Wednesday, Sep 3rd, 2014
Mining the Data
posted by Bruce Canwell
Sometimes an idea yanks you in a completely different direction than you expected when you first started playing with it. The graphic presented below is a prime example of this "yanked sideways" scenario—my original idea was to do a grouped-by-syndicate diagram featuring some of our favorite cartoonists, something roughly similar to the Caniffian chart I ran in this space some time ago.
In order to figure out how I'd want such a chart to look I listed a handful of creators, identifying them by name/strip/syndicate. I then decided I should include the start-/end-dates for each of the strips listed. By the time I had compiled all of that I decided to rough it out, timeline-fashion…and after I completed that exercise, several interesting tidbits jumped out at me, leading me to decide, "The heck with that other chart, this was what I need to run on the LOAC website!"
Two quick notes on formatting:
 To eliminate any possible confusion, let me mention that the vertical gridline to the left of each date represents the year shown. For example, the vertical gridline to the right of each strip's name represents the year 1910, even though the label "1910" appears after that vertical line. The next vertical gridline after the "1910" label represents 1915, the next 1920, and so on. Simple, once you get the hang of it, true?
 The color coding is pretty simple: Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate strips are represented by red bars, King Features strips by blue bars, NEA strips by yellow bars, AP strips by black bars, and United Feature strips by green bars. Also pretty simple, I think you'll agree!
Click on the image for a larger view.
Here are five key items that popped at me. Some of it is common knowledge, but seeing it depicted visually helped give me a fresh perspective on it ...
ITEM! The sheer longevity of some of the careers represented is, frankly, astounding. Look at the length of Bil Keane's and Mort Walker's involvement with the creation of a single strip! Almost as impressive are the runs of talents like McManus (Bringing Up Father), Schulz (Peanuts), Gould (Dick Tracy), Capp (Li'l Abner), and Gray (Little Orphan Annie), all mining a single strip for fresf material decade after decade. Remarkable, just remarkable.
ITEM! Some talents who migrated from one strip to another had equally-impressive careers in terms of length, though one has to look at the "step-function" of their careers across multiple rows to fully appreciate the sweep of a talent like Roy Crane (Tarzan, Buz Sawyer) or Hal Foster (Tarzan, Prince Valiant). Note also the length and the dynamism of Caniff's career, as he gets established at the AP (Dickie Dare), migrates to CTNYN with Terry and the Pirates, then settles in at Field Enterprises (administered by King Features) with Steve Canyon. Also note how short a run, when expressed on a timescale like this, Milt had with Terry, and think of the prodigious effect that dozen years of work had on the comics medium. One's head starts to spin when one factors in the idea of quality on top of quantity!
ITEM! Speaking of quality, think how influential Bud Sickles's Scorchy Smith work was, and look at how brief a period it covers! The end of Sickles's and Sidney Smith's time in the comic strip trenches is grouped closely together, though two very different reasons spur their respective departures ...
ITEM! Check out the three rows allocated to Alex Raymond (for X-9, Flash Gordon, and Rip Kirby)- the gap between the end of Flash and the start of Rip reflects Alex's time in the military during World War II. The all-blue nature of the periods shown also indicate King Features knew a good thing when they saw it—they found the right way to keep Raymond in their stable until his untimely death.
A similar gap occurs in the two Dick Moores rows. The period between the demise of Jim Hardy (aka Windy and Padles) and his assuming the chores on Gasoline Alley represents his time spent at Disney and his uncredited work as Frank King's assistant.
ITEM! Is there a better year for comic strip debuts than 1934? Look at how they line up: Terry, Li'l Abner, Secret Agent X-9, Flash Gordon, and Soglow's Little King all bowed that year (and those are just the strips shown here—Mandrake the Magician, Radio Patrol, and others also bowed in '34).
Perhaps you'll find your own tidbits of information from this exhibit - and we'll give you a few days to do so. Then I'll come back with a different view of this same information, plus a few extra observations…