Comic books have been read and enjoyed for a long time here in the United States. Even with the slow demise of their original platform, the newspaper, they have blossomed into their own standalone publications. Unlike today where the term ‘newspaper comics’ conjures up images of slapstick or satirical humor contained in four small boxes with simplistic artwork, it was not always so. In the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s long form story arcs were masterfully played out in the pages of the daily papers. Today I would like to share some of the “greats” of this genre. I have not had the opportunity to read all of the below listed, but still appreciate the artistic and storytelling excellence they have provided in the small excerpts I have had access to.
Terry and the Pirates (1934-1973)
Written and rendered by the artist Milton Caniff, this series follows Terry and his buddies through their adventures in China –primarily focusing around their interactions with a woman known as the “Dragon Lady” and the pirates that she leads. During the years of World War 2, the comic strip took on more patriotic and anti-Japanese themes as Americans battled in the Pacific. Terry and the Pirates was released as a daily strip, as well as having Sunday color pages. The artwork is impressive given the volume of work that Caniff had to create for the series, and the stories he weaves are entertaining.
Secret Agent X-9 (1934-1996)
This series was begun by Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) and Alex Raymond, the illustrator best known for Flash Gordon –another piece of artistic greatness. My experience with this series lies only between the years 1934 and 1936 when Raymond was the illustrator. Featuring exquisite artwork by Raymond, and a 6+ month story arc by Hammett, along with subsequent shorter ones, the adventure strip follows the nameless secret agent X-9 as he battles evil.
Prince Valiant (1937-present)
For many, this comic strip does not even require introduction. Begun by Hal Foster in 1937, it follows the exploits of a Prince called Valiant as he adventures in the world of King Arthur. Featuring many characters from the Arthurian legends including Merlin and Gawain, the series tells a tale of integrity, honor, and chivalry. Hal Foster does an impeccable job illustrating this masterpiece, and his stories are engaging and wholesome. Unlike the previous two series, Prince Valiant was only printed once a week as a color strip. However, Hal Foster spent more than a full 40 hour workweek on each print, and it definitely shows.