on September 19, 1952. He was Charlie’s most loyal friend, since Snoopy never filled the roll of being ‘Man’s best friend’ (a point Charlie would sarcastically refer to from time to time). Sally Sally was Charlie Brown’s ever-questioning little sister who had a crush on blanket-toting Linus. She first appeared in the strip on August 23, 1959. Woodstock Snoopy’s sidekick Woodstock made his first appearance in the strip in 1967 and received his name...

Calvin and Hobbes

Calvin and Hobbes

Nov 18, 2012

On November 18, 1985, cartoonist Bill Watterson’s comic strip – Calvin and Hobbes – first appeared in syndication. The strip follows the adventures of Calvin, a high-octane six-year-old, and his stuffed (to everyone but Calvin) tiger Hobbes. Calvin Calvin is a highly intelligent boy whose imagination carries him and his ‘pet’ tiger on a never-ending stream of adventures. He’s convinced that if he could only write in cursive, his teacher Miss Wormwood would believe his hand-written note from the President of the United States indicating that Calvin needs to be excused from class for a ‘top secret matter of national security’. Susie Derkins Calvin’s neighbor friend Susie Derkins is often the target of his antics which usually end up backfiring on Calvin. This includes a personal favorite strip in which Calvin saves a snowball in the freezer until summer (something this author did as a child as well). He retrieves the snowball, sneaks up on Susie and fires…only to miss. While sulking, Susie gathers the remnants into snowball of her own, fires…and a direct hit! Snow Sculptures Calvin’s parents are constantly the victims of his imagination and energy. Calvin’s father often returns from or departs for work to the scene of non-typical (a gross understatement) snow sculptures, including a large snowman chasing scores of small snowmen, and a snowman appearing to have been run over by tire tracks in the driveway. Calvin often contemplates the deeper meaning of life while taking high-speed downhill rides in his wagon, sled, or toboggan. Cardboard Boxes Cardboard boxes provide an endless supply of entertainment for Calvin including his development of the Transmogrifier which will transform its user into any desired shape, and the headquarters for G.R.O.S.S. (the Get Rid Of Slimy GirlS club) whose membership includes Calvin and Hobbes. Alter-Egos Some of Calvin’s alter-egos include ‘Spaceman Spiff’ who travels to far away planets and battles aliens, typically Miss Wormwood or his parents; and ‘Stupendous Man’, a cape and mask wearing superhero, who fights valiantly, but always goes down in defeat to his opponents ‘Baby-Sitter Girl'(Rosalyn), ‘Mom-Lady’ (Calvin’s mom), ‘Annoying Girl’ (Susie Derkins) and ‘Crab Teacher’ (Miss Wormwood). Never discouraged, Calvin assures Hobbes that his losses are ‘moral victories’....

Li’l Abner Comic Strip Debuts

Li’l Abner Comic Strip Debuts

Aug 13, 2012

On August 13, 1934 the comic strip Li’l Abner would begin a run of 43 years. The strip was a satire featuring hillbillies living in Dogpatch, Kentucky. It’s confessed fans included Charlie Chaplin, Al Hirschfeld, Harpo Marx, Shel Silverstein, and reportedly Queen Elizabeth. The primary characters of the strip were Li’l Abner Yokum, his wife Daisy Mae, his mother Mammy Yokum, father Pappy Yokum, son Honest Abe Yokum, brother Tiny Yokum, and their pet pig Salomey. While these were the primary characters of the strip, the colorful characters that made cameo appearances are what truly set the strip apart. These characters often had real-world counterparts, and allowed creator Al Capp’s strip to become, as media critic and theorist Marshall McLuhan would state, “the only robust satirical force in American life.” John Updike, an American poet, short story writer, and literary critic, would say that the strip’s “richness of social and philosophical commentary approached Voltairean”. Some of the more well known supporting characters included Sadie Hawkins, Fearless Fosdick (a parody of Dick Tracy), Evil-Eye Fleegle (whose evil eye “triple whammy” could melt a battleship), and many others. visit the official Li’l Abner website for more information about some of the more well know characters (http://www.lil-abner.com/). Perhaps the most well known tradition in Dogpatch was Sadie Hawkins Day. Sadie Hawkins Day was first mentioned in the strip on November 15, 1937. According to the strip, “Sadie Hawkins was the daughter of early Dogpatch settler, Hekzebiah Hawkins. She was the homliest gal in the hills.” At the age of 35, Sadie told her father, “Yo’ gotta git me a husbin, or yo’ll have me on yore hands fo’ th’ rest o’ yore natcheral life!!” Hekzebiah devised a plan. He declared a day in November as ‘Sadie Hawkins Day’. On the designated day, he shouted to the bachelors of Dogpatch before firing his pistol, ‘When ah fires – Yo’ starts runnin’!! When ah fires agin, Sadie starts!! Th’ one she ketches’ll be her husbin’ – Le’s go!!” Sadie caught her husband, and “The other Dogpatch spinsters allowed it were such a good idea – Sadie Hawkins Day was made an annual affair!!” Sadie Hawkins Day or Sadie Hawkins...

Garfield

Garfield

Jun 19, 2012

During the 1970s Jim Davis created a cartoon strip, Gnorm Gnat which was rejected by the syndicates. He had come up with the idea for Gnorm while working as an assistant for the Tumbleweeds comic strip. He would later say ‘I thought bugs were funny, and nobody else did”. He was told by a newspaper editor, “Your art is good, your gags are great, but bugs – nobody can relate to bugs!” Davis killed off the Gnorm character by having him stepped on, and turned his focus to a more easy to relate to character – Garfield. On June 19, 1978, Davis’ creation ‘Garfield’ first appeared in 41 newspapers. The comic strip quickly grew in popularity and by 2002 Garfield appeared in nearly 2600 newspapers being read by over 260,000,000 people. It is the most widely syndicated comic strip in history. Garfield is named after creator Jim Davis’ grandfather James A. Garfield Davis. Licensed Garfield merchandise generates revenue of nearly $1 billion annually. The comic strip is primarily made up of four main characters: Garfield – A lazy cat who hates exercise, and mornings, but loves Italian food, TV, tormenting Odie, and making sarcastic comments. Garfield was born in Mama Leoni’s Italian Restaurant. The Restaurant owner was forced to choose between Garfield and closing up shop because Garfield was eating all the food. His current owner Jon purchased him from the pet store. Jon (Jon Q. Arbuckle) – Garfield’s owner is a bachelor with a crush on Garfield’s veterinarian. Jon is often a victim of Garfield’s comments on his lack of social skills and style. He is a geek with an endless supply of pathetic pickup lines, but a good heart. Odie – First appearing in August of 1978, Odie is a long-eared yellow beagle who is not playing with a full deck. Odie is a sharp contrast to the sarcastic, sadistic Garfield. Happy-go-lucky, Odie appears completely numb to Garfield’s cynicism. Dr. Liz Wilson – Liz is Garfield’s veterinarian and Jon’s longtime crush. While Jon’s pickup lines have almost always failed, Liz has occasionally dated Jon. His ‘terminal geekitis’ has been a stumbling block to the relationship taking off. Movies The success of the...