Stripper’s Guide Q & A

Two good questions came in that I’d like to answer here. The first is from Charles Brubaker:

Allen, just a question. In your list of comic-strips, do you list comics that only run in alternative newsweeklies? Comics like “This Modern World,” “Tom the Dancing Bug,” and “Maakies.”?

Good question, and one I’ve wrestled with over the years. The quick answer is no. The Stripper’s Guide scope and methodology statement says that I am only indexing comic strips and panels that appear in mainstream daily to weekly newspapers, those seeking a general readership. Alternative papers usually fail that definition on two fronts.

First, many of them report very little news (choosing to focus more on entertainment, reviews, etc) and that, as far as I’m concerned, disqualifies them as newspapers.

Second, many alternative newspapers are designed to serve a very specific segment of the community – gay papers, environmentalist papers, religious papers, and so on. This one’s more of a slippery slope situation, because I do list features that run in black papers and the socialist newspaper Daily Worker. These particular papers, in my opinion, were truly newspapers, though, because they did seek to cover general news, though with a particular perspective in mind. Typically, though, your average alternative paper of today doesn’t try to report general news but only stories specific to the community they serve.

But when you come right down to it, my reasons for not listing ‘alternative’ strips is simply that to do so would enlarge the scope of my project to the point where it would be utterly ridiculous. All major cities, and plenty of smaller ones, have alternative newspapers of one sort or another, and many run not just familiar standards like Matt Groening and Ruben Bolling, but also lots of local talent, material cadged from the Internet, and so on. To try to index all this material would be a superhuman task, and of very questionable interest considering that a lot of what would be indexed is very clearly amateur and casual work.

All that being said, I do actually list a few of the most famous ‘alternative’ comic strips in the index. I make it clear in the accompanying notes that this is to be considered bonus material, and that they really don’t qualify. They are there in recognition of the fact that they are the most important of their genre.

Arnold Wagner writes:

I thought Stripper’s Guide Index subscriptions were long gone until I stumbled upon a page offering them, which raises the question, are you still offering subscriptions? Since you never mention the subscriptions on the blog I’ve been hesitant to mention them, which seems a shame since it remains one of the best sources in existence. Let me know the current status so I can quit worrying!

“One of” the best sources? Well, hmmph. I’ll just ignore that qualifier. Anywho … subscriptions haven’t been available for a long time, and I swear I’ve deleted that page off the website before, and it just seems to keep coming back like a bad penny.

The deal was supposed to be that once I got through letter “Z” in the subscriptions, I’d put some finishing touches on the index and then offer it to publishers. Well, those finishing touches turned out to be huge quantities of additional research – comic strip history is like an onion – you can just keep peeling layers off and finding more. Since the subscription phase of the project I’ve nearly doubled the number of features documented – today the magic number stands at 6527.

So the subscription phase followed quickly by the publishing stage turned out to be a pipe dream, and research continues on today. However, I’ve made a new year’s resolution that the Stripper’s Guide index will definitely, positively, absolutely be peddled to publishers this year. And if it turns out that the publishing world has no use for my baby then the index will be self-published, preferably as an online database. You have my promise, then, that the Stripper’s Guide Index will become generally available, in some form, before it’s time to pop the bubbly to welcome in 2008.

And to D.D. Degg, who wrote with some very interesting data on Van Tine Features … still looking over the source material you referenced, will respond when I get through it all.

3 comments on “Stripper’s Guide Q & A

  1. I’m afraid I do very well know the “onion syndrome” in comic-strip research. Worse: as you discover more and more things, you feel more and more frustrated, and get the impression that you have just scratched the iceberg peak, and your work is of little or no value (still more: that you worked for years and faster and less expert people are beating you to the finish line).
    This is not true, of course, especially for what concerns Allan’s Stripper Guide, which is neither “one of the best sources” nor “the best source” but “THE source” for everything one needs to know about newspaper comics strips.
    So I do invite Allan to stop researching for a while (I know: it is like inviting a bird not to fly or a fish not to swim), and to dedicate himself to find a publisher, while preparing an Internet site for “Addenda and corrigenda” where to put the entries he’ll find in the meanwhile.
    Please do it!
    I’m sure you’ll find a publisher in the States; if – perish the thought – you will not, do not to forget old Europe (we decidedly DO like old American comics, and there are many mad publishers here!) At the very worst of the hypothesis, and before reverting to an (eech!) online database – consider
    But I hope (no – I’m sure!) you won’t need it!
    Alfredo Castelli

  2. Thanks for answering the question.

    But wouldn’t “Tom the Dancing Bug” count? It’s syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate and it has run in few mainstream papers (I believe Washington Post ran it).

    Or are those counted in the list of the “most famous” alternative strips?

  3. First, to Alfredo, thanks so much for the very kind words. I’m red as a beet and the buttons are popping off my shirt. I’ll likely be insufferable for the next few days.

    I don’t share your certainty that I’ll find a publisher, but that’s no excuse for not trying. I’ll definitely give it my best shot. When I think of how big SG has gotten, I find it hard to believe that a publisher would be so mad as to devote, what, maybe a 3- or 4-volume set of books to the project. Yikes!

    And to Charles, yes, Tom the Dancing Bug is an exception to the rule – I do list it, even though it also has yet another problem in that some might classify it as an editorial cartoon, another genre of cartooning that Stripper’s Guide doesn’t cover.


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