Monday, December 8, 2008

Codger Mode Go!

You might be wondering at that title.

Well, despite my age (25), I frequently have fits of nostalgia codger-style.

What's really scary about this is that many of these fits are nostalgia for that which precedes my birth.

Take, for instance, old newspaper comics. Way before my time.

I can still experience them vicariously through such works as The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics.

And I'll tell you what, the old folks are right when they say "The funnies were better in the old days." With the notable exception of Calvin and Hobbes, which defied newspaper conventions while generally staying within the three or occasionally four tiny panels to which modern dailies are relegated, most newspaper comics are forced to rely on either cheap one-off gags or a very slow-moving continuous narrative.

Those were the days when Mickey Mouse packed heat.

I kid you not. In a protracted daily storyline (even though it was forced into a small space, it was a smidgen larger than that of today's daily newspaper comics), Mickey Mouse once went on a prospecting adventure, and during it, he carried a revolver. He also buried two guys up to their necks in the middle of the desert.

Again, I kid you not.

Then there's Thimble Theatre. For those of you not in the know, Thimble Theatre is the "birthplace" of Popeye, the immortal and memorable spinach-eating sailor better known nowadays for the numerous cartoon shorts in which he starred.

In a series of Sunday comics in the aforementioned Smithsonian collection (well, I think they're Sunday pages, but the Smithsonian collection's notations are awfully sparse), Popeye embarks on a prolonged sea voyage with his old sailor buddy, Bill Barnacle, an almost suspiciously similar sailor with a heavier build and a slightly less cartoony form. (Speaking of suspicious similarity, have you ever noticed that it's always the sailor-themed characters with a little horde of "nephews" that look just like them?)

I'll grant you, this stuff is dated, but it's good stuff. Wacky, weird, and illogical, but it still follows a pretty strong logic all its own, and the Smithsonian author states "it may be the finest example of pure comic-strip narration" to date. (The book is from the late '70s. Dang, I read old stuff.)

Speaking of old stuff, Prince Valiant existed in this era. The main difference between it then and it now? More finished (by which I mean "using better printing techniques") art in a smaller area (the '30s vintage Prince Valiant has eight panels of varying but large size, and takes up a very good-sized page; the modern strip has about five panels which take up little more than the standard size of a Sunday comic). That, and the storylines are a bit more modernized, taking on less of the King Arthur story concepts and just kind of running around with cavemen and junk like that. (Speaking of Prince Valiant, at one point when I remarked that I don't usually read it, my mother said that we had to stop getting the Sunday funnies. She was mostly joking.)

So, yeah. Huzzah for old comic strips.

-Signing off.

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