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Collecting Comics & Art

Collecting Comic Art ..... Part Two

Comic strips were created in America during the last decades of the 19th century. Appearing in William Randolph Hearst's "New York American" & Joseph Pulitzer's "The World" the earliest strips were Richard Outcault's "Yellow Kid", James Swinnerton's "Little Bears" and "The Katzenjammer Kids" by Rudolph Dirks.

Hearst & Pulitzer, both of whom "sponsored" the creation of comic strips, were constantly at war with each other and continually tried (and were frequently successful) to hire away from their opponent the best talent available. On a couple of occasions, their attempts had scurrilous results.

When Hearst hired Outcault away from Pulitzer, a great legal battle ensued. From this debacle,the term "Yellow Journalism" emerged. Other phrases in the American vocabulary have their origins in the strips as well. "Happy Hooligan" by Frederic Burr Opper was about a bumbling, unlucky idiot whose antics were so ridiculous that parents constantly reminded their rascally children not to be "hooligans".

Another legal case developed when Dirks informed Hearst that he wanted to take a 1 year trip around the world..and that the strip would be on vacation with him. Hearst threatened to have another artist do the strip. Dirks, outraged, quit and jumped the Hearst ship to join Pulitzer. Hearst sued Dirks. The landmark decision that resulted from the suit gave copyright to the title of the strip to Hearst, while Dirks maintained copyright to the characters. Thus, Dirks did the "Captain & the Kids" for Pulitzer while at the same time Hearst had cartoonist Harold Knerr draw "the Katzenjammers". Both appearing simultaneously, & being the same strip!!!

There have also been a plethora of contributions from comic strips that have enhanced American culture. Winsor McCay; the creator of "Little Nemo"; was also the creator of the animated cartoon, and his "Gertie the Dinosaur" was a major stepping stone in the development of cartoons. It was also a great personal feat for McCay. "Gertie" was made so that she could "appear" with McCay on the vaudeville stage, and there was interaction between them. Video tapes of their mutual performance exhibit McCay's great talent.

Many comic characters made the transition to Movies and Radio. Some of the most memorable films of the thirties were the "Flash Gordon" & "Dick Tracy" serials. "Batman" & "Superman" were brought to the silver screen in the 1940's, and one of the longest running film series were the "Blondie" films which were made from 1938 through the forties. It is this depiction of Blondie & Dagwood that stands as the epitomical image of the strip.

Comic characters even became "pitchmen" for all kinds of products from Donald Duck orange juice to Superman milk. In the 1920's & 30's, comic strips made an evolutionary change & were packaged into ten-cent comic books. As comic strips & comic books gained popularity, the artwork from which they are printed became a collectable piece of Popular American Culture.

The various reasons for collecting Comic Art are as different as the people who read, and collect comics & comic art. Generally however, there is one common factor - nostalgia. Someone might remember an interest in a character they read often, others remember & are interested in the artists themselves, but for whatever reason, many people collect it.

Of course there have been collectors of comic art as early as the turn of the century, & it is to these early collectors we owe a great deal to the preservation of many originals as much of the artwork was routinely destroyed if it was not returned to the artist or given away to a fan who wrote in a letter, and was startled to find a reply in the form of inscribed art from his or her favorite strip.

Collecting tastes vary as widely as the comics themselves. Some collect Humor strips while other collect comic book pages & not comic strips & still others collect adventure strips & comic pages.From Krazy Kat & Flash Gordon to Superman & Archie, there are ardent collectors in every area.

One more reason to collect is the potential investment value which has only become prevalent in more recent years, particularly as the prices of art escalate in value, and as the artform becomes more widely acknowledged by the art community.

Popular artists are Hal Foster (Prince Valiant & Tarzan); George Herriman (Krazy Kat), Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim & Rip Kirby); Elzie Segar (Popeye), Chester Gould (Dick Tracy); Burne Hogarth (Tarzan); Winsor McCay (the aforementioned Little Nemo) and Charles Schulz (Peanuts), all from the comic strips. From the comic books, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert, Berni Wrightson, Wally Wood, Al Williamson and Steve Ditko. There are of course dozens, or even hundreds of comic artists that make up a long list of popular & sought after creators, but it would be impossible to list them all.

A particular favorite of many collectors is Hal Foster. His Prince Valiant pages from the beginning of the strip in 1937, through to his pages from 1970 (when he handed over the artistic chores to John Cullen Murphy), are all highly sought after, and it is not unusual to see collectors in a frenzy to all buy the same page when it becomes available.

Some collectors are interested in different periods of Foster's work due to his constantly changing styles. Some individuals (like myself) are more interested in pages from 1938 to 1948, than pages from 1937 or after 1949. On the other hand, financial considerations only give some collectors the ability to buy or trade for pages from the 1960's as they are far less expensive than earlier pages.

His Tarzan pages from 1933 and 1934 are much more in demand than later pages because his interest in doing the strip waned, and his work on the art in this period (1935-1937) is not nearly as consistent as his earlier or later work. This inconsistency leads to some pages with downright badly drawn panels.

Another artist whose changing style reflects collector interest is Alex Raymond. His Flash Gordon originals of 1935 to 1939 are very impressive. Flash Gordon was introduced on January 7, 1934. Alex, a young cartoonist at age 24, had previously assisted Lyman Young & his brother Chic on "Tim Tylers Luck" & "Blondie" respectively. When the strip began, along with it's companion strip Jungle Jim, the art was crude - almost pedestrian. As Alex' talent progressed, the bold brush-strokes became elegant & free flowing. By the middle of 1935, he had developed a sensual, dry-brush style that influenced many of his contemporaries, including Phil Davis' "Mandrake"; Ray Moore's "the Phantom"; and comic artists Lou Fine and Wayne Boring.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Raymond continually experimented with different techniques and each year from 1934 until he left Flash Gordon in 1943 has an entirely different look. As a result his pages from spring 1935 to late 1936 are very popular with some collectors, while pages from 1937 - 1939 are more popular with others. I personally like this later work for what I feel is it's less cluttered & more rt-Deco-Neo-Modernist style.

Others prefer his Rip Kirby, which appeared from 1946 until his death in 1956 (and still appears by John Prentice). With Rip Kirby, he introduced a new style some classify "photo-realistic", and this style inspired a new group of artists that included Al Williamson, the legendary Frank Frazetta, Leonard Starr & Stan Drake. Rip Kirby art also sells for a fraction of his earlier work, and this makes it a much more attractive way for some to collect Raymond when they are unable to spend thousands of dollars for a single piece by him. It is universally agreed that Raymond & Foster were the two greatest "adventure" strip artists ever. I prefer Foster. Someone else prefers Raymond. They are the best.

When it comes to humor strips, George Herriman's "Krazy Kat" and E.C.(Elzie) Segar's "Popeye" are the jewels of the medium. Herriman's world, identified as "Coconino County", is residence to the wackiest Kat ever to sip a bowl of milk. Referred to as "He" or "She" variously throughout the life of the strip, "Ignatz" mouse derives an endless source of pleasure by beaning "that Kat" with the first brick available at every opportunity. Or is it "evva upatunetee"? Of course whenever the brick is thrown, the indomitable (and lovestruck?) "Ofissa Pup" is the vigilant eye that witnesses the entire melodrama as it unfolds each day in Coconino.

On a visual level, the imagery is no less bizarre than the plot is simple. Constantly metamorphosing backgrounds, coupled with the interjections of American Indian symbols & south-west American landscapes splashed with generous portions of india ink create a breath taking experience with every look.

One character that has certainly become a legend is Popeye. Classified as a humor strip by most, it is actually a baroque image of an adventure strip. Packed with cynic sarcasm, it is probably the most hilarious strip ever.

Introduced into the "Thimble Theatre" comic strip in 1929, Popeye had a rather inauspicious debut when Castor Oyl, eyeing & in need of a sailor, asks Popeye "Are you a sailor?" Popeye, dressed in his usual garb retorts "Whadja think I'm a cowboy". The muscle-bound hero is anything but one of the "palookas" (another comicism) that he dispatches regularly after warning them "Milk an' spinach has gimme the strenk' of two elephinks" and "Better be careful. I might take a notion to hit ya".

Hounded by the homely but hard-to-get "Olive Oyl",and constantly accosted by his friend (one of the Jones boys) "J.Wellington Wimpy" to the tune of "I will gladly pay you Tuesday..for a hamburger today", Popeye slugs his way through life with Olive on one arm & a can of spinach on the other, and with Olive's nephew "Swea Pea" crawling behind.

One of the most enduring characters from the strip was made more so by the cartoons of the 1930's & 40's than by the strip itself. Bluto, Popeye's arch rival, appeared in only one episode in the papers in 1932.

A peak sequence has brutish bully Bluto threatening to kill Popeye the next day. The spinach eating seaman then prays on hands & knees "Please give Bluto strenk to stan' up & fight good, or else I'll knock him out from in between his ears the first pop"!!! Well blow me down........

When it comes to comics, one of the best is Joe Kubert. Heavily influenced by such greats as Foster, Raymond, Eisner & Noel Sickles; Kubert has one of the most visceral styles introduced to the medium. His "Hawkman" and his "Sgt.Rock" are two of the stand out creations of the comic book. Sgt. Rock in particular, is renowned for the realistic approach it brought to the comics concerning the war theme. A famous story is "What's the Color of Blood" which dealt with racism on the battlefield. Soldiers frequently occupied the slots on the letters pages, acknowledging the realistic stories.

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