Birmingham Historical Comic Strips -- Birmingham News, The Seventies
The decade started out slow; after a busy 1969, there were no changes in 1970.
In April, they dropped the panel rotation of Big George!, Brother Juniper, and Marmaduke. They also dropped The Girls, although that panel would show up on a semi-regular basis on the society page for at least a decade. In September, they dropped Pogo; in November, they picked up Archie and a Sesame Street strip that couldn't really decide what it wanted to be.
Archie Comics Publications
Sesame Street,none listed,CTW
In January, they added one of the odder (and, in my opinion, worst) panels ever to grace the comics page -- Meditation, by pop artist Peter Max. Readers would send up truisms and sayings (I never spotted a direct quote from Desiderata, but that's the direction to think in) and Max would illustrate them in his pre-New Age style. The effect was disconcerting, to say the least.
In March, they dropped Archie. In October, they dropped Sesame Street and picked up Kelly, a boy-and-anthromorphic-dog strip that works pretty well, in retrospect, as a forerunner to Calvin & Hobbes.
Meditation,Peter Max,Peter Max Enterprises
Kelly,Jack Moore,Universal Press Syndicate
1973 was the year of rotating bad panels. In March, they mercifully dropped Meditation, only to replace it with something less awful but more banal -- The Now Society. For the most part, the News has avoided the worst excesses of whatever contemporary culture was in play (much the same as the overall Birmingham area has), but they fell headfirst into this early leisure-suit-and-cocaine-tinged mess. Sample: Little girl looking into three-way dressing mirror with her mom, "Mom, when will I be old enough to get divorced?" That only lasted a couple of months, being replaced in May by Citizen Smith, a political office humor panel that lasted until November. Fortunately, that's only one spot in an overall stable, decent page at this point.
The Now Society,Wm. Hamilton,Chronicle Publishing
Citizen Smith,Dave Gerard,Register and Tribune Syndicate
In contrast, 1974 was a busy and successful year for the editors. In March, they dropped Kelly, which was a bit of a loss, and replaced it with a forgettable medical panel named Doctor Smock. In addition, they replaced the steady but never hilarious Seventeen with a decent odd-humans panel named The New Neighbors. In June, though, they dropped Doctor Smock and picked the beginning of the syndicated run of Conchy, which is so well-known as a lost treasure that it hardly qualifies as lost. In August, they made a great swap by retiring Dondi in favor of the beginning of Tank McNamara, kicking right off with the "Norts Spews" strip. In November, they dropped The New Neighbors but replaced it with the stellar Herman, meaning that in six months, they added Conchy, Tank, and Herman, a good year's work for anyone.
Doctor Smock,George Lemont,United Feature Syndicate
The New Neighbors,Bob Bugg,Chicago Tribune NY News Syndicate
Conchy,James Childress, Field Enterprises
Tank McNamara,Jef Millar and Bill Hinds,Universal Press Syndicate
Herman,Unger,Universal Press Syndicate
Then, in '75, the wheels came off for a time. On March 10, they committed one of the worst trades possible in comics history (we're talking Bagwell-for-Anderson bad here), swapping Conchy for Marmaduke. Then, in October, having had the foresight to start Tank McNamara from the beginning, they dropped it for Crock, which isn't awful but also isn't distinguishable from several other Parker/Hart-type strips they were already running.
Crock,Rechin and Parker,
Marmaduke,Anderson and Leeming,National News Syndicate
1976 was dedicated, apparently, to proving that '75 wasn't so bad by making '76 worse. First of all, in February, they dropped the artist's credit, a policy that unfortunately continues to this day. Up until this point, I've made a point of listing the artists as they were credited in the paper; since there's no real benefit to leaving that part blank, from this time, I'll just fill in where I can from web sources.
In October, they dropped Crock, replacing it with Motley's Crew. In November, they said goodbye to Kerry Drake after 33 years and replaced it with an unusual failure, Vera Valiant, Vera Valiant, a Hollywood style soap written by Stan Lee of all people. In December, they picked up Li'l Abner, which is one of the all-time greats of the comics page, but was not the sort of thing that you really wanted your editor adding by 1976.
"Vera Valiant, Vera Valiant",Stan Lee and Frank Springer,Los Angeles Times
Motley's Crew,Ben Templeton and Tom Forman,Chicago Tribune NY News Syndicate
Li'l Abner,Al Capp,New York News
The next year, on the other hand, represented a nice comeback. Not everything they tried worked, but most of it was interesting or ambitious, so they got high marks for effort. In January, they dropped Motley's Crew and added Casey, by Charlie artist Charles Rodrigues, a prison strip with essentially the same sensibilities as Charlie. In March, they added Spider-Man, which was just beginning the current story line.
In September, they moved the panels into another column (along with a square printing of Blondie) and added some interesting new strips. The easy one to describe was Shoe. The other additions were Best Seller Showcase and Star Hawks, both of which probably fall into the noble failures category, but both of which were different enough to spend some time on.
Best Seller Showcase would take a paperback fiction best seller and illustrate it in about two months time in a pulp fiction style that actually worked pretty well. During the time that the News ran the strip, they went through Raise the Titanic! by Clive Cussler, Storm Warning by Jack Higgins, The Chancellor Manuscript by Robert Ludlum, and Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. In the end I think the stories had to be truncated too much to work, but it was a decent experiment.
Star Hawks was a science fiction adventure strip that had tremendous potential. It's big demand and big plus was that it was drawn to be double-height, taking the space that two ordinary strips would take. This gave Gil Kane the room to essentially do Sunday quality art every day, and the strip is georgeous. Where it failed, in the end, was in the writing. This is surprising, since it was written by Ron Goulart, who has produced both really good science fiction and really good non-fiction about comics. Goulart's best stuff, though, is thoroughly tongue-in-cheek -- dystopian earthbound futures with malfunctioning computers and rogueish con men -- and this was done as straightforward Star Wars-inspired space opera, and it just never really grabbed.
Finally, in November, they dropped Li'l Abner and added another experiment, picking up the English-language translation of Asterix and Obelix, the French historical adventure.
Casey,Charles Rodrigues,Chicago Tribune NY News Syndicate
Best Seller Showcase,Frank Bolle and Elloit Caplin,Universal Press Syndicate
Star Hawks,Ron Goulart and Gil Kane,NEA
Asterix and Obelix,Albert Udozzo,Field Enterprises
Shoe,Jeff MacNelly, Jefferson Communications
Spider-Man,Stan Lee and Steve Ditko,Register and Tribune Syndicate
This year, most of those experiments ended. In April, Best Seller Showcase was dropped in favor of a Justice League copy called Superheroes. In June, Star Hawks was dropped for a panel called Good News Bad News and a Winnie the Pooh strip. In December, Asterix and Obelix was dropped and replaced by a strip version of Encyclopedia Brown.
Encyclopedia Brown,Donald J. Sobol,Universal Press Syndicate
Winnie the Pooh,unknown,Walt Disney Productions
'79 was another big year in shaping the current comics page, as several strips that are still there were added. In March, they dropped Good News Bad News, Encyclopedia Brown, and Superheroes, replacing them with Drabble, a short run of John Darling, and a Star Wars strip. In May, they dropped Steve Canyon and replaced it with Hagar the Horrible and then dropped John Darling to replace it with Garfield. In June, Winnie the Pooh was replaced by Latigo, a Western adventure. Finally, in September, For Better or For Worse replaced Steve Roper.
John Darling,Tom Batiuk,
Drabble,Kevin Fagan,United Feature Syndicate
For Better or For Worse, Lynn Johnston,Universal Press Syndicate
Garfield,Jim Davis, United Feature Syndicate
Hagar the Horrible,Dik Browne,King Features Syndicate
Latigo,Stan Lynde,Field Enterprises
Star Wars,Russ Manning,20th Century Fox and Black Falcon
Last Updated: November 15, 2007