Beginnings

Today’s premiere of Heart of the City 2.0 prompted me to think about other “first strips” and how, for better or worse, they set the tone for everything that would follow.

helen

Peter Zale hooked me with the very first Helen, Sweetheart of the Internet

something positive

Basically, Milholland was telling us on Day One that if you’re capable of being offended, you should leave now.

(And don’t worry: the “baby” is now in his late teens, a regular in the strip, and Davan’s surrogate son)

Perhaps somebody who has a Comics Kingdom membership can supply the very first Hagar the Horrible, which I also remember as setting the stage for the next half century.

Does anybody remember any other significant Day Ones?

30 Comments

  1. Surely the classic example is the very first Peanuts strip, available at http://thebluegrassspecial.com/archive/2010/october10/peanuts-texture.php. (Maybe someone with better HTML skills than I can embed it here.)

    Comics Kingdom doesn’t have the first Hagar the Horrible strip, but you can read it at https://www.weeklystorybook.com/comic_strip_of_the_daycom/2010/05/saturday-profile-chris-browne-on-hagar-the-horrible.html.

    Nobody remembers the first Thimble Theatre strip, or for the most part even the strip name, but everyone remembers the late addition who took over the strip. The first example featuring Popeye can be found at https://www.firstversions.com/2015/06/popeye-comics.html.

  2. The first Calvin and Hobbes, the first Dilbert, and the first Garfield, the first Bloom County didn’t set the tone for the rest of the strips? I mention these four because they always seemed to be the most popular comics, at least in their early days. Around here, it seems more in fashion to hate them (at least Dilbert and Garfield), probably because they were the most popular in their days. I don’t think a series doing unrelated panels can set the tone on its first day, so I left out the most popular Far Side.

  3. UJ, thanks for that Hagar link.

    Todd, I think I read all of those from the beginning (though I gave up on one eventually). The only first strip of these I remember, after all these years, is C&H.

  4. The first strip is sometimes actually the tenth or twentieth or thirtieth strip. The cartoonist sends a few sample strips to someone who sends them back with suggestions. Then the cartoonist draws several weeks worth of strips and sends them to a publisher. If the cartoonist is lucky he gets them back with a list of which to toss and which to re-do. Then finally the cartoonist draws what will be the real first week and works the rest in.

    The original Garfield was much fatter and grumpier and far more cat-like, and better in general. The first strip set the tone for the first few months at least. “Hi, my name is Jon Arbuckle. I’m a cartoonist and this is my cat Garfield.” Garfield’s thought balloon: “When do we eat?”

    It’s hard to pinpoint the first Krazy Kat strip. It’s the opposite of Popeye. The cat and mouse appeared in the corner of a previous strip and then got a tiny subsidiary strip above or below the main strip. Or perhaps it’s the same as Popeye except that the title and other characters of Thimble Theater didn’t change.

    Often the first week introduces the main characters and then after that, anyone who comes in late has to fend for him- or herself. I came to Rick Griffin’s Housepets late and I would sure like to know what’s going on. I came to Kevin & Kell late too, but the back story is just too complicated for me to follow.

  5. I wasn’t around when Peanuts started, but the first strip is a well-known classic, although in no way indicative of how the personalities of Charlie Brown and Shermy eventually developed:

    I was lucky enough to be able to read Calvin and Hobbes from the very first day:

    That first strip seemed just a little silly, and was never my favorite. The strip that both surprised me and set the stage for the artwork for the entire feature appeared on the third day:

  6. P.S. @ MiB – In addition to the issue of “example” strips, both Bloom County and Doonesbury developed out of earlier, established “college” strips, so the first syndicated examples didn’t have the same “new” character as in other features.

  7. For me, Calvin and Hobbes didn’t really become Calvin and Hobbes until the baby raccoon arc. That was pretty early, just a few weeks after the strip started, but that’s where I saw it was going to be a lot more than silly boy and imaginary tiger stuff.

    Bloom County is only kinda, sorta connected to Academia Waltz. Steve Dallas is the only real overlap. Breathed recently posted the first strip and admitted he had no idea what the strip was even about, even after it had started running. The original focus was on the older characters, like the Colonel, then shifted to Bobbi and Steve, before really moving to Milo and Binkley. Opus was originally a one-shot gag. The man was really just making it all up as he went along. (Also, Girls with Slingshots is another that grew out of a college strip,)

    And I don’t think I ever realized that Donna was the woman in the very first Something Positive.

  8. Is there such a thing as an “insignificant” Day One? =)

    I think the first Phoebe and Her Unicorn set the tone pretty well. Same with the original Heart of the City. And PreTeena. The first 9 Chickweed Lane is a study in contrasts when compared to what the strip has become.

    P.S. The dialog in the first Garfield was a little different from previously recounted:

  9. @ DemetriosX – A minor correction: The artwork in the “baby raccoon” story was much more developed than in the earliest “Calvin” strips, and checking the date, it started on 9-March-1987, 16 months after the strip began (on 17-Nov-1985):

  10. Though not as venerable as some of those mentioned, “Pros & Cons” is an enjoyable strip that I think I saw from its beginning, or at any rate from when it was first on the King Features syndication site (now Comics Kingdom). However, at first it had a different name – “A Lawyer, A Doctor, & A Cop” – and for a while after the name change there were some oddities where it seemed to still be filed under the old name. Thus, if you clicked to get a list of all the comics you could pick for your subscription page or mailings, the mostly alpha list included “Pros & Cons” in the A’s.

    The oldest one in the archive seems to be 2005-09-05. I can’t seem to get a link right to that date, but here is the archive: https://www.comicskingdom.com/pros-cons/archive

  11. The first Funky Winkerbean sets an interesting tone for a strip that is approaching 50 years running and has “evolved” from sarcastic high school “fluff” to addressing “meaningful” and “serious” things. It has four characters simply introduce themselves to the reader.

    The strip’s namesake Funky is the first to introduce himself. He’s a bland everyman with a silly name in that first strip, and that is largely what he has remained as he has been pushed well into the strip’s ensemble cast. Two of the characters, Roland (the hypocritical and misogynist hippie) and Livinia (the, uh… girl), pretty much stayed in the lanes they project in the first strip until they disappeared within Funky‘s first decade (recent high school reunion strips reveal that Livinia has since become one of the strip’s infamous fatalities). And then there is Les… who introduced himself in that first strip as an inconsiderate and dim-witted shmuck. He remains an inconsiderate and dim-witted shmuck to this day, despite that no longer being how Tom Batiuk intends for the character to come across.

  12. @Kilby: Wow, I thought that was a lot earlier. Interesting that Calvin is still evolving, but Hobbes is pretty much set.

  13. @catlover: The board posts on that PBS point out that this was not the very first strip.

  14. Interestingly, if you swapped the speakers in that PBS, it would fit better with the current visualization of the characters.

  15. Ha! In that link Blinky gave for Arlo and Janis, Jimmy Johnson talks about a Dennis the Menace strip he saw that was the first time he saw a cartoon that acknowledged that a married couple goes upstairs and does … something; he talks about a palpable chemistry between Henry and Alice (Dennis’ parents). Seems to me if you ask Jimmy, the Arlo award should be renamed the Hank Award (the “Dennis Award” would just be wrong…)

  16. @ DemetriosX – “I thought that was a lot earlier. Interesting that Calvin is still evolving…”
    Watterson once wrote that the raccoon story “opened up” the strip’s world.

  17. I didn;t initially understand that estimate of 1944, but then reflected that Dennis is supposed to be 5 or 6, so when the strip started in 1951 his birth would calculate to about 1945/

  18. You are incorrect about the Something Positive characters. That tertiary-or-less character in the last panel is NOT Rory’s (the late-teens character to whom you refer in your text) mother.

  19. “I’m pretty sure the first Doonesbury strip was just a cleaned-up rewrite of the first (Yale College newspaper) Bull Tales strip.”

    Don’t know if it was their newspaper – would make sense – but I have one of their yearbooks with strips in it.

    No, I did not go there, but I was editor of chief of my college yearbook and went down to the publishing company’s offices in Dallas to help edit the proofs from the book the year before and they allowed to us to take copies of any yearbook there we wanted. I took that one – it must be here – somewhere – as the family house has been emptied out.

    One of the other editors took a copy of the Iowa State yearbook the Bomb”. Which led to one of that editor saying as we were about to board the plane home – (believe this is not it is true) “Who packed the Bomb?” we quickly explained to airport security.

    (Bill – hope the use double use of the B word does not push this into approval and make work for you.)

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