Category Archives: newspaper comic strips

So cool: ‘Calvin’ creator comes back – briefly

bill watterson pearls before swine

How cool is this?

Artist Stephan Pastis, like other comic strip artists, sometimes makes reference to Bill Watterson’s much-loved and long-gone strip “Calvin and Hobbes.”

Pastis and the notoriously private Watterson struck up an email friendship recently and that led to Watterson actually drawing a couple of days worth of Pastis’ strip, “Pearls Before Swine.”

One of those days’ strips is above.

Here’s Pastis’ blog explaining how it happened.

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Retro superhero: ‘The Phantom’

the phantom billy zane

Richard Donner’s “Superman” movies and Tim Burton’s “Batman” movies – and their sometimes regrettable sequels – came before, of course, but Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” really kicked off the big-screen superhero genre in 2000, and the trend was solidified a couple of years later by Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man.”

But during the “lost in the wilderness” years of the the 1990s, the studios tried not once, not twice, but three times to capture the spirit of the superhero genre as typified by the great pulp magazine-style heroes, the forefathers to comics.

“The Rocketeer” came first in 1991 and was probably the most successful. “The Shadow” came in 1994 and did a pretty good job of hitting all the key elements of the most popular radio and pulp hero of them all.

Then there was “The Phantom.”

The 1996 Simon Wincer movie, starring Kristy Swanson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Treat Williams and Billy Zane as the Ghost Who Walks, was certainly faithful to Lee Falk’s original comic-strip hero.

Maybe too faithful.

the phantom by lee falk

If you’re not familiar with the Phantom himself, the character was born in newspaper comic strips in 1936 and continues to this day. The Phantom is Kit Walker, the 21st in a series of fathers and sons who – following the 14th-century murder of a father, prompting a son to vow vengeance and the upholding of law and order – has kept the peace around the world and battled evil accompanied by his wolf companion, Devil, and his horse, Hero.

The Phantom is notable for some cool characteristics, including his twin handguns, the skull ring – whose imprint is left on bad guys’ jaws – and the legend that has been cultivated around him: He’s known as the Ghost Who Walks because criminals – a superstitious and cowardly lot, as Batman could tell you – believe he’s immortal rather than just the latest in a long family of crimefighters.

Falk created “The Phantom” after his newspaper syndicate asked for a follow-up to his “Mandrake the Magician.” In creating the Phantom, Falk invented a couple of superhero conventions, including the skin-tight costume and pupil-less eyes behind the hero’s mask.

“The Phantom” movie had the courage of its convictions, certainly. Its tale – the Phantom tries to protect a set of magical skull carvings and keep them out of the hands of a wealthy villain (Williams) – goes through the correct motions. Switching back and forth from the remote island home of the Phantom to New York City, the hero is aided by a spunky newspaper reporter (Swanson) and everything is complicated by the femme fatale played by Zeta-Jones. And what a revelation she was here. I really wanted her to play Wonder Woman after seeing her here and in another, better superhero 1990s movie, “The Mask of Zorro.”

There are pirates and submarines and seaplanes and immense sets and some action set-pieces, some better than others.

Zane leaves a lot of people cold – including me – but he’s really pretty good here as the Phantom. He nicely underplays the role, tossing off jokes and filling out the purple outfit about as well as anyone can. I was as frustrated as anyone by the black leather “X-Men” outfits, but maybe the world just wasn’t ready for purple spandex. And striped shorts.

As much as Zane underplays his part, Williams seems to have been told to overplay every line. I guess he’s being a good sport and the “Power Rangers” villain delivery would at least come across as non–threatening to kids in the audience. While the character is amusing, a villain who’s never truly threatening is not a great villain.

I’m not sure there’s ever been a big-screen movie that so desperately wanted to be “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” (I’m not counting the low-budget knock-offs here.) From the 1930s setting to the rickety bridge crossing that ends with the heroes swinging to safety to the ancient relics that magically illuminate a spot on a map to the villains that go “boom” at the end, “The Phantom” tries to strike so many “Raiders” grace notes it’s almost bizarre. Maybe that’s not a a surprise: Screenwriter Jeffrey Boam wrote “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” a far better film.

“The Phantom” is worth seeing if you never have or if, like me, you haven’t in 18 years. It’ll seem like something of an awkward artifact because of the string of superheroes that followed it into theaters beginning just four years later, though.

Purple tights or no.

Today in Halloween: Calvin goes trick-or-treating

calvin and Hobbes 1995 halloween

Apparently only a couple of Bill Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes” newspaper strips make reference to Halloween, although it would seem like a natural holiday for a kid like Calvin.

Earlier this month, I posted the first Halloween-themed Calvin here.

Here, as we begin the long slow wind-down of our month of Halloween, is the other.

Comic classic sequel: ‘Hobbes and Bacon’

2011-05-10-Hobbes-And-Bacon

I’m not sure how I never saw this until now.

Every few days, I mourn the passing, in 1995, of Bill Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes” newspaper comic strip.

I post Calvin strips every once in a while here.

But not until today did I see a reference to “Hobbes and Bacon,” a totally unofficial sequel to Watterson’s great work.

In 2011, the web-based comic “Pants Are Overrated” did a series of four “Hobbes and Bacon” strips that visits, more than two decades later, the household of grown-up Calvin and Susie, their daughter Francis Bacon and, of course, tiger Hobbes.

hobbes-and-bacon-2

The strips are wonderfully clever and nostalgic and guaranteed to bring a tear or two to your eye even while they’re making you smile.

And in light of the many, many, many bootleg and offensive rip-offs of Calvin, I’m guessing the famously reclusive Watterson wouldn’t terribly mind these tributes to his characters.

Classic comics: ‘They’ll Do It Every Time’

theylldoit

When I began reading newspapers in the 1960s, I was an exhaustive reader of newspapers. I was always the type of kid – and still am now, as an adult – who usually checked out every page of a book, every second of the credits of a TV show or movie and, yes, every story and ad and illustration in the newspaper.

It goes without saying that I studied newspaper comic books closely and was puzzled and fascinated by “They’ll Do It Every Time.”

Unlike “Peanuts” and strips from the time that felt contemporary, “They’ll Do It Every Time” felt like a holdover from an earlier day. And it was.

hatlo_1945

“They’ll Do It Every Time” was created in 1929 (!) by cartoonist Jimmy Hatlo, who first drew his complex, gag-filled strips first for William Randolph Hearst’s San Francisco papers. But by the time I was seeing the panel (rather than multi-panel strips) it appeared in more than 600 papers.

Stop and think about that for a moment.

I’m a lifelong lover of newspapers, and it’s where I have made my living. But while the influence of newspapers has moved from print to online in recent years and the heyday of newspaper comic strips ended with “Calvin and Hobbes” and “The Far Side,” it’s impossible to overstate the impact of a daily comic strip in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

Everybody, every member of the family, read the newspaper, or at least part of it.  And nearly every member of the family read the comics.

Hatlo’s comic entertained and puzzled me. With its sarcastic assessment of the foibles of mankind, the strip was, as the comic strip history website Hogan’s Alley noted, an early practitioner of observational humor.

hatlo tip of the hat

My favorite element of the strip was the Hatlo “Tip of the Hat” to a reader each time. Hatlo accepted ideas for strips, refined and expanded on them, and then thanked and credited the reader who gave him the idea.

It was unlike anything else in comics before or since and I thought it was fascinating.

Hatlo continued the strip until he died in 1963, so it’s likely the strips I saw were reruns or some done by his successors, Al Scaduto and Bob Dunn. Amazingly, the comic ran until February 2008.

Classic comic strip: ‘The Lockhorns’

lockhorns sofa

I’m kind of amazed “The Lockhorns” didn’t debut until 1968. Even when I read it as a kid – when it was still new – it felt like a comics page panel that had settled into routine decades ago.

The strip was, for those not familiar with it, about a long-married couple who plainly couldn’t stand each other. I never read a panel that gave any indication these people did anything but loathe each other. Love? It was gleefully, horribly, humorously missing from this union.

Each daily panel carried an insult. Loretta Lockhorn would criticize hubby Leroy’s drinking or his wandering eye. Leroy Lockhorn would criticize his wife’s cooking, driving, spending, etc.

Maybe it’s no surprise that this caustic comic didn’t come about until the late 1960s, though. It’s like the comics page version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”

Bill Hoest created the strip. It’s continued to this day by Bunny Hoest.

And Leroy and Loretta still hate each other.