Stripper’s Guide Q & A

Another question from Tim Foster …

Q What percentage of newspapers published tabloid Sunday comics sections versus fulls?

A On first reading the question I wondered how the heck I could answer. Then it came to me that I have a statistical sampling that would make a pollster proud. I just ran an analysis on my Sunday tearsheet inventory database, and here’s the results:

Tabloid Strips

1900s sample size of tabs too small, verging on 0%

1910s 2%

1920s 4%

1930s 36%

1940s 37%

1950s 33%

1960s 32%

1970s 11%

Caveats to these percentages:

  • the samples to some extent reflect my buying habits, purchasing the rare and obscure as opposed to a random statistical sampling
  • statistics from the 1960s and 70s may be skewed by the fact that I don’t database most of the later material I have, only the most interesting stuff. I don’t database anything from the 80s on through this system, it’s all kept on hand-written index sheets, so no statistics available.

The most interesting point to me is how the tabloids plummeted in popularity in the 1970s. Why? My guess is that it was a combination of two things. First, I think outsourcing of comic sections to large printers like the Greater Buffalo Press was then coming into vogue, and they might well have not offered their printing services in tabloid form.

Second, the 70s is when the ultimate miniaturaization of Sunday comics began in earnest, and tabloid strips set up as anything less than half-tabs are pretty close to unreadable, especially with the printing processes in use in that decade, which made the comic pages a muddy mess. I don’t know the technical end of that process (was it web presses?) but the Sunday comics of the 70s and 80s are almost uniformly muddy, washed out, streaky, blotchy, and out of register, making third tabs little more than a multi-color smudge on the page.

A possible third factor didn’t come about until the late 70s, and that was the newspaper Sunday comic book. These were very popular in the late 70s through the mid-80s and may well have supplanted more tabloid sections than full size ones, but I have no proof of that so I’ll just throw it out there as a possibility.

2 comments on “Stripper’s Guide Q & A

  1. Where does the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner fit in here? The Sunday JOA operation printed the Examiner comics broadsheet and the Chronicle comics in a tabloid format.

    re: The Sunday comic book –
    I subscribed to The Lake County (Ohio) News-Herald for their comic book section for awhile, but I never knew that format was “very popular”. How many of those Sunday comic books were around then?

  2. Hi DD –
    Regarding the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, I assume it was just a carry-over from before the JOA. It is my understanding that big city presses can switch from full page to tabloid printing practically with the flick of a switch, and so its really no big deal to produce two dissimilar sections. Note that most papers print a section or two of their Sunday papers in tab form, like entertainment or real estate sections, so it’s really not a big deal for them.

    As to the Sunday comic books, I know of at least a dozen or more papers that used the format. As with earlier ‘comic book’ sections, the idea was to excite young people about the paper. Worked on you, I guess, since you got a sub just for that! It was definitely just a fad, though, as most seemed to start around 1978-79, and the format was all but gone by 1985.


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