Obscurity of the Day: Arnold

Depending on who you ask, Kevin McCormick’s Arnold is either an under-appreciated classic or unreadable drivel. There doesn’t seem to be much room for opinions in the middle ground. The strip, which debuted on December 13 1982, stars an intelligent, hyper, pugnacious and vociferous kid named Arnold. I’d place him somewhere in the 11-13 year old range, purely as a guess. He stars in the strip along with a limited cast — his buddy Tommy and his teacher Mr. Lester are generaly the only other characters depicted.

McCormick’s schtick in the strip is that Arnold is a potent combination of out of control, imaginative, and extremely well-spoken. So when he gets excited, angry, annoyed, or just about anything else, the usual result is a rant. Arnold’s rants are pretty darn epic in scope and originality. When Arnold isn’t ranting, he finds no shortage of other reasons to hold forth, and so the strip is often a sea of word balloons. Which is not at all a bad thing, because McCormick’s cartooning ability is … well, let’s call it a great example of the naive school, shall we?

Although a cult hit, Arnold never really took off in the mainstream. According to McCormick the strip topped out with 56 client papers, and he says that in newspaper reader polls his strip tended to get about as many votes for ‘worst strip’ as for ‘best’.

What I remember most about Arnold (it ran in a paper I saw frequently) is that the printing of the Sundays was truly awful. The word balloon text always seemed to be washed out and full of printing losses, and the coloring was a sickening miasma. Having since then clipped Arnold Sundays from various other Sunday papers, I find that this was not a circumstance limited to my paper, but seemed to be the norm. I don’t know why Arnold was universally badly printed, but I think that may go some way to explain its lack of success. For the record, I had to look through about a hundred Sundays in order to find these four you see above, as almost all of my samples were so badly printed that they were beyond redemption, not worth scanning.

Field Newspapers was the original syndicate, which during the run of Arnold changed to News America Syndicate, and then North America Syndicate. After a little over a year with the final syndicate, Arnold was cancelled on April 9 1988 April 16 1988, after a 5+ year run.

Arnold is Kevin McCormick’s only syndicated comic strip credit. In a 2008 interview with Charles Brubaker* he said that he had also ghost written a comic strip for awhile, though unfortunately he didn’t name the feature. As of the interview date, he was  a pastor and administrator for a church school.

* To see the interview, you may have to keep the page from completely loading — if I let the page load completely, I am redirected to Brubaker’s homepage.

10 comments on “Obscurity of the Day: Arnold

  1. Arnold dailies run a week longer than that, to 16 April 1988. In the denouement to the series, Tommy calls Arnold on the phone, only to be told he has been carried away by a giant bird. Tommy asks, "What'll I do now?" only to be offered a cold "Goodbye, Tommy."
    We don't know who the voice might be.

  2. It was an inconsistent strip, but I recall laughing out loud more than a few times. If memory serves, Arnold's run ins with the Lunch Lady were usually a treat– though a bit gross at times.

  3. Arnold ran in, I believe, the Detroit Free Press here in southeastern Michigan, and I loved it. Most I know despised it. Probably just a bit ahead of its time.
    But if they ever put a book out of each strip, you can bet I would purchase a copy.
    By the way, Arnold also bantered a bit with the school cook.
    Thanks for the post.

  4. I wonder who owns the rights to Arnold. GoComics or Comics Kingdom should secure the rights and post the reruns.

  5. Favorite strip while it lasted.. Read the paper after the folks as a kid, eating cookie crisps.. Miami Herald (now unreadable). And, yes, I would buy a compilation softcover.

  6. Totally loved it, one of the great edgy comics with real laughs. Would buy a book of Arnold comics right away, if Kevin McCormick ever drew one….just saying! There's that all-important 1st sale.

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