Newspaper readers often turn to the comic strips first and avidly enjoy the seemingly endless possibilities for storytelling and self-expression. Art Wood's collection abounds in dazzling examples that demonstrate this indigenous American art form's amazing potential to amuse, entertain, enlighten and convey laughs, tears, and thrills. The selection on view captures the range of artistic talent and the transition of the art form from Richard Outcault's landmark Yellow Kid to Bill Griffith's Zippy the Pinhead. The comics have taken readers on adventures in the air with Alex Raymond and Dashiell Hammett's Secret Agent X-9, to China with Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates, to the criminal underworld with Phil Davis and Lee Falk's Mandrake the Magician, to the lonesome pining of Charlie Brown in Charles Schulz's Peanuts, and back home with Lynn Johnston's For Better or For Worse.
Happy Hooligan Makes a Grand Hit!
Hapless Happy Hooligan, a kind-hearted hobo always a little down on his luck, debuted in the comics pages in 1900. As depicted here, he was a willing soul who often found himself tricked into predicaments. Frederick Opper (1857-1937), the cartoonist, had a long career drawing sequential art and single panel cartoons in such weekly magazines as Frank Leslie's Illustrated News and Puck, before William Randolph Hearst lured him to the New York Journal. A prodigious artist, he created political cartoons, comic strips, and illustrations before his failing eyesight forced him into retirement in 1932.
Bringing Up Father
This thirteen-panel comic strip of Bringing Up Father by George McManus (1884-1954) presents a classic episode of the humorous marital drama between main characters Jiggs and Maggie. About to go out, Maggie tells Jiggs not to leave the house. Jiggs dresses to go out when he hears that the Cement Mixer's Ball will feature his old friend Dinty Moore. However, the ball is cancelled. Jiggs, an Irish immigrant laborer suddenly made wealthy, strives to maintain his old friendships, whereas Maggie continually aspires to higher social status. McManus drew his highly popular strip from its debut in 1913 until his death—others continued it until 2000, making it one of the longest running strips.
George McManus. Bringing Up Father, 1925. Published by International Feature Service, Inc., September 13, 1925. India ink over graphite underdrawing with scraping out and paste-ons. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-03464 (57). © 1925, International Feature Service, Inc., used with permission of King Features Syndicate, Inc.
Dick Tracy—The Ultimatum
Dick Tracy, lacking some of the technological devices that he later used but sporting his trench coat, reports to his boss in one of the first strips. Chester Gould (1900-1985) modeled the chisel chinned cop after Sherlock Holmes and cashed in on the growing popularity of detective stories. He kept readers intrigued with a combination of dialogue and alternating perspectives on the scenes. Gould drew several comic strips before hitting on his award-winning Dick Tracy in 1931. Although Gould retired in 1977, the comic strip is currently being drawn and written by Dick Locher and Michael Kilian.
Chester Gould. Dick Tracy. The Ultimatum. “What did you find out, Tracy?” 1931. Published by News Syndicate Co., Inc., December 18, 1931. Ink with scraping out over graphite underdrawing with paste-on. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-07736 (58)
Murat Bernard “Chic” Young's (1901-1973) comic strip about Blondie Boopadoop, a flighty flapper, dating playboy Dagwood Bumstead, son of millionaire J. Bolling Bumstead, floundered until he decided to have the couple fall in love. Here, Dagwood, desperate to wed Blondie despite his father's objections, is on a hunger strike. The couple married on Friday, February 17, 1933, and Dagwood, stripped of his wealth and family connections, was nonetheless happy with his unfailingly practical new bride. Americans immediately warmed to the humorous daily reminders that love, not money, conquers all. Blondie lives on, thanks to Chic Young's son Dean. For more examples of Chic Young's Blondie, see Blondie Gets Married.
Chic Young. Blondie. Second Wind, 1932. Published by King Features Syndicate, Inc., December 27, 1932. India ink and blue pencil over graphite underdrawing. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-03350 (59). © 1932, King Features Syndicate, Inc., used with permission
Polly and Her Pals
In this two panel comic strip of Polly and Her Pals drawn by Clifford Sterrett (1883-1964), the central character Paw brings home a tiger, that he thought was a hallucination. However, the tiger is real, having recently escaped from the circus. This experience, which is part of a series about Polly's family's move to the country, convinces Paw to move back to the city. The gently humorous strip, starring Polly, her parents, and diverse relatives and friends debuted in 1912. One of the first to feature an independent “new woman” of college age, Sterrett also evolved in this strip a unique graphic style with angular compositions and boldly stylized forms.
Cliff Sterrett. Polly and Her Pals. “I won't have that critter on the farm, Fat-head!” 1933. Published by King Features Syndicate, Inc., November 6, 1933. India ink with scraping out over graphite underdrawing with paste-on. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-07744 (60). © 1933, King Features Syndicate, Inc., used with permission
Secret Agent X-9
In this airplane sequence the title character, Special Agent X-9, stands in the cockpit aiming his machine gun at a plane carrying “The Mask.” Dashiell Hammett wrote the script and Alex Raymond (1909-1956) drew the hard-boiled detective comic strip. Hammett left after writing four stories, and Raymond, too, stopped drawing the strip to devote time to his Flash Gordon. Raymond transformed the art of the comic strip from tight pen-and-ink drawing to loose dry brush strokes to create a sense of dynamic action. He was drawing his strip about a scientific detective, Rip Kirby, when he died in an automobile accident.
Alex Raymond. Secret Agent X-9, Pardon Our Sudden Ascent. X-9s Plane is Fast Closing in on “The Mask,” 1934. Published by King Features Syndicate, Inc., December 7, 1934. Ink brush and blue pencil over graphite underdrawing with paste-on. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-04617 (61). © 1934, King Features Syndicate, Inc., used with permission
Terry and the Pirates
Milton Caniff (1907-1988), a.k.a. the “Rembrandt of the Comic Strip,” transformed the comic adventure strip in the 1940s through his ground-breaking creations Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon. This eleven-panel comic strip contains key elements of his exemplary work—fascinating characters; gripping story lines dramatically realized; and convincingly rendered exotic locales. The star, Air Force officer Terry Lee, and a friend visit a nightclub where Rouge, a striking dancer, performs. Later, Terry settles in the apartment where Rouge has given him a bed, when the lights dim, he realizes that a radio transmitter is being operated in the building.
Milt Caniff. Terry and the Pirates.“Boy what a smeller-cellar this dump is!” 1942. Published by the News Syndicate, September 27, 1942. Ink brush with scraping out and blue pencil over graphite underdrawing. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-06582; LC-USZC4-12590 (62). © 1942 News Syndicate, Inc. (Tribune Media Services International)
From its beginnings as a comic strip about a girl-crazy grocery clerk to a tongue-in-cheek adventure strip, Wash Tubbs kept readers grinning through every hair-raising adventure. Roy Crane (1901-1977) created a storytelling adventure, complete with the varied artistic angles and close-ups. Here, Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy have made their way across Italy, but the trek has taken its toll on both of them. In 1943, Crane switched newspaper syndicates, left Wash Tubbs behind, starting a new adventure comic strip entitled Buz Sawyer, which he continued until his death in 1977.
Roy Crane. Wash Tubbs. “But, Tubbsy, my dear old fellow, you haven't any pants on,” 1935. Ink with scraping out over blue pencil underdrawing with paste-on. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-09491 (63). © 1935 by NEA Service, Inc.
Little Orphan Annie
This eleven panel comic strip of Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray (1894-1968), places his key characters amid danger in the jungle. Pictured here, are Annie, her Indian protector Punjab, and dog Sandy after they have found the remains of a parachute. Annie informs her benefactor Daddy Warbucks, who investigates the situation. Daddy deflects a man who tries to stab him, and Punjab warns the assassin that he will be pressed to talk. Gray effectively uses cross hatching and black shadows in drawing figures and settings, which exude an ominous mood. Exotic locale and concise dialogue display his mature storytelling abilities. Gray drew Annie from its debut in 1924 until his death in 1968.
Harold Gray. Little Orphan Annie. “Yes, small princess! It is indeed the torn shred of a parachute! Let us leave here in silence!” 1962. Published by News Syndicate Co., Inc., January 7, 1962. Ink with scraping out over graphite underdrawing with overlays and paste-ons. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-09494 (64). ©1962 by News Syndicate Co., Inc.
With the rising popularity of hillbilly comic strips in the 1930s, Billy DeBeck took his title character, Barney Google, to Hootin' Holler in the mountains of North Carolina and introduced two new characters to his comic strip, Snuffy Smith and his wife Lo'wizie. The hard-working Lo'wizie always contrasted sharply with the lazy Snuffy. William Morgan “Billy” de Beck (1890-1942) began Barney Google in 1919. Fred Lasswell, who had been DeBeck's assistant on the strip when the characters moved to Hootin' Holler, took over and continued the strip from 1942 until his death in 2001.
Billy DeBeck. Barney Google. “Lo'wizie—go fotch th' bar'ls whut air scattered rounderbout an' stack 'em up bodaciously ... ,” 1935. Published by King Features Syndicate, Inc., March 10, 1935. Ink over graphite underdrawing. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-03467 (65). © 1935, King Features Syndicate, Inc., used with permission
Richard Felton Outcault
As the first of four Buster Brown comic strips to feature the Yellow Kid, this landmark Sunday strip by Richard F. Outcault (1863-1928) shows Buster Brown, his friend Mary Jane, and his dog Tige visiting the Kid in Hogan's Alley. The Kid introduces them to his friends—Liz, who gives Buster a big kiss; Slippy Dempsey; Mrs. Moiphy; and most memorably, Plato, the Kid's pet goat, who kicks Tige, then butts Buster Brown. Buster then wakes up to find that all has been a dream. Outcault had switched newspapers when he drew this strip, so he could not use Buster Brown in the title but replaced it with a picture of the boy.
Richard Felton Outcault. Buster Brown. The Yellow Kid, He Meets Tige and Mary Jane, 1907. Published in New York American, July 7, 1907. Ink and water color over graphite underdrawing. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-USZC4-9439; LC-USZ6-2274; LC-DIG-ppmsc-02833 (66)
McFadden's Row of Flats
Richard Felton Outcault
Capturing the spirit of football season in the rough and tumble world of the tenements of New York, the Yellow Kid runs with the ball. Richard Outcault (1863-1928) endearingly named him Mickey Dugan. He is considered to be the first popular newspaper comic strip character. Outcault, lured away from Pulitzer's New York World, created this particular page within weeks of his transfer to Hearst's New York Journal and included in many references to the switch. Outcault had produced cartoons for such American humor magazines as Truth, Life, and Judge before creating the Yellow Kid and the extremely popular Buster Brown.
Richard Felton Outcault. McFadden's Row of Flats. Inauguration of the Football Season in McFadden's Row, 1896. Variant of cartoon published in the New York Journal, November 15, 1896. India ink over graphite underdrawing with scraping out. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-03344 (67)
Thimble Theatre Starring Popeye
In this comic strip, self-absorbed J. Wellington Wimpy pulls a flower growing from the eye of a cow skull and begins to wax poetic. His utterances are reminiscent of Shakespeare's Hamlet, but they are purely the work of creator Elzie Segar (1894-1938). Segar trained as a cartoonist through a correspondence course while working in the Chester Opera House in Chester, Illinois. He introduced the world to Thimble Theatre in 1919. His days in vaudeville had given him a gift for storytelling, an ear for language, and a rich vocabulary. Bud Sagendorf continued the comic strip in 1938, and Max Fleischer popularized the characters with his animated short films.
Elzie Segar. Thimble Theatre Starring Popeye. “I'll bet poor Wimpy has desert madness—probably raving around saying poetry,” 1935. Published by King Features Syndicate, Inc., May 12, 1935. Ink over graphite underdrawing with paste-ons. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-03468 (68)
In this thirteen panel feature of Gasoline Alley by Frank King (1883-1969), Uncle Walt and little Skeezix enjoy a ride in Walt's roadster until the radiator boils over. Walt uses his hat to refill the radiator from a nearby stream, making sixty two trips. The strip debuted in 1919 but changed radically with the appearance of Baby Skeezix on Walt's doorstep on February 14, 1921. From then on, the characters began to age normally, a groundbreaking development in comics. King's clear, clean drawing style and use of pure bright colors suited the gently humorous tone of the strip. This long-lived, beloved strip is still being published today.
Frank King. Gasoline Alley. “This is the life Skeezix!” 1923. Published by the Chicago Tribune, June 24, 1923. India ink, watercolor and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-03292 (69). © 1923 by Chicago Tribune
Dream of the Rarebit Fiend
In this eight panel comic strip Dream of the Rarebit Fiend by Winsor McCay (1871?-1934), a man takes a corner seat on a streetcar. Three very large passengers join him and crowd the space so tightly that he fears for his life as the car tips over. Awakening in the last frame, having fallen out of bed, he blames his dream on eating Welsh rarebit. Famed for his comic strip Little Nemo, McCay drew Rarebit under the pseudonym Silas. Each Rarebit strip features amazing physical predicaments for changing characters who awaken at the end. His longest-lived strip, it ran in the New York Evening Telegram from 1904 to 1911 and briefly in the Herald in 1913.
Winsor McCay. Dream of the Rarebit Fiend. “I always like to sit in the corner of a car then I don't have people tramping all over me,” 1906. Published in the New York Evening Telegram, 1906. Ink over graphite underdrawing with overlay. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-07860 (70)
Cartoonists often have a profound impact on social life. In 1937 Al Capp (1909-1979) introduced Sadie Hawkins Day, in which women pursued men with the goal toward marriage. It quickly became a national institution. In this 1943 Sadie Hawkins series, L'il Abner reads the notice about the upcoming event, and, while he boasts he will be far away from Daisy Mae's grasp, the stars belie him. L'il Abner eluded Daisy Mae's grasp until Capp wed his two characters in 1952. The bold cartooning style, use of black to effect, and his ability to spin a yarn made L'il Abner an award-winning comic strip from 1934 to 1977.
Al Capp. Li'l Abner. Midnight Madness. Warnin to all Dogpatch Bachelors—Sadie Hawkins Day Comes on Nov. 6th, 1943, 1943. Published by United Feature Syndicate, Inc., September 25, 1943. Ink and white-out over graphite underdrawing. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-USZC4-11765; LC-DIG-ppmsca-07920 © Capp Enterprises, Inc. (71)
In this strip, Ignatz the mouse does his act on the flying trapeze, only to disappoint Krazy Kat, who expected the trapeze to fly. One expects that Krazy's disappointment will be ameliorated with the expected brick that Ignatz clutches in the next to last panel. Offisa Pup, who often appeared in the strip, imprisons Ignatz for his ill deeds and to protect his love, Krazy. George Herriman (1880-1944) engaged critics with his inventive use of limited comic strip space and unique dialogue. He joined the Hearst empire in 1910, already a seasoned newspaper artist and defined his career with Krazy Kat.
George Herriman. “Krazy Kat,” Panel I shows Ignatz taking a bow below the trapeze, 1942. Published by King Features Syndicate, April 19, 1942. Ink with scraping out over graphite underdrawing with paste-on. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-03340 (72)
Mandrake the Magician
Phil Davis and Lee Falk
Mandrake the Magician, created by Lee Falk (1911-1999) and illustrated by Phil Davis (1906-1964), had magical powers and a cape, predating Superman. Here the three main characters, Mandrake, his sidekick African prince Lothar, and long-term fiancée Narda, conclude their adventure in the story “Sky Raid,” which had begun in December 1960. Falk and Davis were young men when they began their long-lasting partnership on Mandrake the Magician. Primarily a writer, Falk also created another well-known comic strip, The Phantom, shortly afterwards. In addition to writing two comic strips, Falk worked actively in the theater, producing and writing plays.
Phil Davis and Lee Falk. Mandrake the Magician. Reaching the Road Block, Mandrake Gestures Hypnotically at the Plane Robbers—, 1961. Published by King Features Syndicate February 5, 1961. India ink over graphite underdrawing with blue pencil and paste-ons. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-09492 (73)
In this fourteen panel strip of Peanuts, Charlie Brown ponders his dread of the school lunch hour and his affections for the little red-haired girl. He laments that no one wants to eat with him and that the little red-haired girl would probably be insulted if he tried to talk with her. Charles Schulz (1922-2000) deployed his simple drawing style with sparse setting and plentiful white space highlighting Charlie, the very embodiment of social anxiety and angst in this classic strip. Schulz created characters with whom his readers could identify. His creation became one of the most successful and beloved comic strips of all time.
Charles Schulz. Peanuts. “Rats! There goes the bell ... ,” 1963. Published by United Feature Syndicate, January 20, 1963. India ink over graphite underdrawing with scraping out and paste-ons. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-09123 (74). Courtesy of United Feature Syndicate
The Family Circus
In this panel, Billy points a finger and Jeffy stares angrily at Dolly as she licks the spoon from a large bowl of pudding, while Mommy and PJ watch over the action. The artwork reflects the spare line of Peanuts but with a greater emphasis on family life. Bil Keane (b. 1922) champions domestic life in his single-panel daily cartoons and Sunday comic strips. The humor is always gentle and yet the children are not angels. He uses the exploits of his five children and nine grandchildren as inspiration for The Family Circus. The cartoon continues to appear daily in newspapers.
Bil Keane. The Family Circus.“I wish you would dish out the dessert, Mommy—Dolly keeps licking the spoon!” 1967. Published by The Register and Tribune Syndicate March 6, 1967. India ink and opaque white over graphite underdrawing with paste-ons. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-09431 (75). © Bil Keane, Inc., used by permission Bil Keane
In this three-panel comic strip of B.C. by Johnny Hart (b. 1931), one cave man asks another if he believes in destiny, which he defines as “the eventual occurrence of events over which we have no control.” As he watches a giant boulder about to flatten the first man, the second one responds, “I'll let you know in a minute.” Hart's cave men and women often comment philosophically on the foibles and preoccupations of the modern world. The award-winning comic's creator employs a minimalist drawing style and uses word play including puns and non sequitur humor. In 1964, he also began collaborating creatively with Brant Parker on the comic strip The Wizard of Id.
For Better or For Worse
In this eight panel comic strip, two small children, Michael and Lizzie fight over space. Their patient but frazzled mother Elly pastes a dividing line of masking tape across the table, couch, window, and finally, even the dog. Since 1979, when For Better or For Worse first appeared, Canadian artist Lynn Johnston (b. 1947) has been chronicling the lives of the Patterson family including John the dentist father, Elly, and children Michael and Lizzie, all of whom develop and age in real time. In her leading modern family strip, Johnston has willingly addressed sensitive issues such as death, aging, and sexual orientation, bringing her both acclaim and criticism.
Lynn Johnston. For Better or For Worse. “Get over on your side!” 1983. Published by Universal Press Syndicate, February 20, 1983. Ink over graphite underdrawing with paste-ons. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-09130 (77). © 1983 Universal Press Syndicate, Inc.
This amusing comic strip pictures Cathy trying every effort to stay awake during a business meeting. Debuting in 1976, Cathy Guisewite in her unapologetically autobiographical strip addresses romance and now marriage, family relationships, pets, food, and work, which speaks to a generation of American women pushing up toward the glass ceiling through the ranks of middle management Award-winning cartoonist Cathy Guisewite (b. 1950) began her career as an advertising writer. Guisewite is the second female cartoonist to win the coveted Reuben award from the National Cartoonists' Society.
Cathy Guisewite. Cathy. “It must be 100 [degrees] in this room ... I'm falling asleep ... I'm going to pass out ... ,” 1987. Published by Universal Press Syndicate, February 5, 1987. Porous point pen, tonal film overlay, and opaque white with overlay and paste-on. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-09131 (78). © Universal Press Syndicate, Inc., reproduced courtesy of Cathy Guisewite
This single panel comic strip, Zippy, About Face (#6), the last in a series about memorable faces, shows Zippy and Griffy commenting on the looming face of “Henry,” a bald headed child star of the comic strip of the same name. They note his minimal features and lack of a mouth. Zippy the Pinhead, the creation of Bill Griffith (b. 1944), appeared in the underground Real Pulp Comix #1 in 1971 and The Berkeley Barb in 1976. A daily strip since 1985, it has won a cult following. Key characters, Zippy, the muu-muu clad pinhead, and his alter ego Griffy, complement one another on random adventures through contemporary consumer culture, depicted in intricately drawn art.
Bill Griffith. Zippy. “About Face (#6),” 1988. Published by King Features Syndicate, June 7, 1988. India ink, tonal film overlay, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing with pasteon. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-09117 (79). © 1988 Bill Griffith. Distributed by King Feature Syndicate
Bloom County, a popular and frequently outrageous strip by Berke Breathed, satirized American society and political life from December 8, 1980, to August 6, 1989. Here, Milo Bloom and Opus the penguin discuss Opus' dated wig. Guy Berkeley “Berke” Breathed (b. 1957) began drawing comic strips at the University of Texas at Austin. He attracted the attention of national newspaper editors, who recruited him to create the Pulitzer Prize-winning Bloom County. Since it ceased publication he has drawn two additional strips with many of the same characters, Outland and Opus.
Berke Breathed. Bloom County. Milo Bloom reads as Opus the penguin walks past wearing a wig, 1989. Published by the Washington Post Company, February 10, 1989. Ink and opaque white over blue pencil underdrawing. Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-09132 (80). © 1989 Washington Post Co.