Birmingham Historical Comic Strips -- Birmingham News, The Eighties

For me, personally, the 1980's were the decade when I went through both high school and college. For most people, that would mean that a lot of my personal tastes in art would be cemented there. For the most part, that turns out not to be true -- I listen to some '80's music but am more prone to go with the '60's or early '90's if I listen to pop at all, and I find '80's TV to be pretty close to the low point of the genre. In comics, though, this is definitely the time period that shaped my views from then on. Some of that is just the coincidence of the age, but I think there's a good case to be made for this being a period of strong influence on the industry as a whole. For better or worse, Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, and Bloom County shaped the modern comic strip -- of the major archetypes of current strips, those three make up about half (I'd say the others are probably Mary Worth, Gasoline Alley filtered through For Better or Worse, and Dilbert).

Another feature of the '80's, if I may generalize from the News and guess a bit here, is that the pace of change began to slow down. When I finish up with the News daily page in a couple of months, I'm going to do some overall statistical analysis, but my gut instinct is that the number of changes per year dropped off a good bit in this decade.


In April, they dropped the Star Wars adventure strip, which had been going on about the Kessel Run for far too long, to pick up Brant Parker and Don Wilder's Goosemyer, a decent political office humor strip about a low-ranking Senator. That lasted until September, when they dropped it, moved Blondie back over to strip format, and picked up The Far Side.

Goosemyer,Brant Parker and Don Wilder,none listed
The Far Side,Gary Larson,Chronicle Features


1981 looked busier than it was, really. In February they picked a Dallas strip based on the all-conquering TV show. Since they wanted to let Spider-Man finish the current story line (supply your own punch line, please), they dropped The Far Side for a couple of weeks and then brought it back when they dropped Spider-Man in March. In September, they picked up Guy and Brad Gilchrist's first strip, based on the Muppets TV show, and did a similar thing, moving Marmaduke to a different part of the paper until they dropped Dallas in October.

Dallas,Jim Lawrence and Ron Harris,none listed
Muppets,Guy and Brad Gilchrist,King Features Syndicate


The only change for the year came in April, as they dropped Muppets in favor of The Evermores, a happily-ever-after gag-a-day from Mort Walker.

The Evermores,Mort Walker,King Features Syndicate


In January, they decided to just squeeze in one more strip on one of the columns, adding Sally Forth. In March, they dropped The Evermores and replaced it with Wiley Miller's first strip, a family life strip centered around a teenaged boy named Fenton. In May, they dropped Latigo and restored everything to its original size.

Fenton,Wiley Miller,Field Enterprises
Sally Forth,Greg Howard, Field Enterprises


In March, Fenton, which was fairly short-lived nationally, was replaced by On the Fastrack. That only lasted until August, when it was replaced by Can You Solve the Mystery?, which looked a lot like Encyclopedia Brown without all those annoying licensing issues. In October, they added a couple of strips through the magic of compression, adding Rose Is Rose and Mother Goose and Grimm.

On the Fastrack,Bill Holbrook,King Features Syndicate
Rose Is Rose,Pat Brady,United Feature Syndicate
Can You Solve the Mystery?,Jim Lawrence and Fran Matera,Meadowbrook Creations
Mother Goose and Grimm, Mike Peters,Tribune Media Services


In February, Rose Is Rose gave way to Middle Ages, a humor strip about a middle-aged guy and his middle-aged friends. In March, Can You Solve the Mystery? was replaced by Luann. In November, Middle Ages was replaced by Calvin and Hobbes.

One thing I was struck by in seeing C&H right from the beginning in the paper was just how little the strip changed during its run. The very first strip, where Hobbes is caught using a tuna sandwich as bait, is almost identical in artistic style to the very last strip, and the writing was sharp right from the start. That's both good and bad, obviously, since it meant that there wasn't a break-in period with this strip, but it also meant that Watterson had to feel hemmed in by his own talents.

Middle Ages,Ron Jaudon,Washington Post Writers Group
Calvin and Hobbes,Bill Watterson,Universal Press Syndicate
Luann,Greg Evans,News America Syndicate


No changes were made in 1986.


In January, they began running Out of Bounds on the stats page in the sports section. In April, they dropped Redeye and picked up Gamin and Patches, a strip aimed at younger kids about a boy and his talking dog. One of the reasons that some strips never die is that there's never a junction point where there's a reason to think about them; I wonder what the reason for thinking about Redeye at this point after a 20-year run was.

Gamin and Patches,unknown,United Feature Syndicate
Out of Bounds,Rechin and Wilder,North America Syndicate


In January they replaced Gamin and Patches with Ernie, the forerunner of the present Piranha Club.

Ernie,Bud Grace,King Features Syndicate


In January they replaced Ernie with the Pogo revival. In August, they dropped Out of Bounds and put In the Bleachers on the sports page.

Pogo,Doyle and Sternecky, L. A. Times Syndicate
In the Bleachers,Steve Moore,Tribune Media Services

The Nineties

Last Updated: December 7, 2007