A few thoughts on newspaper strip identity.

*I had to take a holiday rest, but I still had a few things for


Lucky (new Gabrielle Bell collection from D&Q)

MOME Vol. 6: Winter 2007 (Fantagraphics house anthology, featuring new-to-English Lewis Trondheim)

*Christmas! They gave the coffee away for free at the gas station on Christmas! They gave the employees of the grocery store a turkey on Christmas! They loaded up the papers with shopping advertisements for Tuesday on Christmas! Just like Thanksgiving, I ate it all up.

*Having not a ton to do in the afternoon, I flipped eagerly back and forth between all the vintage newspaper strip books I brought home with me. Thimble Theatre to Dick Tracy, Terr’ble Thompson to Gasoline Alley. I found myself fascinated by how each book goes about portraying the strips’ creator, although I really shouldn’t be; it’s natural that the biographical information included in these things (not to mention the general aesthetic thrust) should reflect the overall ‘vision’ the publisher would like a reader to take from the project, although these notions can only truly emerge in as bright a time for reprints as this one, where adoration is lavished upon books that serve not only as compilations of comics but as testaments to a particular worldview. The total package is what counts.

Hence, the Frank King in Drawn & Quarterly’s Walt & Skeezix emerges as a consummate sensitive artist, a gentle soul greatly affected by familial ties and lingering tragedies, a man appreciative of the natural world and dedicated to preserving a fragment of that ephemeral thread of beauty that constitutes a happy afternoon’s lift. His diaries are sometimes quoted at length, pages are bedecked with large, haunting photographs of mountains and children - all the better to lead in to a rediscovery of Gasoline Alley as an exploration of parent-child tenderness and wispy concern. Co-editor Chris Ware’s delicate cover design is but the icing on the cake; contrast Ware’s work here with his jazzy, spacious work on the similarly-titled Krazy & Ignatz set of Fantagraphics’ Krazy Kat reprints. In those books, George Herriman is set up as more of a spicy character, a man of towering whimsy and muscular artistry, and not a little bit of mystery. It fits: Krazy Kat can be difficult to grasp, while Gasoline Alley is pure straight-talking.

The recent Popeye book from Fantagraphics is even bigger than the Krazy Kat tomes, and pops with even deeper colors. Folks are punched in the face right on the cover. Jules Feiffer gleefully details creator E.C. Segar’s portrayals of nasty, hypocritical behavior, and the inarticulate fighter that serves as a moral force while handing out ass-kickings. Bill Blackbeard later emphasizes Segar’s talent for improvisation in focus, and how the general became more specific in the years covered by the new book - Popeye thus emerges as rollicking and (wonderfully) garish and punchy and capable of turning on a dime. Dick Tracy is also a violent strip, but even IDW’s decidedly unoriginal cover design for its collection gives way to a unique focus inside: Chester Gould as American success, a long interview setting out the story of his industrious rise to prominence through hard work and long hours, his prominence as popular influence on later generations duly affirmed. And what better a mood for good old two-fisted crime fighting with no muss or fuss.

These are hardly the only personality traits these people exhibited, obviously, but it’s what serves the overall aesthetic mission of these books. Moreover, everything does seem to radiate from the strips themselves, the selective ‘personality’ imprinted upon an artist’s work reflected back upon them via archival revival; truly, you are what you create. Excuse me if all of this seems elementary, but it really leaps out at me upon direct comparison, and I’ve had too much free gas station coffee...