With the Amazing Spider-man comic strip going to reprints for the time being, Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s run on the strip has come to an end. March 17 was the last Sunday with March 23 being the last daily.
The Spider-Man strip started out January 3, 1977 written by Stan Lee and drawn by John Romita. Following Stan Lee’s run on the strip Roy Thomas had written the strip uncredited for a number of years (more on that at SyFy.com). Artists that followed Romita included Fred Kida, Larry Lieber, and most recently Alex Saviuk with Joe Sinnott inks.
After the announcement of the strip’s finale, Joe Sinnott’s son Mark posted the following to his Dad’s Facebook page.
Truly the end of an era!
With adventure strips being far and few between on today’s comics page, I thought it would be of interest to look at a few notable comic strip finales.
Buz Sawyer was created by Roy Crane and first appeared November 1, 1943. Crane worked on the strip until his death in 1977.
For more in-depth info on Buz Sawyer I defer to Ray Contreras for the following info.
“Henry (Hank) Schlensker joined Crane right after the war (Schlensker had been a flyer in the war) and started working on the BUZ Sundays as soon as he joined Crane in 1946. In 1950, looking to ease his workload on the daily strip, Crane moved Schlensker from the Sundays to the daily strip. Around 1969, due to chronic ulcers, Roy Crane stepped back from the strip completely. Ed Granberry, who had been assisting on the writing, took it over completely; and Schlensker worked on the art for the daily, as he had basically for many, many years; only now without Crane’s involvement. Clark Haas and later Al Wenzel drew the Sunday after Crane switched Schlensker to the daily. Crane would look at the finished product, but after working years on the strip (both daily and Sunday), Schlensker and Granberry knew their stuff.“
Henry (Hank) Schlensker continued on Buz Sawyer after Crane’s death in 1977. After Schlensker’s retirement John Celardo took the reigns, working on Buz from 1983–1989. Upon Celardo’s sign-off, King Features discontinued the strip.
Buck Rogers by writer Philip Francis Nowlan and artist Dick Calkins debuted on January 7, 1929. Writers following Nolan included Rick Yager (who also drew it), Jack Lehti, Ray Russell, Fritz Leiber and Howard Liss. Artists following Calkins included Russell Keaton, Rick Yager and George Tuska.
Howard Liss and George Tuska’s finale strip appeared June 13, 1965.
The strip was given a second life in 1979 by writer Jim Lawrence and artist Gray Morrow, followed by writer Cary Bates and artist Jack Sparling. The finale strip appearing December 25, 1983.
One of the most memorable finales for a comic strip happened before the strip in question actually even ended. I’m talking of course of Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates.
Looking to have the financial stability of ownership of his strip (something Caniff was denied at Tribune-News Syndicate with Terry), he accepted an offer from the Field Newspaper Syndicate to create a new strip that he would have ownership of. That strip would be Steve Canyon.
In Caniff’s iconic final Sunday page Terry says goodbye to Jane Allen as Caniff says goodbye to his Terry and the Pirates readers.
The story so far – Romance is in the air for Terry and Jane Allen until it’s discovered that her old flame, Snake Tumblin, is still alive and in a base hospital somewhere in Australia. Sacrificing his own happiness, Terry secures Jane a flight and escorts her to the airfield…
That last panel is the killer as Caniff adds a double meaning to the writing on the wall.
As pointed out by R.C. Harvey in the foreward to the Complete Terry and the Pirates Volume 6, the Sunday page was not the last strip Caniff drew. Because the Sunday pages were due well in advance of the dailies, the following daily strip – printed the day before the momentous final Sunday page – was actually the last strip drawn.
Caniff’s replacement on Terry and the Pirates would be George Wunder, who would go on to draw the strip for another 26 years. Here’s Wunder’s last Sunday page.
Terry and the Pirates would be revived in 1995 by Michael Uslan with art by the Brothers Hildebrandt. The following year they left the strip and were replaced by writer Jim Clark and artist Dan Spiegle. A year after that the strip was discontinued.
Secret Agent X-9 began on January 22, 1934. It was created by writer Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) and drawn by artist Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon). Writers that followed Hammett in those early years included Don Moore and Leslie Charteris. The artists that followed after Raymond left the strip were Nicholas Afonsky and Austin Briggs. In the 1940s Mel Graff took over the writing and drawing chores, followed by Bob Lubbers (pseudonym “Bob Lewis”) in the 1960s.
From 1967 to 1980 the strip was written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by Al Williamson and relaunched as Secret Agent Corrigan. Here’s Goodwin and Williamson’s last strip from February 2, 1980.
Following Goodwin and Williamson was veteran cartoonist George Evans. Evans would write and draw the strip until 1980. Upon Evans’s decision to retire from producing the strip, King opted to discontinue it.
Another comic strip Alex Raymond started back in 1934 was the topper to his famous Flash Gordon strip, and that was Jungle Jim. Artists that followed Raymond on the strip were John Mayo and Paul Norris. After a 20 year run Jungle Jim wrapped up in 1954.
Rip Kirby premiered March 4, 1946 and was also created by Alex Raymond. Raymond’s work on Rip Kirby would win him the Reuben Award in 1949 for “Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year.”
Alex Raymond’s career was cut short in 1956, when at age 46, he was killed in a car crash. King Features sought out a replacement and found it in John Prentice. After John Prentice died in 1999 (after an amazing 43 year run on Rip Kirby) the decision was made by King Features to discontinue the strip. Frank Bolle would ghost the final week (to “ghost“ is when an artist fills in for another artist by mimicking his style).
Alex Raymond’s most renowned comic strip, Flash Gordon, first appeared January 7, 1934. It has had a number of artists and writers over the years (myself included), some of whom I highlighted on this Sunday page.
The Flash Gordon Dailies were discontinued on two occasions. The first in 1944 shows Flash, Dale and Dr. Zarkov in a ticker tape parade having returned from Mongo after successfully saving the Earth.
The dailies were revived in the 1950s with artist Dan Barry at the helm. In 1990 the dailies were taken over by Bruce Jones as writer and Ralph Reese as artist, followed by artist Gray Morrow upon Reese’s departure. A Buenos Aires studio of artists were hired in 1991 with writing alternating between Kevin Van Hook and Thomas Warkentin. The last daily would be in 1993
Meanwhile the Flash Gordon Sunday page had been running continuously since 1934. I started my tenure writing/drawing Flash on January 21, 1996. It was a fun run, but after a failed contract renegotiation, I deciding to bow out. My last strip, and Flash Gordon’s finale, appeared March 16, 2003.
The inspiration for my sign-off was the ending of the first Flash Gordon serial starring Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon), Jean Rogers (Dale Arden) and Frank Shannon (Dr. Zarkov).
Originally I had a slightly more surreal ending planned in a Sunday page I did in collaboration with Mutts creator Patrick McDonnell. It was never meant to be though as the page was rejected by the editor up at King Features – his thoughts being “It really didn’t work as a Flash Gordon page.”
Patrick did an end run though and asked the editor, that if it wasn’t going to see print as a Flash Gordon page, could it be used as a Mutts page. The go ahead was given and it eventual saw print on March 23, 2003 as a Mutts Sunday page (with the Flash Gordon title kept intact).
Note: As mentioned, these are just a FEW notable adventure strip finales. Any more you think are missing? Enter your suggestions in the comments section below.
Adventure strips reigned when newspapers comic strips were printed large and there was room to tell a story. Just compare the two Sunday pages below from 1934 and 2002.
Since 2002 (the image on the above right) comic strip Sunday pages have regrettably shrunken even smaller. Here’s an example of my hometown paper the Star Tribune (my hand shown on the bottom left for scale). Unless you have a jewelers eye loupe you’re at a loss…
Here’s a comic page artist Terry Beatty (Ms. Tree, Rex Morgan M.D.) wrote and drew for Big Funny back in 2009 that really drives the point home.
Granted all is not doom and gloom – whereas adventure strips in the newspaper may be withering on the vine, we’re in a golden age as far as comic strip collections being published. Check out the Library of American Comics, and Fantagraphics to name just a few.
I also feel like comic strips, and in particular continuity strips, are being given a renewed life and readership online as fans of the medium now have the ability to binge weeks worth at a time. The big two comic strip sites being King Feature’s Comics Kingdom and AMU’s GoComics.
And even though comic book sales have shrunk over the years, graphic novels have increased in popularity. From a recent article in Publishers Weekly;“Over the past five years, the North American graphic novel market has welcomed a wave of new readers and grown from about $805 million in sales in 2012 to more than $1 billion in 2017.”
In the early 1900s onwards comic strips reigned supreme. By the 1940s comic books had taken off. In the 1960s indie comics/undergrounds entered the fray. In the 1980s self-published/alternative comics joined in at the same time graphic novels were just getting their sea legs. In the 1990s online content joined the mix. And now in the 21st century graphic novels have taken flight. And that’s not to say comic strips and comic books have been replaced and have gone away, it’s just that they aren’t the only game in town anymore.
Cartoons, comics, graphic novels – whatever you want to call it – the packaging keeps changing, but sequential art is just as popular now as it’s ever been. And as long as the stories are strong and the artwork delivers, the art form will continue to have an audience.
And that’s my two cents. See you in the funny papers…
John Prentice (1920-1999) was born on October 17 in Whitney, Texas. From 1940-1946 he served in the Navy. Having survived the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he went on to serve on two destroyers through eight major military campaigns.
Having briefly attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, he moved to New York in 1947 where he worked on everything from comic books to magazine covers. Following Alex Raymond’s death in 1956 Prentice was chosen to carry on the strip and did so for 43 years.
His work on Kirby was awarded the National Cartoonists Society’s silver plaque for best story strip three times and Rip Kirby is an honorary member of the honor legion of the New York City police department.
Rip Kirby celebrates his fiftieth anniversary as a syndicated comic strip in 1996, due in no small part to the excellent work done by John Prentice, who has done the strip for forty years.
John Prentice’s work remains on a level above many other story strips. The point-of-view angles move constantly; characters make eye contact with the reader; the Raymond technique of the establishing landscape continues; and creative and unique crosshatching is used.
Rip Kirby is a mature story strip with a bright future. Many hope that King Features will realize this and give Rip Kirby the promotional and sales push it seems to have lacked from the syndicate for many years.
Back in 1999 when John Prentice passed away I contacted some of his colleagues in the industry. They were kind enough to share the following reminiscences.
An immense talent. A consummate craftsman with a rock-solid work ethic. A man generous with his talents, gracious to his fans and a devout family man. John’s wonderful sense of humor was capable of taking twists and turns before hitting you on the funny-bone. Being with John was knowing you were at the best party in town… and knowing John was one of life’s little perks.
Dick Hodgins Hagar – Henry
I first heard of John on the occasion of Alex Raymond’s untimely death in an automobile accident. The question on everyone’s lips was, “Who is capable of carrying on Rip Kirby?” George Raymond, Alex’s younger brother (and my assistant at the time) told me that John Prentice had been selected as Alex’s successor. The rest is history.
John had a wonderful sense of humor and was always a very gracious and generous person. Everyone liked and admired him and his work. He liked to tell stories of his naval career and always had an appreciative audience. In his later years he was fortunate to marry Antonia who proved to be an excellent helpmate. We will all miss John.
John Cullen Murphy Prince Valiant – Big Ben Bolt
I first met John in January of 1960. He was looking for an assistant to go down to Mexico with him to help him out on “Rip Kirby”. I learned a lot from John Prentice. It was great working with him. It was fun. We were good friends – I’ll miss him.
Al Williamson Star Wars – Secret Agent Corrigan
John Prentice was a close and admired friend. One of the foremost black and white illustrators in the United States. He was an extremely brave man. How else can you describe a young sailor who in the middle of all the strafing and bombing at Pearl Harbor commandeered an admiral’s tender and went out into the harbor looking for a gun to fire at the attacking Japanese? From then on he was on a destroyer involved in almost every big Pacific island battle.
He approached his “Rip Kirby” strip like an illustrator. After reading a new sequence script, he researched every detail. Using his vast personal morgue, he checked costume, architecture, geography, everything. It slowed him down, but oh, it was beautiful… and it made him one of the top adventure strip cartoonists. John was a sincere, decent man. We all loved him.
Gill Fox Side Glances – Golden Age Comics
I’ve known John Prentice for 45 years. We’ve shared a studio. I assisted him for years since he started “Rip Kirby”. We’ve been close friends all those years. I enjoyed John’s good sense of humor and knowing him was to know someone who was always kind, honest, fair and always a true gentleman.
Frank Bolle Heart of Juliet Jones – Winnie Winkle
After John Prentice died the decision was made by King Features to discontinue the Rip Kirby comic strip. Here is the final week of Rip Kirby dailies ghosted by Frank Bolle that wrapped up the last storyline.
Examples of John Prentice’s work on Rip Kirby.
To see more of John Prentice’s exceptional work on Rip Kirby, check out Rip Kirby Volumes 5-11 from IDW Publishing – Highly recommended!