Top 5 Favorite Comic Strips
After a bunch of history posts, let’s get light-hearted.
On a different day, this could be a much different list, or maybe I could lengthen it. Five is a solid start, anyway! For every thousand comic strips that rely on tried-and-true (ie, cheap) gags, there’s one that breaks all molds. There’s that one that actually has quality art, wicked sense of humor, well-developed characters and environment, and the artists are masters of both black and white line art and full color. Here are five of my all-time favorite comic strips, the creators of which are all geniuses and I won’t hear a word to the contrary. In no particular order:
Macanudo by Liniers
My most recent discovery, Liniers is an Argentinian artist best known for his comic strip Macanudo, as well as a few picture books. Looking at his wikipedia page, he has published ten volumes of Macanudo, although not all have been translated into English. There are numerous recurring characters, and most of them seem to keep to themselves – you never know where you might find yourself from one strip to the next. There’s the mysterious man in black, the penguin, pointy-hatted gnomes, Oliverio the Olive, but the most fully developed characters I’ve met so far are Henrietta, her cat Fellini and stuffed bear Mandelbaum. There’s bunches more.
Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson
An industry veteran at The Washington Post, it was only after decades of editorial cartoons that Thompson was finally convinced that he should try his hand at a daily strip. Cul de Sac was universally acclaimed by critics and fellow comic strip artists alike as pure genius and quickly won the Reuben Award before the strip ended in 2012. I’m not sure it ever got the appreciation from the general reading public it deserved. Personally, I was furious when the Denver Post dropped it in favor of one of those strips that’s been using the same gag for the past 80 years (I can’t remember which one, as there are dozens that fit that description!).
One way or the other, Cul de Sac ended way before it’s time when Thompson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and couldn’t keep up with a daily strip. On the surface the characters and setting seem incredibly standard, but they are so much more. He never relied on cheap gags, was always heartwarming and surprising and playful. Cul de Sac follows the antics of five year old Alice Otterloop, her family and her preschool classmates (particularly Dill). And Danders, the classroom guinea pig. It’s glorious. Read more about Thompson over on the Washington Post. Also check out Thompson’s blog – it may not be udpated much anymore, but it has some gems and some insights!
Here’s Thompson showing his Winsor McCay / Little Nemo influence:
One thing that might have confused early morning readers is the lack of a traditional punch line. Character-driven humor is so much harder, but so worth it if done well (and a common trait to all my favorite strips!):
Update: Richard Thompson passed away on July 27, 2016. He was 58. Read his obituary on the Washington Post website, which also includes the 20 minute documentary on The Art of Richard Thompson. Thompson’s blog, Richard’s Poor Almanack, is now run by Mike Rhodes and has many more links to tributes. It’s worth perusing the archives of the blog to see his process, his earlier or more obscure work. One of the greatest.
Maakies by Tony Millionaire
Maakies is the only one on this list that is not particularly family-friendly, although Millionaire does have a few picture books that are child appropriate (one of the main characters is called Drinky Crow, with all that implies!). Sock Monkey is another recurring Millionaire character.
Take a gander. This first one is from a longer graphic novel, appropriate for younger audiences – often these are in a distinctly antiquarian style:
…and here you have a typical Drink Crow moment, not so family-friendly:
Witness the ATTENTION TO DETAIL:
Moomin by Tove Jansson
An international sensation that hasn’t really caught on in the states, for some reason. Those in the know tend to be dedicated and fierce in their affections towards the Moomins. Like me! In the Scandinavian countries and Japan, Jansson’s Moomins are huge. There’s a theme park dedicated to them! Japan has a Moomin-themed restaurant! Which of these other strips can claim that? What other strip EVER can claim that besides Moomin? Tove Jansson was a “Swedish-speaking Finnish novelist, painter, illustrator and comic strip author” (wiki).
Tove Jansson created the Moomins in the 1950s and the strip ran for a long time, and alongside were published several gorgeous picture books, as well as short chapter books. When Jansson tired of the daily commitment, her brother Lars took over the reins and the transition is amazingly smooth. Ballets have been performed, animated TV series made, music albums…. The Moomins are an industry unto themselves and good on them! Jansson also read several adult novels, and all of those that I’ve read have the same
The first ever panel:
Moomins on the Riviera was recently made into an animated film:
Bad idea, Moomintroll! BAD IDEA!!:
Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson
Well, I couldn’t just leave Calvin & Hobbes off the list, now could I? No introduction needed, I think. The strip ran for ten straight years, then Watterson disappeared from the public eye. He did, however, support Richard Thompson by providing a painting of Petey for a retrospective of Thompson’s career, and he did provide the cover art for the recent documentary Stripped, so he hasn’t fallen off the face of the planet entirely. He even collaborated with Stephan Pastis on a few Pearls Before Swine strips! In 2014, Watterson was also awarded the coveted Angoulême life-time award, and provided a full page strip for the French institution. According to one interview, he now has a goatee! Not sure why that makes me so happy… You can get your daily dose of Calvin & Hobbes here.
Watterson’s full page strip for Angoulême in 2015:
No one knew Pastis and Watterson were collaborating when the following Pearls Before Swine strip came out, but it didn’t stay a secret for long!
Lastly, Watterson’s portrait of Alice Otterloop’s older brother Petey, from Richard Thompson’s comic strip Cul de Sac, which sold at auction for over $13k:
Winsor McCay, creator of Little Nemo, Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend, and more, was the most accomplished draughtsman and constantly fkexed this skill in his full page, full color newspaper comics. Endlessly imaginative, endlessly surreal. Endlessly beautiful. An early comics GOD.
Edward Gorey, even though you could never really call him a comic strip artist. Everything else, but he never did the comic strip gig.
Walt Kelly, best known for Pogo.
George Herriman, best known for Krazy Kat.
Header: Left to right, art is by Liniers, Tove Jansson, Richard Thompson, Bill Watterson, and Tony Millionaire.