Comic strip writers are turning to cyberspace to sell their work as newspaper circulation and budgets continue to shrink in the digital age, cartoon historian Brian Walker said during a speech at McDaniel College last Wednesday.
Walker, a second-generation creator of Hi and Lois and a current writer for Beetle Bailey, said the Internet also allows cartoonists to speak more directly to their readers, offering advice and other insights into everything from family life to the workplace.
“Comics have survived all these years because of their ability to adapt,” said Walker. “They have adapted with radio, television and the Internet, and will keep adapting with new media challenges. Though the fate of newspaper comic strips are unknown, the future of comic strips alone is everlasting.”
According to Walker, the first comic strip character was The Yellow Kid, who emerged as the lead character in Hogan’s Alley and was drawn by Richard F. Outcault for the New York World and later the New York Journal. This became one of the first Sunday paper comic strips in an American newspaper. “People then saw that comics sold papers,” he said.
But the comic strip was not always accepted by everyone in the public, Walker said.
“During the first decade from 1905-1906 comics were criticized by educational and religious leaders because they believed they were bad for children, and included violence and rough humor,” he said. “Thus emerged the creation family strips.”
Walker said that, by the late 1920’s a new genre, the adventure strip, emerged with the ending of WWI 1. Strips were beginning to include “satirical sequences and critiques of the public and everyday life,” he said.
The comic strip, Li’l Abner written by Al Capp, “made fun of released movies, attacked politicians and celebrities, and brought up controversial issues,” Walker said. “This was the beginning of controversial comic strips.”
According to Walker, people tend to think all great comic strips came before WWII. “This is not true,” he said, “because although comics have changed a lot, in a way some things have gotten better.” In the post-war era the most popular strips had better artistic value, better plot sequences, and appealed to a large amount of audiences.”
Walker, the son of Beetle Bailey writer Mort Walker, said that the 1980’s were the renaissance of comic strips because the baby boom generation was drawing and creating comic strips. “Comics were gearing their humor towards school kids and focused on very traditional modern issues,” Walker said.
He said, “I began working for Hi and Lois with my brother in the early 80’s because my father decided that the comic needed a more modern perspective.”
“By the 90’s,” he added, “creators of comics were using the Internet to talk to their audiences and ask for advice of what they wanted to see happen in the strip, like Scott Adams the creator of Dilbert.”
According to Walker, with the decrease in newspaper circulation cartoonists are looking towards other places to sell their work. “Recently some comic strips have found success on the Internet, as Jeff Kinney did with his novel Diary of a Wimpy Kid that is based off a web comic he published at Funbrain.com,” he said.
This was the first of a four-part speaker series featuring contemporary cartoonists following the opening of an exhibition on the McDaniel campus. The exhibition includes comic strips designed by graduate students at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C.
The exhibition was inspired by Associate Professor of Communication Robert Lemieux’s quest to educate the public about the cultural and historical relevance of the Sunday funnies.
Speaker- Brian Walker
Comic Strips & Culture 1895-1950
Rice Gallery, Peterson Hall (near Alumni Hall Theatre)
2 College Hill, Westminster, MD
Date- October 19,2011
Sponsoring Organization- Robert Lemieux at 410.857.2425 or firstname.lastname@example.org