- 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
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
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).
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.