Tag Archives: strips

Superman. A Historical Perpective.

11 Sep

This is a short piece I put up on my favorite Old Time Radio forum, Relic Radio.

September 10, 2013

Many people here comment on what they learned about society from the OTR era through radio shows. Listening to an episode of The Adventures of Superman brought home the economic realities of today, as well as yesterday.

I’m currently listening to the Scarlet Widow arc. (In a nutshell, she has stolen a chunk of kryptonite and is going to sell it to the four most dangerous criminals in Metropolis. This leads directly into the famous Atom Man story.) Every show ends with the announcer stating that for more Superman, you can check your daily newspaper and, almost as an afterthought, that Superman is also published by DC Comics.

Superman GANow today, the last place you’d go to find Superman is the newspaper. In fact, newspapers are a quickly dying industry. But then, pre-internet, more people got their news from newspapers than from television (a large percentage of homes had no televisions), and newspapers were likely ahead of radio in terms of where people got their news. Sure, people turned to radio for up-to-the-minute and breaking news, plus of course war reports from the front, but newspapers were still cemented in culture and remember- this was still a time when upper-class men would go to clubs and actually sit in an easy chair and read the paper, at times. Superman was syndicated across the country and while adults may or may not have listened to the radio show, I wouldn’t doubt that they stopped on the comics’ page to see what Clark Kent was up to while they flipped between business and sports.

In addition to OTR, this was also the era of the classic comic strip, with Alex Raymond’s gorgeous Flash Gordon art and Milt Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates (and later, Steve Canyon) gracing the page alongside Popeye, Blondie, and Archie.

I have no statistics, but I am sure that more people knew Superman from radio than newspapers, and I know for sure that more knew him from radio than comics. Remember- radio, not comics, introduced Kryptonite, Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White, not to mention “Look! Up in the sky!”  Comics took their lead from radio.

superman1LG

Alex Ross art

We think of Superman as a comic book hero today, but although he started in comics, it was nothing to be proud of back then. Comics from the OTR era today fetch good money, but there was no collector’s market back then. Comic books were routinely tossed around, stuffed in back pockets, buried in backyards, and not one person thought you could sell them for big money someday.  In fact, that would have been a laughable idea. Comics began as cheap reprints. Reprints of newspaper comics. While decades later gorgeous artwork from the likes of Alex Ross would grace comic covers, Jack “King” Kirby and Will Eisner were  a couple of decades away from becoming comic superstars. Even in the era when Captain Marvel was selling 1.3 million copies each month, far more than Superman, comics were looked down upon, far more than they are today. (By comparison, last month’s Superman Unchained sold 165,754 copies. That’s about 1.15 million fewer than Captain Marvel. This in an era when comics are acknowledged as art and literature!) And lurking ahead in the next decade, Fredric Wertham was ready totally wipe out comics. He nearly did, too.

Just as an aside, in terms of movies, the Superman serial had not quite hit, though the amazing Fleischer cartoons were in theaters, and TV? No George Reeve show yet.

OTR-era giveaway

OTR-era giveaway

So from one line of promotion at the end of an episode of Superman, you can extrapolate a whole vision of society, and contrast it to the realities of today. Superman has outlasted his radio and newspaper roots, and he’s likely to outlive his comic book history too. Chalk one up for truth, justice, and the American way.

 

superman float 1940

 

The Saturday Comics: Comic Con Mutts

20 Jul

July 20, 2013

Every year, Mutts, my favorite modern, currently running comic strip, does a series of strips celebrating the San Diego Comic Con. Next week I’ll be presenting this years crop of comics, featuring the squirrels Bip and Bop. But first, I re-present the strips from the past two years. Enjoy!

muttscomiccons

mutts-daredevil

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