Long, long ago, before there was the comic book, people depended on the newspapers and magazines comic strips to read what would become known as sequential art. This is a tradition that we still have today, of course, but now not many people think of the comic pages of a newspaper as the cutting edge of the medium. But back then, there were some really great things happening. Many of these comics combined action, adventure, and humor all in one, instead of being a gag-a-day strip. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.
I’ve been reading some of the older comics, collected editions of comics from the first half of the 20th century. And while I’ve been reading them, I’ve come to discover they don’t feel dated, or are rigid and boring. Right now I am reading a collection of George Herriman’s Krazy Kat. This is really something else. I think this is an edition of Sunday comics, so there are a lot of panels in each strip, and they take up a whole page. Herriman really played with space and size in his comic. And there’s quite a bit of reading to be done, allowing for more sophisticated strips. I don’t really know how to do Krazy and his pals justice, it’s something you kind of have to read. It’s a bit surreal. Herriman has taken the premise of mouse (Ignatz) hits cat (Krazy) with brick and multiplied it by infinity. That is mostly the premise of every strip, but he found ways to do it over and over and over, and it always felt original.
Then of course there’s my publicly known love for E.C. Segar’s Popeye. Talk about adventure, talk about comedy! There were points where I laughed out loud to Popeye, and it’s hard to get me to do that with the comedy of today, even. Popeye also showed the continuous nature of the comic strip. While Krazy Kat is a different story every time, Popeye’s strips continued fleshing out these grand adventures, five panels at a time.
I’ve got more to read, including Walt Kelly’s Pogo, and I’m really looking forward to what I can learn. The black and white nature of these strips is really fascinating to me. I see how these artists use nothing but ink to construct these images, and try to take something away, a lesson learned. Many of the comic strips I’ve read are quite simply drawn, but masterfully so. There is a precision of pen that I do not possess in the slightest. Within the small space of a single comic panel, there may not be elaborate lines, but I know immediately what I’m looking at when I see Herriman’s art. That’s the other thing: the limited space these artists have to tell their story. It’s something to see, truly.
It was this reading that inspired me to transform Egghead into a comic strip. It was written as a book, but I cut the script up into panels, as if they were going to be printed in a newspaper. And I’ve tried to take the lessons I’ve learned from those masters of the form and apply it to my own story (not that I’m anywhere near Segar). But it’s an interesting process. It’s like a micro story (shorter than the shortest story). I have to use the space wisely, and avoid anything that isn’t essential to the story. And it’s different from my previous web comics because those were just one page gags, with big panels. Now I’m using small squares that will all eventually link together.
It’s an interesting challenge, and an exciting new experience. Of course, in the digital age, where everyone’s reading on their phone, I had to tweak my settings so the comics are vertical instead of horizontal, but even when trying something old, you have to move with the new.
In the future, I’d like to do another, more in depth blog about comic strips, but I haven’t done enough research. But trust me, I have a HUGE book waiting to be read about nothing but comic strips, so this topic, much like Arnold, will be back.