Best Comics of 2015: Newspaper Strips

In the past few years, I’ve fallen in love with reissues of newspaper strips, a comic format I’d never really cared for when I was younger. Maybe it’s nostalgic, or maybe it’s just delayed recognition of the talent and dedication the format requires. I read several comics strip reprints this year (and bought more that I still haven’t read), most of which you’ll see below.

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The Complete Peanuts 1950-1952 (2014) Charles M. Schultz (Fantagraphics)

You just can’t go wrong with Peanuts. I wrote an appreciation for The Comics Alternative earlier this year, but if you’re going to read only one article about Peanuts, please read Paul Lai’s excellent essay.

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 2 (1941/2000) Will Eisner (DC Comics)

Will Eisner’s The Spirit is, of course, legendary. It doesn’t matter if you’d read these strips when they originally appeared as newspaper supplements in 1941 or just a few minutes ago in this bound hardcover archive collection: you can see innovation and excellence on every page. I’m just beginning to work my way through as many of these volumes as I can (28 volumes in the DC Archives editions) and what a pleasure it is. As far as I know, these volumes are out of print, so check your local library or see if you can find them online.

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Rip Kirby: The First Modern Detective, Volume 1 (1946-1948) Alex Raymond (IDW/Library of American Comics)

I wasn’t sure Rip Kirby would be for me, but Alex Raymond’s detective won me over. You can read more about my first experience with Rip here.

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The Phantom: The Complete Newspaper Dailies Vol. 1: 1936-1937 (second printing, 2013)

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The Phantom: The Complete Newspaper Dailies Vol. 2: 1938-1940 (2010)

both volumes by Lee Falk, Ray Moore (Hermes Press)

Was the Phantom the first costumed superhero? Yes and no. The Phantom predates Superman by two years (debuting in 1936), but has no superpowers. Much of his potency lies in his legend, which recognizes that the masked Phantom (or “The Ghost Who Walks”) has been alive for hundreds of years, meting out justice in the jungle wilderness. In fact, the Phantom is just a regular guy (although with impressive strength and intelligence) but maybe not so regular: this Phantom is the 21st in a line of many Phantoms, the particulars of which I will not get into right now.

The Phantom stories are great adventures and the character has been appearing in newspaper strips from 1936 to the present day. That’s quite an accomplishment. These collections feature all black-and-white art, simple without being simplistic. If you find any of these Hermes Press books in stores or online and are even mildly interested, buy them immediately. They vanish quickly and their value is guaranteed to skyrocket.

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Miss Fury: Sensational Sundays, 1944-1949 (2011) Tarpé Mills (IDW/Library of American Comics)

There’s so much to like about the Miss Fury comic strip – its gorgeous art, the fact that its creator was a woman at a time when female comics creators were extremely rare, the exquisite fashion detail, the risqué atmosphere – but there’s also some disappointment. Maybe a large part of that disappointment comes from my expectations of the book being something different from what’s actually presented. As a costumed avenger, Miss Fury (at least in costume) doesn’t appear all that much. Even her alter ego, Marla Drake, is often absent for long stretches. Although the book delivers quite a bit of action and adventure, there’s just as much melodrama and soap opera mixed in. Again, it could be that I was expecting one thing and got another. I plan to reread this book again, so maybe I’ll feel differently after another read. If for no other reason, you should read the book’s introduction about the very interesting life of Miss Fury‘s creator, Tarpé Mills.

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Amazing Spider-Man: The Ultimate Newspaper Comics Collection 1977-1979 (2015) Stan Lee, John Romita (IDW/Library of American Comics)

I never read these comics as they appeared in my local paper, thinking they’d be too simplistic compared to the comics, but this collection was filled with fun, engaging adventures, the first of which involves J.Jonah Jameson inviting Dr. Doom to New York City to address the U.N.!

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The Complete Terry and the Pirates, Vol. 5: 1943-1944 (2008) Milton Caniff (IDW/Library of American Comics)

Ah, my love for Terry and the Pirates knows no bounds… Caniff was a master; no doubt about it. In this volume, Terry – now a young man – earns his wings to become Flight Officer Terry Lee, but don’t think his troubles stop because he’s grown up and finds himself in a position of responsibility. Plenty of dangers abound and also plenty of nasty villains, old and new. It’s hard for us in 2015 to realize what these strips meant to readers during WWII, not only to those at home, but also to the men and women serving our country. These strips are treasures.

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The Eternaut (1957-1959/2015) Héctor Germán Oesterheld and Francisco Solano Lopez (Fantagraphics)

This comic strip/graphic novel may be new to American audiences, but in Argentina and other parts of South America, it’s a cultural icon. I’m almost finished with the book and have purposefully avoided reading the introduction, afterword, or any information as to the political nature of the book. All I can say is The Eternaut is a top-notch science fiction story. You should read it.

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Little Nemo in Slumberland: So Many Splendid Sundays! (1905-1910/2005) Windsor McCay (Sunday Press)

If you love comics, buy this. It’s that simple.

Fair Warning No. 1: You will probably not find this book for under $100. Its retail price is $125. It is worth every cent.

Fair Warning No. 2: You will also want to buy the second volume, Little Nemo in Slumberland: Many More Splendid Sundays! 

These are enormously large books and they need to be in order to capture the magnitude and beauty of McCay’s work. If you think I exaggerate, find a copy and open it to any page. Put this first volume on your Christmas list. Ask several friends to go in together to get it for you. Save your pennies. Skip going out to eat for a month. Seriously. Get this.

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King of the Comics: 100 Years of King Features (2015) Dean Mullaney, ed. (IDW/Library of American Comics)

An amazing history of newspaper strip comics in America with some absolutely gorgeous reproductions and a generous representation of many creators. A must-have for anyone even remotely interested in comic strips or comics history.

(Photos: Will Eisner.comComic Vine, all other pictures from the publishers)

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