Finding Humor in the Newspaper: The History of Comics

Nowadays, the newspaper is filled with mostly sad and grim stories. However, there has always been one section that adds laughs and humor to the newspaper – the comic section. Also known as the “funnies” and cartoons, the comic section has been around for hundreds of years. Historians have found that the art of storytelling through a sequence of pictures existed in medieval Europe, the Middle Ages, and dates back to 1884 China. Yet, it wasn’t until the late 19thcentury that comic strips made their appearance in a North American newspaper.

It is said that The Yellow Kid was the first comic to be featured in North America. The Yellow Kid ran from 1895 to 1898 in Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and then in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal. Eventually, the art of cartoons evolved. Some comics are humorous and follow the “gag-a-day” storyline, while others are more adventurous or soap-opera related. Whatever storyline the cartoons may have, they hold a special place in newspaper readers’ hearts. Over time, several comic strips have become favorites and the longest running cartoons in history, including the ones below.

  1. The Katzenjammer Kids ran for 109 years from 1897 to 2006. This cartoon featured the story of twins, Hans and Fritz, who rebelled against their mother and their surrogate father, a shipwrecked sailor. The Katzenjammer Kids has been reimagined into two other comics, The Captain and the Kids and Hans and Fritz.
  2. To this day, Gasoline Alley is still published in papers. Since 1918, the lives of Walt Wallet, his family, and the citizens of Gasoline Alley have told the stories of conservative American values. Popular characters include Walt, his wife Phyllis, their cranky neighbor Avery, trash-man Joel, and many others.
  3. Ripley’s Believe It or Not premiered in newspapers the same year as Gasoline Alley, 1918, and still runs today. As the name portrays, the comic strip features strange events, claims, and items. More on the adventurous side, the franchise started in the newspaper and has since been turned into books, television shows, museums, and radio shows.
  4. In 1919, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith first appeared in newspapers and has gained international attention. Now, the strip is seen in over 900 newspapers in 21 countries. However, there is a connection to the Tarheel state with Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. The character Snuffy Smith is a moonshiner in the Appalachian Mountains.
  5. Since 1930, Dagwood and Blondie Bumstead, their children Alexander and Cookie, their dog Daisy, along with Mr. Dithers, Dagwood’s boss, and many others, have graced the pages of newspapers throughout the country in the cartoon, Blondie. Thanks to its popularity, the comic has been turned into movies, television shows, and radio programs. In 2005, Blondiecelebrated its 75th Characters from other comics, such as Curtis, Garfield, Beetle Bailey, andHagar the Horrible made appearances to honor the big day.
  6. A year later, in 1931, police detective Dick Tracy was created into the comic strip Dick Tracy. First seen in the Detroit Mirror, Dick Tracy captures readers’ attention as he tries to solve mysteries and crimes using forensic science, gadgets, and more.
  7. As you can probably tell, many of these cartoons have been turned into films, radio shows, and more, including the comic Little Orphan Annie. For 86 years, the adventures of Annie, Sandy, and her adopted father Daddy Warbucks were described throughout the comic strip. The cartoon was made into a radio show and movies.

As more types of technology and storytelling forms are created, there will always be a love for cartoons in the newspapers. The funnies add just a bit of laughter and familiarity to the readers’ daily lives.


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