Friday, February 13, 2009

Best Newspaper Comic Strips

I've always enjoyed reading newspaper comics, collecting favorite strips, and buying collected works in book form. They inspired my drawing style and got me interested in cartooning. That said, it was actually difficult for me to pool together 5 strips that I think are great. I think in part it's because I'm too critical of the styles and humour they present, but it's also because so many comic strips fall under the categories of "mediocre" or "just plain lame". The more I researched, the more I realized that there are only a handful of awesome ones, and the rest are just okay. Also, you're not going to see "Peanuts" here, because despite the adoration Charlie Brown and his TV specials receive, that comic strip is completely boring. I've never laughed, snickered, or cracked a smile while reading a Peanuts strip. I've simple sighed and moved on. It's called the Funnies page, people!

Also, while it was hard to find the best, I had no trouble tracking down the worst comic strips. So you can expect that list in the near future.

5. Dilbert (1989 - present)
This comic has been criticized for being simplistic and crude looking, but the clever writing makes up for it by far. The comic centers around Dilbert, an engineer working in an office filled with incompetent fools mismanaging everything and making horrible business decisions. Much of the humour comes from the bureaucracy of the office setting, and the weird supporting cast. A character like Dogbert (while poorly named) is actually quite interesting with his obsessive ambitions for power and dominance. In a way, Dogbert may have paved with way for a character like Stewie Griffin. Also, while the jokes aren't always hilarious (which is a lot to expect from a prolific art form), they are well crafted, and even edgy at times. Scott Adams received criticism for a comic that poked fun at nuns the same week that Mother Teresa died. Zing.

4. Garfield (1978 - present)
Whoa, this comic has had a long run. More than 30 years. Seriously? Whew, well that's probably part of the reason why it didn't make a higher spot on the list. Anyway, the characters are likable, and Garfield is the perfect cat stereotype; a self absorbed, greedy, lazy, jerk. Pair that up with his owner Jon Arbuckle, one of the greatest losers ever created, and Odie the drooling dog with a vacant expression, and you got comedy gold.

Garfield's laziness and gluttony is relatable enough to us to enjoy, and Davis has been able to capture some hilarious bits of physical comedy in his strip. I was brought to tears over two injuries to Jon in particular: when he put on jeans straight from the dryer and experienced "hot zipper", and when Garfield fired a toy bow and arrow, which we discover has hit Jon in the back of the head, causing his face to be plunged into an over sized bowl of dip resting in his lap as he sat down to watch TV. Besides being a great looking and funny strip, the comic was turned into an equally hilarious Saturday morning cartoon show, as well as several awesome specials. In recent years, it sadly went the route of live action movie with cg cat, and I knew everything was over at that point. I stopped following this strip almost a decade ago, but any time I drop in to see how things are going, I find more of the same, which is good and bad. As much as I like the characters, when you're recycling the same 10 jokes over and over without innovation, I feel it's time the series said farewell. Also, the movie had Garfield dancing to the Black Eyed Peas. Enough said.

3. The Adventures of Tin Tin (1929- 1983)
Okay, before you freak out because you've never seen Tin Tin in a newspaper, I'll have you know that the comic book novels you read growing up were originally published as a serialized comic strip in a Belgian newspaper before they gained popularity and were collected into the books we know today. Also, it's my list, so I say it counts!

Tin Tin is awesome all around, and is a great balance of mystery, adventure, and humour. The characters are charming; who doesn't love Captain Haddock? Well, people who have alliteration phobias for one, I guess. The strip should be commended for the research involved alone for the diverse stories and settings. I've yet to to meet anyone who doesn't love the books, or the animated series based on the books. I hear tell on the Internets that a feature film may be in the works, and that has the potential to be awesome (or terrible, as movies based on beloved characters go). Interesting heroic characters combined with compelling stories, and a clean focused art style make this series one of the best comics period.

2. The Far Side (1980 -1995)
Thank you, Gary Larson. Thank you for fusing wit and insanity like we've never seen before. This comic is king of the one-panel variety and showed us glimpses into a strange world of fat bespectacled stupid people, intelligent shifty-eyed animals, and all manner of awkward situations. Any fan of this strip has favorite ones they can quote and describe, making "The Far Side" the newspaper equivalent of "The Simpsons". As far as comic strips are concerned, this one has caused me to burst out laughing more than any other, and when you're working with a single image, it's an impressive feat to present such a strong joke.

1. Calvin and Hobbes (1985 - 1995)
I'll admit that I barely ever read this strip while growing up, but I've since read enough to recognize its greatness. Following the antics of six-year old Calvin and his stuffed tiger, Hobbes, this comic captures all the best elements of childhood innocence and imagination. Any of the strips involving Calvin and a cardboard box are damn-near brilliant. The conversations and Calvin's logic are so great to read; he's the epitome of the kid that "talks back". And that's where the genius of the strip comes through. Although Calvin can be a sarcastic, selfish character who may lose his temper from time to time, he never comes across as a brat. Sure, he's a mouthy kid, but he represents the curiosity, creativity, and friendship of youth. We all can relate to him.

The writing is intelligent, clever, and funny. The characters have depth and the drawing is highly stylized in the way it captures growing up. If I could sum up the art in one word, it would be "playful". Calvin in Hobbes is a hilarious, thoughtful comic and what all cartoonists should aim to achieve.


Cole D'Arc said...

ive never been a fan of Dilbert but i agree with everything else. Yes, Garfield should have ended when the nineties did. I plan on buying some Tintin books in their original French. Have you seen his crazy racist African adventure where he SLAUGHTERS every form of wildlife? it's Tintin in the Congo or something. The show was great and was my first exposure to the series.
Number one and two are just how I would call them. I can't find Homicidal Jungle Cat which is driving me crazy as I want to put it with It's A Magical World and The Days Are Just Packed.

Cole D'Arc said...

I think I would have to include Will Eisner's The Spirit on there if I was doing this list. Another old strip i'm dying to collect.

RyHo said...

I wasn't aware that The Spirit or Tin Tin were serialized. That's pretty cool. I've only ever seen Tin Tin on TV, so it's interesting to see its roots.

My fave strip isn't an epic one, but I still enjoy it. It's Sherman's Lagoon. I can't get enough of that surly Crab!

I also, and somewhat ashamedly, must admit that I really enjoy Zits. They aren't anywhere near the best, just thought I'd point out a few I like.

Great list!

Shane said...

I want all the Tin Tin books, but I haven't got the money for that ... yet! I remember when I was in grade school, I always wanted to get them from the school library, but they were always out.

Also, Ryho, to tell you the truth, Zits was a contender for the 5th spot, along with Baby Blues. Both of those are really underrated.

Cole D'Arc said...

I'm surprised you didn't know The Spirit was serialized. That's probably how it's best known. yes, DC relaunched it as a book in 2006 and ive heard it's quite good but obviously, Will Eisner, who is quite dead, is not involved. Just for how groundbreaking it was on all levels of comicdom - from other strips to graphic novels - would put it on my list. So many artists took cues from it as far as pencils, inking and panel layout go. Will Eisner is probably one of the most celebrated American cartoonists besides Walt Disney.

KSI said...

Um Every heard of "BLOOM COUNTY?" The strip that all of the "smart but funny" 90's-2000's comics are based on.

Cole D'Arc said...

whatever you say, mysterious stranger.