Wednesday, July 28, 2010


This month we took a family vacation to the Universal theme parks in Orlando for the first time. What I was expecting were Marvel and Dr. Seuss rides now joined by unfettered Harry Potter madness. What I wasn't expecting was an entire section built around comic strips, the once beloved and now somewhat lamented American medium. According to an article from Live Design, the area was created in 1999 in partnership with King Features Syndicate. King's comic strips past and present are represented in a 3-D ocular carnival. What struck me dumb was the choice of strips. I knew what they were, but I'm a comic weirdo. I'd be shocked if the average park-goer knows much beyond Cathy, Blondie and Beetle Bailey. Below are some of the representations that surprised me:
Little Nemo tumbles out of bed as he did as he wakes from his dream. 'Little Nemo in Slumberland' by Winsor McCay is long forgotten by newspaper readers (it ran Sundays from 1905-14), but for comicphiles it's considered one of the most innovative and imaginative features ever. Its critical regard keeps it alive moreso than any nostalgia. It's currently being reprinted by Sunday Press in its original size.
Another strip that's received more acclaim since its demise is 'Krazy Kat'. Known for its juxtaposition of simplicity and surrealness, along with its bizarre love triangle, "Krazy Kat" is revered by the comic literati (and rightfully so). Though it never had many papers, it's had a wide audience in modern reprint collections. Fantagraphics reprinted the run this past decade in two-year increments. A new book on the strip and Herriman is due in December from Craig Yoe.
Equally puzzling to me was the inclusion/celebration of mediocre strips like 'Heathcliff' and 'Crock'. While being around for 35 years is an achievement, 'Crock'is not well known to the public and I wonder if it was chosen more for its unique locale (the Foreign Legion in the desert), than for its content.

Popular and existing long-running strips were well represented, such as 'Gasoline Alley', 'Marmaduke' and 'Dennis the Menace'. I think having Cathy in a bikini atop an ice cream sundae is a little insulting, though, given her weight/body image issues.

Ahhhh, Alex Raymond. Remembered more now for the 80's movie with a Queen soundtrack, the strip was a big hit for King and launched Raymond's estimable career. I was most impressed by this display. The rocketship looms large, and the reproduction of Ming is quite good. I wish I could say as much for the 'Prince Valiant' tribute, where the art trying to ape Hal Foster was so amateurish that I couldn't even take a picture.

The merchandising brought me back to reality. No 'Tumbleweeds' tote bag for me. It was all Popeye (who has his own rides) and Betty Boop. I think that there's a missed opportunity there for King to promote some of the top-notch recent reprint collections of 'Rip Kirby', 'Bringing Up Father', and 'Prince Valiant' (too name a few).

As for any Caniff connections, I didn't expect to find any. Caniff was distributed by the AP, the Tribune and Field Enterprises, but not by King. So, I was surprised to see a 'Terry & the Pirates' strip duplicated, with art by George Wunder. This puzzled me, as 'Terry' is still owned by Tribune Media Services. But it seems the rules were different in the Comic Strip Cafe, which featured other non-King strips, such as this collage surrounding a giant 'Nancy' head-

So, pause awhile in Toon Lagoon to take in the sights, I'm sure I lingered longer than most, and be glad they didn't tear it down to put up more Harry Potter stuff.


Randy @ WCG Comics said...

Another great post. With Universal Studios and Disneyland in my own backyard here in L.A., I've never been motivated to visit the Florida versions, but now you've got me tempted!

I suspect one reason King Features doesn't promote the reprints is because they likely get a flat licensing fee but perhaps not a share of the proceeds. I'm really not sure that those reprints make a whole lot of money.

Matt Tauber said...

Universal could sell the reprints, though, just as a bookstore. They do it already with Marvel product and Dr. Seuss books. I think there's an audience for it, especially with the European traffic they get. Anyway, it's a way to offer something of value rather than the plastic throway crap they have at exorbitant prices.