May 10, 2009

Special Report: The Ages of the Sunday Comics Writers published in the Reno Gazette-Journal

Everytime I come to my parents house, I am struck by how backwards the Sunday Comics page is in the Reno Gazette-Journal. Their line-up has remained almost unchanged since before I could read. I remember that, when Dilbert became popular in the 90s, readers petitioned to have it added. And there was a bizarre debacle around that same time when they tried to drop Doonesbury & readers sent in a flood of angry letters. (Note to Comics editors: never try to drop Doonesbury.) The strips the Gazette-Journal publishes are so old school, the worst example of traditionalism not making way for new talent. Not publishing Get Fuzzy, for instance, must be the equivalent of a public library not carrying Harry Potter. Recently, in research for my new comics projects, I've been reading classic Garfield books on the toilet. I have been told that Garfield - which used to be very stylish & witty, & now one of the most embarrassing things ever published - is now written by a committee & that Davis is on life support. According to Wikipedia, Jim Davis married a second wife in 2000 at age 55 & had three more children, so it seems like at least one part of the old man is still working. I'm afraid he's probably the man responsible for Garfield's sad late era.

What was the point of this? Yes, newspapers, you're an endangered species anyway, you need to stay current with the Sunday funnies! I was also wondering how old some of these comics writers are - & I'm not being ageist, obviously some of the funniest people to have lived have been old as Methuseleh. But when these guys have been pumping out daily comics for so many decades, some of the quality is going to thin. Curling up with a cup of coffee on Sunday with this collection of has-beens leaves you feeling so empty. I decided to look up the ages of every comic strip writer in the Reno Gazette-Journals horrible Sunday Comics section:

Classic Peanuts - He would be 86, & lived for many decades in Santa Rosa! Today they just publish reruns.
Garfield - Jim Davis currently resides in Albany, Indiana, & is 63.
For Better of For Worse - Lynn Johnston lives in Corbeil, Ontario, age 61.
Dilbert - The most recent addition to the RGJ's Sunday Comics. Scott Adams is a vegetarian & will turn 52 years old next month. He lives in Dublin, in Contra Costa County. Dilbert celebrated its 20th Anniversary this year.
Cathy - Cathy Guisewite is 58 & lives in Los Angeles.
Hagar the Horrible - Dik Browne died in 1989 at age 71. His son Chris, aged 55, now draws the especially unfunny Hagar. He
lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which Forbes magazine named "#1 Best Small Place For Business And Careers in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009".
The Family Circus - Bil Keane is 86 years old & has lived in Paradise Valley, Arizona, since he began drawing The Family Circus forty-nine years ago.
The Wizard of Id - More like, the Wizard of STUP-Id. Grant Parker & Johnny Hart co-created it in 1964 & both died in 2007 (at ages 86 & 76.) Jeff Parker, Grant's son, took over in 1997 & lives in Front Royal, Virginia. Does anyone know when he was born?
Shoe - Jeff MacNelly died in 2000 at age 52 of Lymphoma. He
lived in Flint Hill, Virginia, & later in Key West, which is also home to Ernest Hemingway's six-toed cats. Shoe is currently written by Chris Cassatt, Gary Brookins, & Susie MacNelly, shadowy humorless figures of darkness.
Doonesbury - Garry Trudeau is sixty years old & lives in New York City. He was the first comic strip artist to win a pulitzer prize, in 1975.
Sally Forth - Greg Howard created Sally Forth in 1982 & passed it over to Francesco Marciuliano in 1999. Marciuliano lives in New York City & also writes for the Onion. The Wikipedia does not tell us any of their birthdates, but it does explain that "Sally's name is a play on words - 'to sally forth' means to set out on an adventure." (It occurs to me that this strip was added to the RGJ later in my life also...)
Mother Goose & Grim - Mike Peters is 65 & lives in Dayton, Ohio.
B.C. - Johnny Hart is the same cartoonist from The Wizard of Id, & his daughter Perri Hart & grandson Mason Mastroianni took it over in 2007.
Ziggy - Tom Wilson lives! & is 78 in Montgomery, Ohio! But Ziggy has been drawn for two decades by his son Tom Wilson II (pictured to the right), who lives in Loveland, Ohio.
Dennis the Menace - Hank Ketcham died in 2001 at 81 years old. It is now written by Marcus Hamilton and Ron Ferdinand. The punchline in today's strip is "Her cookies are NAG-FREE."
Blondie - Chic Young created Blondie in 1930, & died in 1976 at age 72. His son Dean Young, age 70, is the current head writer. The head artist since 2002 is John Marshall, who lives in Binghampton, New York.
Prince Valliant - Hal Foster died in 1982 at age 89. He was a Canadian & lived most of his life in Chicago. William Randolph Hearst allowed Foster to retain full ownership of Valliant when he commisioned the strip in 1936. Current writer Mark Schultz, age 53, lives in Northeast Pennsylvania. Current illustrator Gary Gianni is 54 & a life-long Chicagoan. I didn't realize that Prince Valliant has had a continuous narrative since the 1930s. I have never successfully read a whole strip.
Beetle Bailey - Mort Walker is 85 & still does Beetle Bailey with his sons Greg & Brian. His studio in Connecticut employs six of his nine children. I love his website here.
Frank & Ernest - Bob Thaves died in 2006 at age 82. It is currently done by (beginning to recognize a pattern?) his son Tom Thaves.
Marvin - Tom Armstrong created Marvin in 1982, & lives in Florida. Why is it so hard to find out anything about the mysterious Mr Armstrong on the internet??
Born Loser - Art Samsom died in 1990 at age 70. His son, Chip, now writes the strip from a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio.

What have we learned! My thesis that these stale comics were drawn by old people was MOSTLY WRONG. More than half of them have been taken over by younger old men, & a full eight of them are done by the original artists' sons or daughters. Who knew that comic strips were such a patriarchal business, each one of these shadows of thier father like a powerless Kim Jong-Il, daily toiling to make America laugh. I wish the best to all of the above mentioned working artists & funnymen. But in the words of Robert Allen Zimmerman (Age 67), "Don't stand in the doorway, don't block up the hall!"


EssÄ…n Dragone said...

I just found this quote:

"Oh, someone asked about any of us carrying on Dad’s legacy. Well, none of us can draw, nor do we have the same sensibility he had toward his characters. The strip was his, but we were the ones who made the decision (by renewal copyright law in the ’70s) have the strip die when he did. We have our own lives and interests, though Dad did tell a friend that he thought my fiction was “raising the level of art in the family.” Thanks for that, Dad! Nor true, of course, but I do my best."

-Charles Monroe "Monte" Schultz, Jr., 2007

Quill said...

Is Ben Ricker still re-writing Family Circus? Get that man a subscription to the Reno-Gazette Journal.

Anonymous said...

Brian Crane creates Pickles and he lives in Sparks, NV. I thought that he was in the RGJ. Mom