Thursday, November 27, 2014

Feast and Famine

The recent For Better or for Worse rerun had this little ditty that originally ran on November 28, 1985.

The first commentor on the rather redundant Foobiverse Livejournal pointed out that this date was part of a large joint effort with 175 cartoonists worldwide to create comics around the theme of campaigning for the famine in Africa.  This was spearheaded by Charles Schultz, Gary Trudeau, and Milton "Steve Canon" Caniff.  (The last one I was unable to find)

If you pay attention to the particular comics that happened around this time, the stand-alone strips from their collections becomes more significant.

Recently, I was given notice of the discovery of the fact that there were online archives of microfiche newspapers.  In addition to seeing old articles, this was also a boon to finding many old newspaper comics that hadn't been collected.  Of course, it's not completely perfect - there's a lot of gaps here and there, and there are entire years missing.  Not to mention that some pages are aligned horizontally, and most of the space seems to devoted to ads.

To make things more problematic, everything's in black and white, and the quality isn't always very good, and is sometimes out of focus, making reading a chore.

Still, it's better than nothing.

Normally, I don't include Far Side comics out of respect for Gary Larson's request not to do so, but in this case, I think I can make an exception.

In case it's not entirely clear, the Turkey is left adrift in the middle of the ocean on a barebones raft at night, which is why he's complaining despite being spared.

Some cartoonists were unable to make light of a heavy subject, leading to these examples, which were not unlike those "Very Special" episodes of Christmas, only replacing Thanksgiving as a theme.

Because of the special status Thanksgiving has in the States, some papers either printed the relevant strips a day early, or held them back for the day after.

One rather unusual installment was during an arc in Marvin which was a retelling of The Wizard of Oz.

Some serial strips were slightly more ambitious, and tried to implement the subject into their storylines with varying degrees of success.

The clumsiest attempt to reconcile this noble effort comes from Stan Lee's Spider-Man, narrative consistency be damned.  There's even a noticeable bulge along the box wall to show where the extra text was roughly inserted almost as an afterthought.

There's a reason Superhero stuff shouldn't address real-world concerns; they're basically escapist fantasy, totally unsuitable for exploring concepts where strongmen are able to brutalize purse snatchers and bank robbers in dazzling feats and displays of power, but are unable to address corrupt world powers half a continent away.  Not that that hasn't stopped adults who've grown up on the stuff from trying.

Curiously enough, going through these archives turned up the sole unreprinted Calvin & Hobbes comic.

While half of papers got the washing machine version, others got the dinner scene.  It's as if Bill Watterson realized that he had the opportunity to be part of a larger organization, and regretted it when he had the chance.  As a first effort, it's okay, but not great.  Other strips handled the theme of hunger or starvation more memorably.

One thing that surprised me amidst the sheer amount of available material was how much of it was cobbled from truly obscure sources.  The most surprising result was discovering Hartland, by Rich Torrey, which is basically a Bloom County ripoff, using Binkley and his dad as models.  (Another comic, Committed, lasted longer)

There were two comics that had Sam as the first of a duo in their title.

While going through the online archives, I only managed to make it up to the 'M's, before deciding I'd had enough.  WARNING - they get worse as you go along.


  1. Hi, I just came across your blog post and I was wondering exactly what newspapers from Google were used in compiling this archive. Much thanks.

    FYI, you're missing the Luann strip. Here it is below.

  2. Thanks for the new strip! I abandoned the effort because I was getting tired, I was running out of time, and mainly because I was encountering lots of copied syndicated strips. I didn't take notes on every single newspaper I flipped through, but took note of the singular ones that seemed potentially interesting for future reference.

    Altus Times and Eugene Register-Guard - several of the dailys came from this.
    Deseret News - Geech
    The Dispatch - Marvin
    Evening Independent - Hartland
    The Free Lance-Star - Broom Hilda
    The Madison Courier - Can you solve the Mystery?

    Beyond the 'M' section, you're pretty much on your own, but here's a few guideline rules I used to help you along the way:

    A general rule of thumb is to look for archived collections ending somewhere between the late 20th - early 21st centuries.
    Also, to make sure that they go further back than a few years. Anything in the range of 2003-2006 is out.
    Despite the allure of some archives having multiple online copies, Journals are only weekly, and don't contain much comics, so those can go out the window too.

    Once you've found the relevant publication, it's just a matter of scrolling the pages until you chance upon the tiny cartoon boxes in the corner. The fun comes in the discovery, and I'll leave that to you. If you happen to come across any further strips I've missed, let me know.