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Remembering the fun of Sunday ‘Funnies’

A cartoon character named Ziggy was created in the mid-1960s and has been a favorite of mine since then. He tends to take me back to childhood and what we called the Sunday “Funnies.”

Ziggy has a lot of quotes about happiness, and from those comic features in the 1930s and 1940s I found a lot of happiness on Sunday afternoons. One of the quotes, “Memories are illustrations from the storybook of our life,” sort of framed these memories from decades ago.

Growing up in the country during the years of the Great Depression, there were not many games to play and fewer neighbors. Not a lot of outside interests for a small child. Radio broadcasting was in its infancy and television was still very much in a test stage. Our family received a daily newspaper, delivered Monday through Saturday by a rural route mail carrier.

Although I learned early to read and enjoy the daily paper, it was in the Sunday comics where I found greater enjoyment on Sunday afternoon. Because we lived on a farm several miles from the nearest highway, my father would drive out to a large grocery store and purchase the day’s newspaper containing some of what today are historic characters, several featured on U.S. postage stamps.

Some of my earliest recollections are of Blondie, the Katzenjammer Kids, Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, and Li’l Abner and Daisy Mae.

The Katzenjammer Kids, twin boys with an older brother, were introduced in 1897 by Rudolph Dirks to readers of a New York newspaper. So, they had been around for thirty or forty years before I discovered them. Otherwise, most of those I remember more vividly were created in the 1930s.

Chic Young created the strip “Blondie” in 1930, a popular comic that lives on today in the Middlesboro Daily News and elsewhere. After almost 90 years, she’s in a well-known family that includes her husband, Dagwood and their two children, Alexander and Cookie.

Dick Tracy and a host of strange-named characters first appeared in 1931. Chester Gould was the artist, and the names he chose included “Prune Face,” “B.O. Plenty,” “Gravel Gertie,” and a baby named “Sparkle Plenty.” He and his partner used two-way radios to communicate with each other.

Donald Duck, Li’l Abner, Popeye, and others became familiar friends in the 1930s and early 1940s. A few years later, Beetle Bailey, Hagar the Horrible, Dennis the Menace, and others along with Ziggy would make it to my unforgettable list of comic strip characters.

Looking back, one might wonder if the Great Depression may have increased the opportunity for the artists to entertain folks who had limited entertainment in those difficult years. Regardless, finding happiness on a Sunday afternoon was made easier for a young boy on a Claiborne County farm.

William H. Baker is a native of Claiborne County and a former resident of Middlesboro. His email address: wbaker@limestone.edu