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AV Club examines the history of comic strips
In reducing the study of newspaper comics to its most essential titles, some significant artists and strips inevitably end up as outliers, even though they may be worth considering from either an aesthetic or historical point of view. For example, newspaper comics might never have caught on the way they did without R.F. Outcault, whose Hogan’s Alley, The Yellow Kid, and Buster Brown became so popular at the turn of the century that Outcault was allowed the freedom to try out new techniques-sequential panels, word balloons-that would become common. Cartoonist Rudolph Dirks picked up on what Outcault was doing and applied it to his The Katzenjammer Kids, a riotous slapstick strip that helped establish the comic pacing and pastoral milieu that pertained in comic strips for decades to come.
Robert Ripley’s Believe It Or Not (which collected odd facts) and Jimmy Hatlo’s They’ll Do It Every Time (which invited readers to share their common annoyances) became popular features in the ’20s, demonstrating the medium’s ability to do more than just tell jokes and stories. Lee Falk’s The Phantom has been continuously running since 1936, when Falk established the “masked and costumed crimefighter” style that comic books would soon seize upon. And Mary Worth (created by Martha Orr in 1932 then given a major revamp a few years later by writer Allen Saunders and artist Dale Conner) helped pave the way for a slew of “soap opera” strips, many of which have outlasted the humor and adventure strips that once ruled the page.