10 Great Newspaper Comics

“So long, Pop! I’m off to check my tiger trap!” 6 year-old Calvin tells his father one day. Thus began Calvin and Hobbes, a humorous comic strip about an imaginative boy and his stuffed tiger and their many adventures together. We have compiled ten newspaper comic strips that we believe to be some of the best.  Some of the strips have their own websites and we have included links to these. However, some of the comic strips are older and can only be found in book collections at the library or bookstore.

  •   Garfield—though the simplistic artwork feels limiting at times, Garfield and the many other characters and gags are usually funny. At Garfield’s main website you can keep up with the latest misadventures of the world’s most famous cat.
  •  Dilbert—Though office humor tends to go over our heads, Dilbert can often be hilarious once we get over the cynical nature of most of the jokes.
  •  Baby Blues—Parents may get a kick out of this one when they aren’t bemoaning the fact that their kids are exactly like Zoe, Hammie, and Wren—the strip’s main child characters.
  •  Prince Valiant—The artwork alone justifies this one being on the list.  The original author, Harold Foster, claimed to have spent 53 hours a week working on each Sunday page.  The attention to detail is undeniable and the stories are always interesting (we are not acquainted with the current Prince Valiant that is being made by Hal Foster’s successor, so we’re recommending the “old” strips here).
  •  Zits—This comic strip about teenager Jeremy Duncan is sidesplitting because of its character humor.  Also, it harkens back to the days of Calvin and Hobbes (see below).
  •  The Far Side—though sometimes crude and often assuming an evolutionist worldview, Gary Larson’s magnum opus is hilarious.  Some of his best one-panel strips poke fun by putting animals in human situations—or vice-versa.
  •  Blondie—Centering around the exploits of Dagwood Bumstead and his beautiful wife Blondie, this long-running strip has consistently provided good if rather repetitive artwork and many laugh-out-loud moments.  Unlike some strips that seem to age ungracefully, being reduced in size and complexity until there are only two panels with about 5 words each, Blondie is one of those strips that has maintained high quality despite increasing print restrictions.
  • B.C.We love the setting, the characters, and the recurring gags of this quintessential caveman comic strip. And even better, B.C. continues to be good, which is surprising since Johnny Hart, the original author, died back in 2007.  His successors, Mason Mastroianni and the people who assist him, have continued the tradition of good settings, idiosyncratic characters, and humorous situations.
  •  Calvin and Hobbes—Bill Watterson’s cartoon, despite at times subtly promoting a non-Christian worldview, made this list because the characters, artwork, stories, and humor will live with us forever.
  •  PeanutsPeanuts is great because of its precocious characters, its bittersweet moments, and the subtle humor.

So what are your favorite comic strips, and why?  We’d love to hear from you!

Until then,

-flint and bone-

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Witches, Trolls, Dragons, and … Jewish Maidens?

Who would have thought that a fictional graphic novel with witches and trolls could be educational at the same time?  Well, that is what Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, by Barry Deutsch, succeeds in doing with a clever story and good artwork.

This short graphic novel is unique because it has fantasy elements, but at the same time, it also gives an accurate picture of what a Jewish community looks like from the inside.  Mirka, the main character, is an 11-year old Jewish girl who lives in the rural town of Hereville.  She has a brother and two sisters who, like most siblings, annoy her a lot. Mirka also has a stepmother named Fruma–with whom she is prone to have extended arguments. Despite what might be expected of her, Mirka is anything but unadventurous: she dreams of being a dragon-slayer.  The only problem is that she doesn’t have a sword.  Hereville is the story of her quest to find a sword (By the way: Hereville has no objectionable content in terms of foul language, violence, etc).

This story is complemented by great illustrations.  Barry Deutsch uses a wide variety of artistic techniques, including a restrained palette of colors, interesting visual word balloons, and overlapping images to make each page fun to look at, as in these two panels where Fruma is having a talk with Mirka’s older sister:

I was confused in a couple of places by Deutsch’s innovative panel layouts, but nothing essential to the story was difficult to understand.  The artwork is simple yet elegant.

So Hereville is enjoyable, but as my younger sister pointed out when I asked her opinion, “The book was kind of … blah.”  So don’t expect Hereville to be amazing.  Don’t expect an inspirational message.  Don’t expect epic-ness or lots of emotional depth or really complex characters.  It’s just an uncomplicated story.

But it is an interesting story nevertheless.   Hereville is worth reading because it has a clever, educational plot and good artwork.  If you like fantasy-themed tales then you will probably like Hereville.

Happy reading!

Bone 

Top 10 Colorful Adventures of Tintin

As I said in my last post, if you like colorful plots, good characters, elaborate settings, and are O.K. with slightly exaggerated escapes and a few stereotypes, then you should give Tintin a read.  Following is a list of (in my opinion) the top 10 best Tintin books.  You don’t have to read them in this order, but if you do, the characters will be introduced chronologically:

  1. King Ottokar’s Scepter – Tintin attempts to stop a plot to dethrone the king of Syldavia (a fictional European country).

  2. Cigars of the Pharaoh – A crazy professor and a mysterious smuggling organization make this comic interesting.
  3. The Blue Lotus – Continues Tintin’s adventures from Cigars of the Pharaoh.
  4. The Black Island – Tintin uncovers a gang of counterfeiters in Scotland.
  5. The Broken Ear – A precious gem, a stolen statue, and two cutthroats combine to make this story highly dramatic.
  6. The Crab with the Golden Claws – The belligerent Captain Haddock is introduced in this book.
  7. The Secret of the Unicorn – Captain Haddock and Tintin begin a treasure hunt for the lost gold of Haddock’s ancestors, but they are not the only ones searching for the gold.
  8. Red Rackham’s Treasure – The treasure hunt culminates in a sea voyage to find the location of the lost fortune.
  9. The Calculus Affair – Maybe a bit far-fetched in terms of technology, this story succeeds because of the hair-breadth escapes, humor, and complex plot.
  10. Land of Black Gold – A nefarious villain from The Black Island returns, this time plotting war in the Middle East.

These colorful collections are each 62 pages in length, and can be purchased from www.amazon.com, among other online retailers

Edit: just to be clear, we are in no way affiliated with Amazon.com.  We are not being paid to advertise products for Amazon.com (Ouch.  That’s a pretty harsh way to end a review…)

Anyway, happy reading!

bone

A Golden Oldie Comic (which you probably haven’t read)

The old comic books that decorate my bookshelf seem to fall into two categories—the ones that are forgotten and the ones that seem to improve the more I read them.  One of these old comics is Tintin by the Belgian artist Hergé (pronounced hair-jay).  Maybe you’ve wondered what was so great about Hergé’s work.  Maybe you’ve heard that there was an animated series or heard rumors that Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson (of Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings fame, respectively) were teaming up to make this series into a movie trilogy.  And so you might be wondering whether Tintin is worth reading, whether it is one of those stories that improves with age or not.

Though Tintin is not perfect (more on that at the end), Tintin is a pillar of European comics because of its “cliffhanger” plots, its interesting characters, and its elaborate settings.  If you’re looking for a comic series with a great balance of humor, suspense, dialogue, and visual interest, then Tintin is for you.

Plots

The plots of Tintin keep the story interesting and moving.  Hergé uses the “cliffhanger” extensively, drawing the reader on to the next page:

So that’s where the page ends. And then:

…The problem is resolved.  Hergé makes liberal use of this simple device to keep the plot interesting.  Though I’m sure the “cliffhanger” could become pretty gimmicky, in the hands of Hergé, the creator of the series, the plot shines (and, in the cliffhanger’s defense, popular movies like Indiana Jones have been crafted around a series of “cliffhangers”).  Hergé’s stories strike a balance, much like a Hitchcock film, of generating suspense and raising questions that may only be answered at the end of the film.  In some ways, Hergé even uses Hitchcock’s signature plot device—the MacGuffin.  A MacGuffin is anything in a story that seems initially to be important but turns out not to be (pop culture example: in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? the “treasure” George Clooney and his two cronies are looking for is a MacGuffin because there isn’t any hidden money stash; George Clooney is actually looking for his wife).

Characters

In addition to the plot, the characters of Tintin are also interesting.  From the proud and vengeful villain Rastapopulous to the young Chinese castoff Chang, Hergé crafts interesting characters from all sorts of fabric.  Hergé’s stories are also interesting because of recurring characters.  Tintin, in his many adventures with his dog Snowy, comes across the bumbling detectives—the Thompson brothers, the ever-vocal Captain Haddock, the faithful butler of Marlinspike, Nestor, the deaf Professor Calculus, and the singer Bianca Castafiore.

Settings

The settings of Tintin are one of Hergé’s trademarks, as well (I understand) as the trademark of European comics in general.  Every place that Tintin, boy reporter, visits—from the forests of a South American country to the craters of the moon—is elaborately detailed to the point that every locale feels like a living, breathing place.  Personally, my favorite location is Scotland, where Tintin uncovers a gang of counterfeiters in The Black Island.

Unfortunately, Tintin, like every other comic book, is not perfect.  Some people might get tired of a few far-fetched escapes from danger and clichés (the ape in The Black Island is deathly afraid of Snowy’s bark; there are other “yeah…sure” moments as well).  Also, in Flight 714, Hergé does a sort of “deus ex machina” sort of ending.  Deus ex machina, “god out of a machine,” is where the author  invents a solution to a problem out of thin air.  I’ve heard this term comes from Greek plays where Greek “gods” would descend onto the stage using some mechanical crane.   This “god” would then liberate the main character in the play from some sort of “cliffhanger” situation.  Well anyway, Hergé does this in Flight 714.  In a word—aliens.  Yes, the sort of aliens that fly in super-secret spaceships.  The sort that save Tintin and his friends from danger.

But If you like colorful plots, characters, settings, and are O.K. with slightly exaggerated escapes and a few stereotypes, then you should give Tintin a read.  Be on the lookout for part 2 of this series of Tintin reviews where I will give a top ten Tintin comic books list!

Until then,

Bone

Welcome!

Welcome to our brand-spanking-new comic book review blog.  In the coming months we are going to be reviewing comics old and new, as well as offering practical advice on how to improve your own comic-book-making skills.

-Flint and Bone-