Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Obscurity of the Day: Norb

Reading Norb without any knowledge of whence it came, you'd might well guess that it was an unusually lucid strip from a later issue of Zap Comix. It does seem rather drug-induced, what with the chameleon narrator and all. But no, this was a comic strip actually accepted and distributed by King Features Syndicate, back in the day when editor Jay ("who let that weirdo in here?") Kennedy would occasionally take a chance on something utterly deviant (like the still running and still superb Zippy the Pinhead). (see comments)

Two very high-profile names were on the masthead of Norb. Tony Auth, who contributed the art, was the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Daniel Pinkwater, writer, is a well-known children's book author and NPR commentator. The two of them came together with the idea of creating a comic strip that harkened back to the humorous serial strips of the past, the great Thimble Theatre being their specific inspiration. The globe-trotting adventures of a wacky scientist and his teenage sidekick put the ball in motion.

Whether Auth and Pinkwater succeeded in their endeavor you can decide for yourself if you have the means -- a compilation book of the strip is available, but scarce and pricey. My opinion is that the strip, while a valiant effort, mostly demonstrates that even accomplished creators can't work miracles in the tiny confines of modern micro-strips. While the Sundays are pretty cute, the dailies (you can see some here at the Comics Journal) just can't keep a story moving forward very well in their tiny confines.

Norb began on August 7 1989, and ended one year later on August 4 1990. Pinkwater says that they actually signed a two-year contract with King Features, but they just couldn't stand to hear the complaints and general abuse from newspaper editors anymore, and bailed a year early with the syndicate's blessing.


Correction- It was Bill yates who okay'ed Zippy.
Thanks for setting me straight Mark! Just assumed Zippy would have been a Jay Kennedy purchase, never even bothered to check dates. Zippy seems rather out of character for a Bill Yates purchase. Guess I've underestimated his open-mindedness.

I've heard it wasn't Yates either, but a departing, and disgruntled Alan Priaulx. Priaulx left during Yates' time at the helm, and wanted to leave a 'ticking time bomb.' Bill Griffith was wary of the daily gag grind, and made a list of 20 demands he thought would kill the deal and keep him free, but Priaulx agreed to them all. I went to high school with Jay Kennedy, and, had I not known better, even I would have guessed he'd be the one to buy Zippy. But I'm sure he was proud to know it was there. In school, I would have guessed Jay might become an underground cartoonist himself. He sent me a free copy of his Underground Price Guide when it first came out. But he later admitted he didn't have the patience t sit at the drawing board, so he went into editorial to guide and shape other comics.
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