I’ve loved comic strips since I was a little kid. While my primary panel allegiance is to comic books, there’s never really been a time when I didn’t peruse at least the Sunday funnies. My earliest specific memory of reading newspaper comics goes back to 1966, when I was six years old and fallin’ hard for superheroes (thanks to the Batman TV series). One week, there was a Sunday Beetle Bailey strip where Sgt. Snorkel dreams that he and Beetle have become their own Dynamic Duo Fatman and Slobber, and high-camp hijinks ensue. There’s no way that was my first exposure to Beetle Bailey and the rest of the popular features found in Syracuse’s Sunday Herald American, but that one certainly resonated with me. And for weeks thereafter, I kept waiting for Fatman and Slobber to reappear in Beetle Bailey, but alas, it was their only appearance. I betcha they were probably erased from continuity in Crisis On Infinite Earths anyway.
In addition to Beetle Bailey, my early favorites included The Family Circus, Dennis The Menace, Blondie, Archie, Pogo, and (I think) Peanuts. I probably read Li’l Abner, too. We received the daily newspapers as well, The Post Standard in the morning and The Herald Journal in the afternoon, so I started scannin’ those black-and-white strips during the week. Although I was (as noted) big into superhero comic books, I didn’t really follow any syndicated adventure or dramatic strips. If memory serves, the non-comical comic strips the Syracuse papers offered at the time would have included Dick Tracy, Steve Canyon, Prince Valiant, Dondi, and The Phantom. The Phantom was the only costumed hero of the bunch–the Syracuse papers did not carry Superman or Batman–but I didn’t start following the exploits of The Ghost Who Walks until later (after The Phantom [and Steve Canyon] were included as accessory identities for the Captain Action superhero doll in 1967).
In the late ’60s and into the ’70s, the adventure strips began to seem more attractive to me, especially The Phantom, Steve Canyon, and Rip Kirby. Aside from reprints in Peanuts paperback collections, the first older newspaper strips I ever read were the 1940s Batman and the 1929/1930s Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, both of which I discovered in the early ’70s. The Batman strips had been reprinted in a few of DC Comics‘ 80-Page Giants in the ’60s, comic books which I encountered as back issues circa…’72, or so? And a Christmas or birthday around that time brought me the hardcover volume The Collected Works Of Buck Rogers In The 25th Century. Reading the adventures of the intrepid Buck Rogers influenced my own eighth-grade art project, a comic strip called Jack Mystery.
(The allure of older newspaper strips was strong, but I didn’t have much opportunity [or funds] to indulge it in the ’70s. I coveted a publication called The Menomonee Falls Gazette, which published a variety of comic strips, but I don’t think I ever bought an issue. I started clipping and saving The Phantom strip from the Syracuse papers, I read paperback novelizations of 1930s Phantom and Flash Gordon strip continuities, and I immersed myself in a fantastic tabloid Dick Tracy one-shot published by DC Comics. I never got around to buying or reading any other vintage newspaper strip collections.)
As time wore on, there were fewer adventure or drama options to be found on the funnies pages in the Syracuse newspapers. The Phantom hung on (and it’s still there today), but Rip Kirby and Steve Canyon faded away, and Dick Tracy eventually disappeared locally, too. I never developed any interest in Mark Trail or Mary Worth, though I did at least flirt with Brenda Starr, Reporter. On the humor front, of course, I was completely taken by Doonesbury, and later by Bloom County, Calvin And Hobbesand The Far Side, too. The late ’70s also brought a number of new strips based on comic books–The Amazing Spider-Man, World’s Greatest Superheroes, The Incredible Hulk, Conan The Barbarian, and Howard The Duck–but the ones I saw didn’t grab me, and the ones I didn’t see, I…um, didn’t see.
Fast-forward through the ’80s (something I wish I could have done in real life). When I lived in an apartment in Buffalo in the ’80s, I subscribed to home delivery of The Buffalo News and continued to get my daily comic-strip fix. I cancelled when I moved back to Syracuse in ’87. In 1989, I bought a house in the Syracuse suburbs. The blockbuster success of the 1989 Batman movie spawned a new syndicated Batman comic strip, ghost-written by my favorite mystery novelist Max Allan Collins and illustrated by my all-time favorite Bat-artist Marshall Rogers. The new strip would be carried in the Syracuse newspapers, and that was sufficient motivation for me to start getting home delivery of the paper again.
I thought the new Batman strip was just wonderful, but it didn’t last long in the Syracuse papers. I was able to continue following it in a promo publication given away at participating comic book shops, but the strip ended entirely not long thereafter. It also appeared in a magazine called Comics Revue, which contained a great mix of new, old, comical, and straight comics. I had already been buying Comics Revue regularly (and was hooked by its reprints of the great British spy strip Modesty Blaise), but I eventually stopped getting it because issues were accumulating faster than I ever got around to reading them.
The newspaper game has changed, not for the better. There is no daily newspaper in Syracuse anymore; the Herald is long gone, and the Post now publishes a mere three days a week, with daily content posted online. I still receive home delivery on Thursdays and Sundays, but I read my comics online. Writer/artist/musician Dan Pavelich began a humor comic strip called Just Say Uncle, and it was (and remains) available on Patreon. Go Comics carries a number of comic strips, including my other current favorites Dick Tracy, Pearls Before Swine, Luann, Carol Lay‘s essential weekly Lay Lines, Non Sequitur, Doonesbury, Fox Trot, and Jump Start, classic Tarzan, and much more. Go Comics has become my daily comics resource. It’s not the same as getting a new Batman newspaper strip delivered to my home every day, but it’s going to have to suffice.