Is there a mad race for the paper in your house every day? If so, the comics are probably to blame. All else in the sheet pales in significance beside them - gossip columns, beauty hints, crossword puzzle, weather report - the front page itself! Only an extremely cynical person can resist their lure.
Indeed, many a cynic has blushed rose-red at being surprised in some secluded rendezvous with his blue nose stuck deep in the funnies. And the appeal is universal. Students of vagabondia attest that habitues of the park bench invariably search for a funny before settling down for the night and using the evening paper as a blanket.
Political observers have described Chief Executives in dark hours of government crisis, keeping their Cabinets waiting while they caught up on the latest development in some four panel cartoon. Behaviorists have explained that the reason for the popularity of the strip is that deep down inside of all of us we long to be heroes and when we read the comics we subconsciously put ourselves in the shoes of Flash Gordon, Steve Canyon and Superman. This sounds likely. But what about Bugs Bunny? That zany is enor;mously popular, yet who wants to be in his shoes? (Does he even wear any?)
The whole business of strips began back in 1904 when an artist named R. F. Outcault was hired by The New York World to do a Sunday cartoon feature in color. Actually some previous attempts had been made at cartoon features but Outcault's was the first in which the same characters kept reappearing. This feature became known as The Yellow Kid and was so popular that other papers began vieing for the services of artists and illustrators to do similar attractions.
In 1907 another historic event took place. The daily comic strip began with the initial publication of Bud Fisher's strip entitled A. Mutt, in the San Francisco Chronicle. A couple of years later, Fisher combined another character in this strip and Mutt and Jeff began their fabulous operations.
Other early comic strips were Nervy Nat by James Montgomery Flagg, Fluffy Ruffles by Wallace Morgan, and Little Nemo by Winsor McCay. In 1911 one of the most delightful comic creations of all time began a career which lasted almost forty years - it was Krazy Kat by George Herriman. Rube Goldberg, a young California engineer, broke into the papers with Foolish Questions, Phony Films and Inventions.
T. A. Dorgan, known affectionately to millions as Tad, did a one panel daily cartoon alternately called Indoor Sports or Outdoor Sports and a couple of strips called Silk Hat Harry and Judge Rummy. F. Opper did Happy Hooligan, Outcault did Buster Brown, Rudolph Dirks did the Katzenjammer Kids, Carl Schultze did Foxy Grandpa, Swinnerton did Mr. Jack and later Little Jimmy, McGill did The Hall Room Boys.
Other great strips soon to come along were Carl Ed's Harold Teen, Brigg's Mr. & Mrs., Hoban's Jerry On The Job, DeBeck's Barney Google, Hershfield's Abie The Agent, Percy Crosby's Skippy, Milt Gross' Looie Dot Dope, Sidney Smith's The Gumps, Cliff Sterrett's Polly And Her Pals, Jimmy Murphy's Toots and Caspar, Webster's Timid Soul, Westover's Tillie The Toiler, and others. If Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth were the Golden Era of Sports, certainly this was the Golden Era of Comics.
This list I have just mentioned composes a truly great honor roll. Did the names mean nothing to you? Or were deep and precious memories stirred within you as you read them? Perhaps you even wiped away a tear as you recalled one of these beloved cartoon immortals. Nothing strange about it, if you did.
For to millions these were more than just drawings - they were loved images, comic and grotesque perhaps, but somehow possessed with the miracle of life. Everyday you opened the paper and there they were, waiting for you to laugh at them. And long after you closed the paper, you continued to think of them, and remembering their absurdities seemed to make your own load a little easier.
Next: Advice to budding cartoonists