Everyone loves comic relief

Published 11:59 pm Friday, August 14, 2009

Did you know that in 1945, nearly 35 million comic books were sold every month? And that by 1961, that number had increased to close to 45 million?

Were you a comic book fan when the comic book was in its heyday? What about newspaper comic strips? Is it your habit to turn to your favorite every time it appears? Do you miss some of the comics you enjoyed in your childhood?

Let’s test our memories on a few of the popular strips we don’t see any more. Who were the “tall and short pair” comic strip characters? What comic strip is believed to be the first to have run in a newspaper? What comic strip began running on a trial basis in four newspapers in 1949 and five years later wound up in close to 400 newspapers?

Remember Mutt, who was tall, and Jeff, his short friend? Mutt was created in 1907 and Jeff joined him in 1908. It first ran on The San Francisco Chronicle’s sports pages. It remained in syndication until 1982.

Some believe that Katzenjammer Kids, created by German immigrant Rudolph Dirks, was the first to run in a newspaper. It appeared first in a Sunday supplement on Dec. 12, 1897.

It was Pogo, that possum from the Louisiana swamp, that enjoyed such a surge of popularity within a five-year period.

Comic books were popular in my growing-up years. I remember a few students even concealing them behind textbooks in class. When they got caught, the teachers confiscated their comic books.

Comic books were still popular when our son came along. When we lived in military quarters in Bamberg, Germany, in the early 1960s, children knocked on each other’s doors with their arms loaded with them. They plopped down out in the hallway, spread out the books and worked out trades. You can imagine how tattered some of those books got after a few swaps.

Now back to some comic strips. Do you read Snuffy Smith these days? It is one of the longest running in history. It appeared first in 1919 and became the most widely syndicated strip in the world, appearing in 1,500 newspapers. It seems to me that Snuffy’s sidekick for many years, Barney Google, went off to the big city and occasionally returns to visit his old friend.

One of my husband’s favorite strips was the now defunct Big Chief Wahoo and Minnie Ha-Cha. It first appeared in 1936. Later Steve Roper, a hero of sorts, joined them. Eventually Chief Wahoo dropped from sight and Roper paired with one or two other characters. The strip discontinued in 2004.

Blondie’s still around. She appeared first in 1930. She defied her parents and married Dagwood Bumstead in February 1933. It was a big comic strip event. Blondie has been rated among the top five comics in newspaper reader surveys. And, have you noticed? Despite her age, she hasn’t changed a bit.