The Magic of Sunday Comics – Chicago Tribune

While graffiti cartoons date back to ancient Rome, modern comics originated from the American newspaper. At the turn of the 20th century, newspapers competed for mass audiences by slashing their price to a penny or two and broadening their appeal with screaming headlines, celebrity gossip, and grim crime stories. In 1895, Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the Sunday New York World, opened a new front in these circulation wars with a front-page cartoon, “The Yellow Kid,” the story of a brave slum kid. Its success prompted other newspapers to rush furiously at the comics to increase their circulation.

The comics quickly became a staple of the American Sunday morning experience chapter. What childhood hasn’t included tugging matches with siblings on “Moon Mullins” or “Terry and the Pirates”? Who among us has never so delicately retrieved the colorful comic section from the top of a father who has fallen asleep on the sofa? No wonder publishers quickly learned that comics such as “Andy Capp”, “Brenda Starr”, “Dick Tracy”, “The Gumps” and all the others sell newspapers.

“There was a time in American journalism when syndicated sellers were met on trains by competing publishers who wanted to be the first to bid on new comic books and feature films,” a colleague said of George Driscoll’s death. who called himself a “peddler”. comics.”

The Tribune began publishing an occasional page of cartoons in 1895, but it was not until December 1901 that it printed its first Sunday “comic book supplement”, with multi-panel color strips and characters that reappeared weekly, including “Animal Land” and “Mr. Boggs.

Still, the newspaper wanted to up its game and searched high and low for a cartoonist whose pen could attract readers. In 1906, she commissioned a struggling artist, Lyonel Feininger, to draw two comic strips a week for her Sunday color pages. He produced 68 tapes of “Wee Willie Winkie’s World” and “The Kin-der-kids” before throwing in the towel to focus on his painting – a good decision for him and for us. Feininger became a giant of 20th century art.

The newspaper’s later choices of cartoonists proved to be more enduring. On Nov. 24, 1918, “Gasoline Alley” debuted in the Tribune as a Sunday gag panel populated by guys commenting on life’s joys and sorrows while gossiping about their automobiles. A year later, it became a daily comic in the Tribune’s sister newspaper, the New York Daily News. The editor of this newspaper, Joseph Patterson, thought it needed something to appeal to female readers, say a baby. The main character, Walt Wallet, was unmarried, but no problem: Cartoonist Frank King left an abandoned baby on Walt’s doorstep. Named Skeezix, the foundling grew up on the strip, fought in World War II, became a grandfather and had a midlife crisis in the 1960s. alley near 63rd Street and Saint-Laurent Avenue that inspired King.

‘Little Orphan Annie’ debuted on November 2, 1924 and never aged a day in the nine decades that followed: she never grew up or gave up in her lifetime and her creator Harold Gray l made him cross. Which is not to say that the tragedy was unknown in the script. An arch-conservative like his employer, Tribune publisher Col. Robert McCormick, Gray hated the New Deal – making his point by killing Annie’s occasional benefactor, Daddy Warbucks, victim of a misguided social revolution that made capitalists obsolete. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt died, Warbucks was resurrected, the apparent miracle explained as a missed diagnosis: Warbucks wasn’t dead, he was just in a coma.

Publishers who have toyed with the comics have faced anger from readers and even death threats. On October 27, 1925, Annie did not appear in the Tribune, supposedly as a kind of “disciplinary measure” against Annie for “going chic”. The resulting firestorm made headlines the next day: “Little Orphan Annie, that resourceful young lady whose absence from the paper has caused more ruckus at the Tribune switchboard than a world war, a baseball game of Major League or Post Office Bombing returns today, safe and sound and in duplicate.” The publishers did penance by releasing both the missing tape and the one scheduled for that day. A letter to the editor simply said: “Glad to see our Annie again, she had a terrible scare yesterday. It was signed: “Grandmother, Grandfather, Dad, Mother, Bud, Sister, Joy and Baby”.

Even decades later, when the comic strip was an integral part of the newspaper along with the front page and the sports section, the editors still sometimes forgot it. In 1970, the Tribune pulled “Terry and the Pirates” from the daily comics page – without explanation or warning. A month later, after receiving a deluge of reviews, the publishers brought it back, recapped the plot of the strip so readers could get back to the action, and explained that they were trying to “test the popularity of the band”. The public’s response? “Most of the letters asked, ‘How could you do such a thing?'” the Tribune reported.

Editor’s note: Thanks to John Kwasfrom Oak Park; Pam Poug, of Chicago; and Stephen Andersonfrom Lakeview East, for suggesting different aspects of this Flashback.

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