by Roger Ash
From the title of this column you might think I’ve received a blow to the head and forgotten all the wonderful classic strip reprint collections being published now such as Peanuts, Krazy Kat, and Popeye from Fantagraphics and X-9: Secret Agent Corrigan, Bloom County, and Blondie from The Library of American Comics & IDW just to name a few. No, I didn’t forget those, but one of them did get me thinking.
Recently, I was reading the first volume of Fantagraphics’ excellent collection of Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse comic strips. For some reason that made my mind drift to collections of new comics and I quickly realized that Mutts collections are the only ones I buy. This is quite a change from when I was younger and the release of the new Far Side, Bloom County, or Calvin and Hobbes was cause for rejoicing. There were also plenty of Peanuts books available and it seemed like every time I walked into a book store there was a new Garfield collection. Today, I have to call out a search and rescue team to find the strip collections, and when I do, there aren’t that many. Sure, you get the occasional Mutts, Pearls Before Swine, Get Fuzzy, Doonesbury, Zits, and Dilbert collections but not with the frequency it seemed like they used to come out and not nearly as many different strips are collected. So what happened to the collections of current strips? I don’t know for sure, but I have some ideas.
Maybe they just stopped being profitable. While not all collections were as successful as Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, I would assume that other strip collections did well enough to turn a profit, otherwise they wouldn’t have continued past the first volume. Maybe the market just couldn’t support that many collections and the few that remain are the ones that are profitable. And maybe releasing one collection a year (which seems to be common) helps to maximize the profit.
The presence of comic strips on the internet may play a part. Many newspaper comic strips have their own web sites now, and even those that don’t can be found on various web sites. And this does not include the huge number of web only strips that are available. I have Mutts emailed to me every day. Is this virtual library of comic strips – most of them free – enough for most people where they no longer have the need or desire to own collections?
The decline of the print newspaper could certainly be a factor. It used to be that nearly every family in America received a daily newspaper (that may bit a bit of an exaggeration, but certainly a lot more people used to get a paper than do now). That meant that there were numerous papers where a comic could appear. However, with 24 hour news on TV and easy access to news on the internet, the newspaper industry is suffering. There are fewer – and shorter – newspapers now than when I was a kid 40-ish years ago. That means the number of places a comic strip could be printed has shrunk and the fight for space on the comics space is fierce. I’ve heard stories about how tough it is to start a new print comic strip today which is why so many creators are going for the online option. That means the variety of comic strip offered in newspapers has shrunken. Even if some of them are fantastic, it seems highly unlikely to me given the current situation that any new print comic strip will be a huge hit the way that Calvin and Hobbes was, for example. And if you no longer get a paper, you don’t see the comic strips that are printed in it, so why would you seek out a collection of them?
Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there are as many collections as there were back in the 80s and I’m simply not seeing them. I certainly don’t see them displayed in stores the way I used to and I don’t see them from online sellers unless I specifically look for them. When we’re looking for books to carry at Westfield, I don’t see near as many comic strip collections available as I did even 10 years ago.
We are really living in a Golden Age of classic comic strip collections with outstanding collections of some of the great strips in history – including Little Orphan Annie, Li’L Abner, and Dick Tracy –available in attractive packages. Yet the modern comic strip seems to be fading from view. Why do you think this is? Or am I wrong? Comment below and join in the discussion.
Now, go read a comic!
Thanks to KC Carlson for his help with this column.