Saturday, November 18, 2006


Stripper's Guide Q & A

Another question from Tim Foster ...

Q What percentage of newspapers published tabloid Sunday comics sections versus fulls?

A On first reading the question I wondered how the heck I could answer. Then it came to me that I have a statistical sampling that would make a pollster proud. I just ran an analysis on my Sunday tearsheet inventory database, and here's the results:

Tabloid Strips

1900s sample size of tabs too small, verging on 0%

1910s 2%

1920s 4%

1930s 36%

1940s 37%

1950s 33%

1960s 32%

1970s 11%

Caveats to these percentages:

The most interesting point to me is how the tabloids plummeted in popularity in the 1970s. Why? My guess is that it was a combination of two things. First, I think outsourcing of comic sections to large printers like the Greater Buffalo Press was then coming into vogue, and they might well have not offered their printing services in tabloid form.

Second, the 70s is when the ultimate miniaturaization of Sunday comics began in earnest, and tabloid strips set up as anything less than half-tabs are pretty close to unreadable, especially with the printing processes in use in that decade, which made the comic pages a muddy mess. I don't know the technical end of that process (was it web presses?) but the Sunday comics of the 70s and 80s are almost uniformly muddy, washed out, streaky, blotchy, and out of register, making third tabs little more than a multi-color smudge on the page.

A possible third factor didn't come about until the late 70s, and that was the newspaper Sunday comic book. These were very popular in the late 70s through the mid-80s and may well have supplanted more tabloid sections than full size ones, but I have no proof of that so I'll just throw it out there as a possibility.

Where does the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner fit in here? The Sunday JOA operation printed the Examiner comics broadsheet and the Chronicle comics in a tabloid format.

re: The Sunday comic book -
I subscribed to The Lake County (Ohio) News-Herald for their comic book section for awhile, but I never knew that format was "very popular". How many of those Sunday comic books were around then?
Hi DD -
Regarding the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, I assume it was just a carry-over from before the JOA. It is my understanding that big city presses can switch from full page to tabloid printing practically with the flick of a switch, and so its really no big deal to produce two dissimilar sections. Note that most papers print a section or two of their Sunday papers in tab form, like entertainment or real estate sections, so it's really not a big deal for them.

As to the Sunday comic books, I know of at least a dozen or more papers that used the format. As with earlier 'comic book' sections, the idea was to excite young people about the paper. Worked on you, I guess, since you got a sub just for that! It was definitely just a fad, though, as most seemed to start around 1978-79, and the format was all but gone by 1985.

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Friday, November 17, 2006


Stripper's Guide Q & A

Tim Foster recently sent me a list of questions about newspaper comic strips. I think they're great questions, so I decided to answer here in the blog.

Q When did the first tabloid size Sunday comic sections appear?

A We usually think of tabloid comic strip sections as first appearing with the tabloid newspapers. The first modern mainstream tabloid paper was the New York Daily News. The News appeared in 1919, followed by the Mirror in 1924 and a slew of competitors thereafter. The Daily News at first included no Sunday comics section, but due to its huge success (it quickly became New York's best-selling newspaper) that feature was added in 1923.

But of course we here at Stripper's Guide never settle for the simple answer. It was in fact a full decade earlier, on February 23 1913, that the Philadelphia North American converted their standard full-size comic section into a 12 page tabloid section. This is, as far as I know, the first modern tabloid Sunday comic section.

Now if we are willing to look at tabloid sections that included comics, but were not limited to just them, we can go back a lot further. The Brooklyn Eagle, for instance, started a tabloid children's section in 1907 that included comics, but also featured puzzles, stories and games. The Minneapolis Journal's tabloid kids section starting in 1900 featured a comc strip or cartoon on the back cover (but not in color). The New York Herald had a slick tabloid section called Twinkles in 1897 that included gag cartoons, and possibly the occasional comic strip.

But if we are going to qualify any newspaper comic strip printed in color in a tabloid section, then our winner is perfectly handy, because the very first color comic strip printed in an American paper was also the first tabloid strip. The winner, then, is the T.E. Powers' tabloid comic strip in the Chicago Inter-Ocean, 1893.

More of Tim's questions tomorrow. If you have any comic strip questions that you think are of general interest, send them on and I'll try to tackle them.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006


Tailspin Tommy, Day 9

This is the end of the beginning for Tailspin Tommy. Back to regular posts tomorrow.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Tailspin Tommy, Day 8

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Tailspin Tommy, Day 7

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Monday, November 13, 2006


Tailspin Tommy, Day 6

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Sunday, November 12, 2006


Tailspin Tommy, Day 5

Tailspin Tommy is one of my guilty pleasures. I realize that the art, by any measure, is pretty awful, and the stories are juvenile. But there is an energy to the strip that I find powerful. The creators obviously were crazy about aviation, and that comes through in the strip loud and clear (note, for instance, in one of today's strips their need to tell us that Tommy is working on a Hispano-Suiza engine).

The art is crude, but has a pulpish, overdrawn quality that I find strangely appealing. You can almost feel the artist laboring over it, trying to get every detail of the planes just so. The airborne sequences are especially exciting, and you can tell that they're drawn by someone who either spent a lot of time in the air, or at least dreaming about it.

Thanks for showing us how Tailspin Tommy got his start. charlie
I'm with Charlie, this has been fun. Thanks!
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