Background

The Inception

  Joe Btfsplk is to blame for this whole thing. Joe was the dismal source of woe and depression who slunk through Li'l Abner's Dogpatch, spreading misery in every direction. I was a novice reference librarian at the University of Southern California (USC) in 1992, and pretty cocky about my research abilities when a lady called, wanting to know how to spell Joe's last name. No problem, I thought.

  Joe's spelling took several hours to track down, however, and in the course of that long, dusty (eventually successful) hunt I realized that no substantive index of comic strips and characters existed, either at USC or anywhere else. USC's library held two well-known encyclopedias on comics but nothing like the exhaustive indexes available in other areas of the humanities.

  Properly intimidated at the time by the publish-or-perish world of the untenured faculty librarian, I thought that such an index, a compilation of all comic strips ever published in the United States, and their major characters (to assist the next librarian who needed to spell Btfsplk) might make an interesting and academically acceptable publication, not to mention that it would chink up a gap in the reference literature.

  I was, however, pragmatical enough to realize that a work of this comprehensivity would pretty much take the rest of my life. That project continues on even as we speak, with USC and tenure concerns long forgotten, and is beyond the scope of this work. Give me a few more years.

  In the initial stages of the project, I consulted W. Randall Scott at Michigan State University's Russel B. Nye Culture Collection. Randy remembered a compilation similar to the one I planned that had appeared in The Comic Buyer's Guide in 1984, entitled "American Comic Strips: A Chronological Listing." It was from that compilation that I learned of the existence of the Syndicate Directory from Editor & Publisher.

  The Syndicate Directory (EPSD), published annually by Editor & Publisher magazine, lists all syndicated features, including comic strips and panels, available for purchase by newspapers. The Directory has been published from 1924 to the present (with the exception of the war years of 1943 and 1944), and is the mother lode for comic strip titles, dates, and personnel. Realizing its extent, I started thinking that a compilation of all of these EPSD facts, while not the comprehensive tome of my dreams, might nonetheless represent a worthwhile interim project as well as a major advance on current references in the field.

The Value of These Indexes

  Other fields of endeavor have been indexed, analyzed, and deconstructed nearly to oblivion over the years; the stock market and baseball are obvious examples. Yet newspaper comic art, one of the most pervasive forms of entertainment in the United States this century, has been comparatively neglected. Despite efforts by pioneers like Mort Walker and Bill Blackbeard, yesterday's comics are forgotten when they go out the door in yesterday's newspaper. And despite the pervasive nature of comic art, enjoyed by (in one estimate) 75% of daily newspaper readers, permanent collections of this American art form are typically available only in comparatively infrequent compilations and reprints. There is no good access to the form.

  Yet these comic strips of yesterday and yesteryear do continue to exist, in their original form, in microfilmed archival runs of newspapers. The indexes in this volume offer a first finding guide for those archives. With the included title index, the researcher will know where to find the early Steve Canyon; the artist index will convey the scope of Rube Goldberg's work.

 In addition, students can read the newspaper comics their parents and grandparents enjoyed, and can compare family life 30 or 60 years ago with its depiction today. Newspaper editors can develop a sense of perspective about the strips they currently run. Average joes can settle bets over beer on whether Ring Lardner or Dr. Seuss ever wrote newspaper comics. Indexes of comic strips are useful to a spectrum of users, both as a finding device and as general ready reference.

 All research depends on adequate indexing and detailed access points, and this work, while not comprehensive of all comic strips ever to appear, nonetheless offers a much wider list of strips and names, in easily readable form, than has ever before been published in this field. The compiler hopes that it may serve as a framework for greatly increased public and research access to newspaper comic strips.

  As previously outlined, Syndicated Comic Strips and Artists, 1924-1995: the Complete Index is a work in progress. The intent of Comics Access is to continue to gather data (not analysis or criticism, which I leave to those better qualified, or art, which I leave to libraries and museums) on newspaper comic strips and panels, which will then be made available. In the intermediate term, I intend to complete the perusal of the Los Angeles Times as well as the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune to uncover new strips, personnel, and dates. We will then have a useful guide to where and when comic strips appeared in the three comics-carrying newspapers that are most widely available on microfilm in the United States (hence establishing the access in Comics Access).

 

The Compiler

  Dave Strickler, compiler of Syndicated Comic Strips and Artists, 1924-1995, led a checkered career, encompassing linguistics, hotel management, entertainment coordination at Walt Disney World, and professional gambling, before coming to his senses and earning a library degree in 1988. Since then he has made his living as a reference librarian at the University of Southern California, a library automation salesman in Provo, Utah, and an abstracter/indexer of nursing journals. He lives and works in the shadow of William Randolph Hearst's castle in San Simeon, California.