As print newspapers continue to lose circulation, the world of the comic strip has changed dramatically. However, the remaining successful comic strip creators still do very well. Everyone still knows “Garfield, and “Peanuts.” However, we are far removed from the glory years for comic strips in the first half of the 20th Century. Back then, the “Funny Pages,” were one of the pre-eminent forms of popular culture in the United States. If you were a young comic artist in the early 20th Century, you would dream of having your own comic strip, not a comic book.
Many of the most famous comic book creators were people who tried to get a comic strip and had to “settle” for creating comic books. When some of these comic books then hit it big, they got to transfer over to the world of strips. Here, are 15 of the very few comic book characters who ever got their own comic strip (in chronological order)
Two of those comic book creators who dreamed of having their own comic strip were Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who repeatedly pitched comic strip syndicates on the merits of their new action hero, Superman. They were repeatedly turned down. Ultimately, they had to give up on their comic strip dreams and just try to sell the character for comic books, instead. The first Superman story in “Action Comics” #1 was literally the first few “Superman” comic strips cut up and arranged into a comic book format instead.
Soon, though, Siegel and Shuster had their dream come true when the “Superman” daily comic strip began less than a year after Superman launched in the pages of “Action Comics.” Siegel and Shuster were the original creators of the strip, but Shuster couldn’t keep up with the workload, so Paul Cassidy took over. It was Cassidy who infamously introduced Lex Luthor as a bald character when he confused Luthor’s bald assistant for Luthor himself in “Action Comics” #23. The “Superman” comic strip ran until 1966. At its peak, it was in 300 newspapers and was likely read by 20 million people a week!
14. THE SPIRIT
As the comic book of the late 1930s hit with Superman, Batman and more, the comic strip world took notice to how much attention that comic books were getting. The syndicates looked into getting into comic books themselves. The Register and Tribune Syndicate talked to Busy Arnold, publisher of Quality Comics, and looked into whether he was interested in doing a comic book insert in newspapers.
Arnold, at the time, imported most of his comic book work from the Jerry Iger and Will Eisner’s studio of comic book talent, so Arnold cut a deal with Eisner to launch the new insert. Eisner had to sell off his share of Iger and Eisner. The new insert starred a new comic book hero created by Eisner called the Spirit. The comic book insert was a smashing success, running for over a decade. At the height of the insert’s early popularity, they even launched a daily strip to go along with it. That ran from 1941-1944, with other artists mostly drawing it, like Lou Fine and Jack Cole.
Like Siegel and Shuster, Bob Kane was of a generation where becoming a comic strip cartoonist was the dream, and it was also a dream come true when his co-creation, “Batman,” was turned into a comic strip in 1943. Kane gets a lot of flack for how long he used ghost artists to draw “Batman” comics under his name, but people forget that he actually did draw Batman comics for the first few years. However, he stopped drawing the comic book when the comic strip came out. He devoted his time to just drawing the comic strip as, again, this was the dream.
When it ended in 1946, so, too, did Kane’s enthusiasm for drawing regularly. He soon stopped drawing comic books period. There was another attempt at a “Batman” strip in 1953, but the next successful one was in response to the “Batman” TV series. This strip, done in the style of the TV series, ran until 1974. A final “Batman” strip launched in 1989, based on the success of the “Batman” movie of that year. It ran until 1991.
12. WONDER WOMAN
In 1944, roughly two and a half years after her comic book debut, William Moulton Marston and Harry (H.G.) Peter took their creation of Wonder Woman from the comic books into a daily comic strip. The initial comic strips were fascinating in that they were an extremely faithful adaptation of the origin of Wonder Woman, so faithful that it seemed as though they were just cutting up the original “Wonder Woman” comic book stories into the comic strip format. In reality, Peter was actually re-drawing every panel, as everything was just slightly different.
The “Wonder Woman” comic strip was similar to the comic book in a lot of ways, like it had a whole lot of bondage in the stories (less than the comic book, but still a bizarrely large amount of bondage scenes) and a few other early comic book stories were faithfully adapted into the strip. For the most part, though, the comic strip was a lot more restrained and mundane than the comic book and Wonder Woman’s cases were more down-to-Earth than her comic book adventures. The strip lasted until the end of 1945.
MLJ Comics was your standard early 1940s comic book company, in that it mostly featured a number of superheroes, like the Shield, the Comet and the Wizard. However, in 1941, inspired by the success of the “Andy Hardy” movies starring teen star, Mickey Rooney, the publisher introduced a new strip with an Andy Hardy “inspired” character known as Archie Andrews. Archie and his gang of pals and gals soon became so popular that the entire comic book company soon became known as Archie Comics.
Bob Montana, the original creator on those earliest “Archie” stories, then launched the “Archie” newspaper strip in 1947. It proved to be very popular, running as both a daily strip and a Sunday strip. When Montana passed away in 1975, the star artist on the Archie comic books, Dan DeCarlo, took over the strip. He would continue on the strip almost until his own death. Other creators followed DeCarlo, but in 2011, they stopped making new strips and began just reprinting DeCarlo strips again.
One of the more surprising comic strips to have comic book origins was Walt Kelly’s famous “Pogo.” The character of Pogo the possum and Albert the alligator first appeared in a feature that Kelly drew for Dell Comics’ “Animal Comics” in 1941. Pogo and Albert were originally foils for a young child named Bumbazine, but soon Kelly dropped Bumbazine and gave the strip to Albert and Pogo entirely. “Animal Comics” ran for almost three years before folding.
In 1948, Kelly got a gig doing editorial cartoons for the “New York Star.” He then pitched the newspaper on a daily comic strip featuring his “Animal Comics” characters. The “Pogo” comic strip launched in the “Star” in 1948. Within a year, it was nationally syndicated and it soon became one of the most successful comic strips around, and one of the most acclaimed, for the serious subjects that Kelly was brilliantly able to cover with the seemingly simple swamp creatures of “Pogo.” Kelly passed away in 1973 and after a couple of years of trying to keep it going without him, his family ended the strip in 1975.
In 1938, soon after having success with “Superman,” Jerry Siegel came up with the idea for “Superboy.” National Comics (which later became DC Comics) turned him down. Two years later, he tried again. They turned him down again. However, in 1944, with Siegel away at war, National Comics introduced Superboy on their own. Siegel was furious and it eventually became part of his original lawsuit against National Comics in 1947, which ended with him and Joe Shuster on the outs from their own creation when they lost their lawsuit.
Siegel’s vision of Superboy was that he would be like Superman, only less mature, so he would pull all sorts of pranks. When Siegel and Shuster lost their lawsuit and were turned away from National Comics, Siegel and Shuster took Siegel’s basic idea for Superboy to a new comic book company, Magazine Enterprises, where their former editor, Vin Sullivan, now worked. This new hero, Funnyman, who did superpowered pranks, did not work out as a comic book series. They then tried it as a newspaper comic strip in 1948 and that did not last long at all.
8. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
Launched in 1977, “The Amazing Spider-Man” was Marvel’s first successful comic strip spin-off. Stan Lee had actually tried to sell a few different comic strips over the years (including one with artist Dan DeCarlo starring a mailman named Willie Lumpkin, who Lee then later worked into the pages of “Fantastic Four” as the Fantastic Four’s mailman), but this was his first successful one. Initially working with longtime “Spider-Man” artist, John Romita, the strip has been a surprising success, as successful new adventure comic strips are an extremely rare breed.
The comic strip is currently handled by Stan Lee’s brother, Larry Lieber, with inks by Alex Saviuk. Saviuk then draws the Sunday strip. The newspaper strip is a lot different from the comic book series, including the fact that Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson are still married in the strip. It’s the only one of all of these strips to still be coming out with new editions to this day.
7. HOWARD THE DUCK
One of the great unexpected successes in the history of comic books was when a character intended as a one-off joke character introduced in a “Man-Thing” story (where we saw a bunch of different alternate Earths, including one ruled by talking ducks) became a brief pop cultural icon, but that’s exactly what happened with Howard the Duck. He soon got his own series and his co-creator Steve Gerber wrote some excellent stories, causing the character to gain even more attention.
In 1977, Howard became popular enough to merit his own comic strip, although it was never a particularly popular comic strip (it was not in a lot of newspapers). Ultimately, a dispute between Marvel and Gerber over some delayed payments on the strip led to a major legal disagreement with Gerber and Marvel over the ownership of Howard the Duck. Gerber ended up leaving Howard the Duck and the strip quickly petered out even quicker once Gerber left. It ended in 1978.
6. THE WORLD’S GREATEST SUPERHEROES
As noted earlier, Superman’s comic strip ended in 1966, which was the same year that Batman’s third comic strip began. That, too, ended in 1974. So DC Comics was without a newspaper comic strip featuring its superheroes for the first time since 1938. They tried to address that problem by launching “The World’s Greatest Superheroes” in 1978. The concept behind the series was that it would feature different DC Comics superheroes each adventure. The initial storyline saw Superman, Flash, Aquaman and Wonder Woman take on Vandal Savage.
Martin Pasko was the first writer of a series of different writers to work on the strip. Over time, the strip began to focus most of its time on Superman, to the point that the strip just became a Superman-only strip in 1979. It ran until 1985, by which time the strip had been re-named “Superman” (with the Sunday strips dubbed “The Superman Sunday Special”).
In 1970, based on a hunch by longtime writer Roy Thomas, Marvel agreed to option Robert E. Howard’s “Conan” characters for a comic book series. Marvel had such little faith in the idea that they would not approve one of their top artists to work on the series, instead insisting on little-known Barry Smith. Even when the series launched, Marvel had so little faith in it that it was canceled after a few issues came out (and sales info was barely in yet).
It was quickly un-canceled (and did not skip a beat, publication-wise, as it was un-canceled so quickly after being canceled) and became a major hit for Marvel. Smith became a star and when he left, the artist that was initially “too good” for the series, John Buscema, took over the comic book. In 1978, Marvel then launched a “Conan” comic strip by Roy Thomas and John Buscema. When Buscema left the strip, he was followed by a few different artists, including Ernie Chan. The comic strip ran until 1981.
4. INCREDIBLE HULK
One of the easiest ways to have a chance at having a newspaper comic strip is if you had a hit movie or television series. The debut of the “Superman” movie in the late 1970s was almost certainly a heavy inspiration for the launch of “The World’s Greatest Superheroes” so soon afterwards. That was also the case behind Marvel’s launch of an “Incredible Hulk” comic strip in 1978, which was based on the success of the “Incredible Hulk” TV series.
Written by Stan Lee and drawn by Larry Leiber (Leiber would quickly take over writing duties, as well), the strip showed the Hulk on the run, as it was more an adaptation of the TV series than anything, even using the David Banner name from the show. The strip took over from “Howard the Duck” in a number of newspapers. It ran until 1981, with Alan Kupperberg being the final artist on the strip.
3. RICHIE RICH
Created by Harvey Comics’ owner, Alfred Harvey, and artist Wayne Kremer, Richie Rich, the richest boy on Earth, debuted as a back-up feature in “Little Dot” in 1953. Oddly enough, while the character was fairly popular right from the beginning, he only appeared in stories in other comic book titles for the rest of the 1950s.
In 1960, he got his own title and soon became a bit of a phenomenon! Harvey Comics eventually put out dozens of different “Richie Rich” comic books. He was so popular that his butler, Cadbury, even had his own comic book series! It lasted for 29 issues! In 1980, “Richie Rich” debuted in his own popular cartoon series, as well. Likely with that in mind, a short-lived newspaper comic strip starring Richie Rich launched in 1979, drawn by Kremer. It was not picked up by many newspapers, though, and it did not even end up lasting a year.
2. JUDGE DREDD
While British newspapers have had comic strips in them for years, there has also been a whole different approach to comic books in England for about as long. That divergent tactic was that they would come out with weekly publications that would have short, mostly black and white comic book stories in them. This has been the standard delivery system for British comics for decades.
That was the format that “2000 A.D.” was following when it launched in 1977. In the second issue of the series, it debuted “Judge Dredd,” a futuristic police officer who committed brutal violence in the name of the law (he is the judge, the jury and the executioner). Created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, “Judge Dredd” was such a big hit that it actually led to a daily comic strip in the pages of “The Daily Star.” John Wagner wrote most of them. The daily strip ran from 1981 through 1988.
1. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
Perhaps the last new American comic book creations that could be fairly described as being a “phenomeonon” would be the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Created as a small independent comic book series by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in the early 1980s designed to make fun of a few popular trends in comic books in the early 1980s. They took ninjas from Frank Miller’s ninjas in “Daredevil” and “Ronin,” the teenage mutants idea from “New Mutants” and the talking animals from books like “Cerebus”). Needless to say, the comic book was a hit.
However, in 1987, things exploded when the Turtles for their own cartoon series, which led into a toy line, an arcade game and much more. Soon, the Turtles were seemingly everywhere! That was just the popularity needed to get them into the funny pages, and in 1990, Creators Syndicate launched a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” comic strip that lasted until 1997. Oddly enough, only the weekday strips actually told an ongoing storyline. The weekend color strips were entirely made up of fan-submitted artwork.
What’s your favorite comic book turned comic strip? Let us know in the comments section!