I was a newspaper fan from childhood, years before I would have guessed my writings would appear in print on a nearly daily basis. Decades before the Interwebs made it possible to connect with the big, wide world on an instantaneous basis, TV, radio and newspapers were my connection, my contact, to everything out there that was bigger than me.
Just as Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” was the avenue for a kid from Central Indiana to learn about the finer points of Jewish comedians and great jazz, so newspapers were a way for a Cowan elementary-schooler to begin to form a rudimentary grasp of current events.
And newspaper comic strips were the icing on that cake of information.
I read virtually all the comic strips, from the beautifully drawn but kind of impenetrable, plot-wise, “Prince Valiant” Sunday strips to the bread-and-butter comedy of “Hagar.” I read the comics page from the top down every day.
I can’t say I loved every single one — sorry, “Andy Capp” — but some of the strips I savored like cold Chocola on a hot afternoon. Even well into my adulthood, “Calvin and Hobbes” was the highlight of my day. I probably should have saved it for late in the evening so the day didn’t peak too early. I still mourn Dec. 31, 1995, when Bill Watterson ended his strip. I don’t think the comics page has been the same since.
But while the funny strips were probably the most enjoyable and the most accessible, I loved the drama strips. Well, I can’t say I spent a whole lot of time dawdling over “Mary Worth” or “Apartment 3-G,” but I read them.
The adventure strips, though, are another matter. A particular favorite was “Steve Roper and Mike Nomad.”
The strip began in 1936 — back then it was “Big Chief Wahoo” — which was well before my time. Journalist Steve Roper was introduced in 1940 — still well before my time — and eventually took over the strip. Adventurer Mike Nomad was introduced in 1956.
Roper and Nomad were the kind of duo that remains popular to this day, particularly in mystery novels that feature a more cerebral lead character and his quick-with-his-fists buddy. Roper was, fittingly for a journalist, the kind of guy who could not only investigate a crime but think his way out of a tight spot.
Nomad, with a flat-top haircut that looked like you could drive a pick-up truck across it without mussing a single hair, was the funnier, flashier character. He was known to hang out in Chinatown or down at the docks and usually ran afoul of some bad guys who wanted to prove they were tougher than Nomad. They weren’t.
I have to admit I lost track of Roper and Nomad after the duo disappeared from our local papers. I reconnected with their adventures, in a daily, incremental way, when I was out of town and picked up a newspaper that still carried the strip.
And I’m a little surprised that the strip continued until the day after Christmas 2004. By that time, the strip had allowed Roger and Nomad to age gracefully, although Nomad could still get into and out of a scrape or two.
He couldn’t get out of the slow fade of adventure comics as published in newspapers, though. While a few daily action strips remain, most have gone the way of Roper and Nomad.