Sunday, June 28, 2009


I recently took Noah into store that sold old toys. Admittedly, the visit was more for me than for him. Since he didn't know that, I had to buy him something. Mr. T to the rescue! Noah, at 22 months of age, doesn't know who Mr. T is (the "A-Team" star has never had a guest role on "Little Bear" or "Dora the Explorer"). But for some reason kids instinctively love Mr. T, and Noah is no different. The other night he pretended to feed Mr. T part of a hamburger bun, then said, "T wanna play?" and put Mr. T in the driver's seat of his Little People SUV (pictured above).

The Mr. T figure was from a line of "A-Team" action figures made by Galoob in 1983-84. The whole gang was there, too - Hannibal, Face, Murdock, even Amy. There were also four bad guys to fight the A-Team (you can see the whole line of toys here.

I was never an "A-Team" fan as a kid. That seems odd to me, looking back, since I was at age 11-15 I was in the prime demographic. Maybe it was the competition. Thanks to this handy website of historic TV schedules I see that it was up against "Happy Days" (1983-84), "AfterM*A*S*H"/"Three's a Crowd" (1984-85), "Who's the Boss" (1985-86), "Webster" (1986-87). You no doubt are now giving props for my loyalty to both mediocre and/or formerly great sitcoms.

Mr. T and the show were a cultural phenomenon, so even if you didn't watch you ended up knowing all about it. Five years after the show was over, Mr. T was still out there T.C.B. He signed with NOW Comics to do a licensed comic - "Mr. T and the T-Force'. Mr. T came to the comics retailers convention and pumped up the crowd for his new comic. I was working at Comic Quest at the time and we had over-estimated the public appetite for Mr. T, who billed himself as a real-life superhero. The comic only lasted 10 issues, but it's worth seeking out #7-10, which were drawn by my pal, Todd Fox. Long after the show was over, I got to meet series creator Stephen Cannell when I worked at a local TV station, ICN6. He was on a book tour promoting his latest novel and did this interview with host Dick Von Hoene. Cannell knew they had lightning in a bottle with Mr. T. The man and the show have lives of their own beyond a five season TV series. To my son Noah, Mr. T is just a fun character, like Spider-Man or Captain America. They had a Murdock at the toy store, too. We may have to go back.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


This cartoon, from June 25th, 1980, celebrates the 10th anniversary of Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. The stadium was the home of both the Cincinnati Reds and the Cincinnati Bengals. Highlights by this milestone included Tom Seaver's no-hitter, Pete Rose's 3000th hit, and Hank Aaron's tying of Babe Ruth's home run record.

Both the Reds and Bengals have had new stadiums built in the last decade (at taxpayer expense), but I'll always have a nostalgic feeling for Riverfront. I was never much of a sports fan, but when I was a kid we always went once a year as a big group, with Crackerjacks and everything. I was excited but a little sad to see it go like this.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


[click the picture to enlarge]

Before Google was a website and a verb, there was 'Barney Google', a comic strip about a diminutive, gambling rascal, was created in 1919 by Billy DeBeck. The strip, which focused on the antics of Google and his horse, Sparkplug, was a big hit in the roaring '20s. He even spawned a hit song - Barney Google ('with the Goo-goo-googly Eyes' [click link to hear it!]) - which my Grandpa used to sing now and then. Sparkplug was also the origin of Charles Schulz' lifelong nickname - 'Sparky'.

When Google's travels took him to the hill country in 1934, he met Snuffy Smith. Smith's hillbilly notions and phraseology proved so popular that Smith became the co-star of the strip. Soon the strip was renamed 'Barney Google and Snuffy Smith', a name it retains today, though Google was all but gone by 1954, with Smith's mountain clan having taken over the whole shebang.

In the midst of this transition, DeBeck died and his assistant, Fred Lasswell, took over and helmed the strip for a phenomenal 59 years. While Smith was DeBeck's creation, it was Lasswell who's responsible for building Snuffy and his cast as we know them today. The strip continues, albeit in shrunken form, under Lasswell's former assistant, John Rose. Above is the May 29, 1966 strip, which plays off the reader's knowledge that Loweezy, Snuffy's wife, is an inveterate gossip.

Friday, June 5, 2009


From Matt Tauber

[click the duplicate pic at the very bottom to get the best enlarged view]

Last month we saw the debut of the Batman and Robin comic strip on May 29, 1966. Here is the 'Blondie' strip that ran below it. 'Blondie' was started in 1930 by cartoonist Chic Young, who built it into one of the most popular strips of all time. Even at the peak of our beloved Milton Caniff, 'Terry & the Pirates' always trailed behind 'Blondie' in popularity polls.

Chic Young is the sole credit and signer of the strip, going uncredited are his son, Dean, as co-writer, and Jim Raymond, the artist. Raymond, brother of Alex, started out as Young's assistant and would not be credited until Dean Young took over after his father's death in 1973. The strip below is from last Sunday, June 7, 2009. Dean Young, at 71, is still writing the feature, with John Marshall as head artist.

The contrast between the two strips is a startling reminder of the shrinking of the Sunday funnies. The comics page used to be an integral part of a newspaper's sales, a drawing card that built paper loyalty. With dwindling newspaper revenue and almost a total absence of competition, they now seem to be an afterthought, kept only because their absence or elimination would raise the ire of longtime subscribers.

The older strip is 12 panels. The strip takes up almost a half page - 6 1/2" high x 13" wide on 14" wide paper. The recent strip is 6 panels. A neat little 5" square on 11" wide paper. After raising the cost of the Sunday paper last year from $1.50 to $1.75, they drastically cut content about a month later. They managed to keep the same number of comics, but in a smaller space.

A look at the online strip below (from reveals that there are three panels missing. The first is the logo panel. Then there are two "throwaway" panels, which can be discarded by newspapers because they don't effect the story. Note how in the '66 strip the logo panel was also used to begin the story, and if the first three panels were discarded, the entire strip would make no sense. Perhaps I'm living in the past, but the shrinking of the comic strip (a problem comic artists and fans alike have been complaining about for decades) is depressing. But I guess it's better than no comics at all.

A recent B.C. gets the last word on this topic:

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Recently we looked at the debut Sunday of the Batman and Robin comic strip. I came across some of my other research on the strip. As I said in the earlier post, it looked like the Cincinnati Enquirer really wanted to promote this new strip, making it the flagship of the Sunday comics section. But what about the daily strip? Well, among the two dozen strips that they had back then, one strip was printed larger than the other. The Enquirer's format was 8 columns wide. The majority of strips were printed 4 columns wide so that you could fit strips side by side on the page. Only one strip was printed 5 columns wide, and 'Batman and Robin' got that special berth on May 30, 1966 -

The 'Archie' strip was taken out to make room for 'Batman', but it wasn't 'Archie' that was in the top spot. It is with chagrin and disappointment that I report to you the strip that was displaced...none other than our venerated 'Steve Canyon'! In 1946, there were two 5-column strips - 'Terry and the Pirates' and 'Blondie'. When 'Canyon' debuted in 1947, it displaced 'Terry'. Now, I don't know this for a fact, but could it be that 'Canyon' retained it's prominent spot for the next 20 years?!?

The buzz and bluster for 'Batman' did not last long at the Cincinnati Enquirer. In a few months they revamped the daily comics section so that no strip was 5-columns wide. 'Batman' was shuffled from top of the page. Maybe it was because of goofy storylines like this one, guest-starring real life hotel magnate Conrad Hilton -

I'm not sure who drew this January 7, 1967 strip. I hope some sharp-eyed reader will comment. In February, 'Archie' returned and 'Batman' was shoved off the daily comics section and shoehorned into another page, where it was the only comic. By March 1967, the Enquirer dropped it all together.