As the comic strip nears its 100th birthday, comics and their various offshoots - comic books, cartoons, animated films and, the latest incarnation, the graphic novel - are everywhere:
- Disney's "The Little Mermaid" sold 8 million videotapes in nine months.- Batman and Dick Tracy hit the wide screen in major films meant more for grown-ups than kids.
- The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, having set box-office records with a live-action movie, have expanded their cartoon series to an hour-long network show airing Saturday mornings, a national tour with a live, rock music show and with a newspaper comic strip (starting Dec. 10 in the Deseret News).
- "The Flash," DC Comics' red super-hero, is a new fall-TV series.
- "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," wedding animation with live action, was an Oscar-winning artistic and commercial success that helped spawn a full-scale animation revival.
- Disney's masterpiece, "Fantasia," is being re-released.
- Bart Simpson has nosed out the New Kids on the Block as America's most recognizable brat, emblazoned on millions of T-shirts.
- And Charlie Brown is quietly celebrating his 40th birthday.
Good ol' Charlie Brown isn't the only 'toon with an anniversary in 1990. Along with "Fantasia," Bugs Bunny and the "Nancy" strip both are turning 50, while Fred Flintstone is finding life begins at 30 as work on a live-action "Flintstones" movie gets under way.
It was on Oct. 2, 1950, that "Peanuts," Charles Schulz's introspective, mildly neurotic child's-eye view of the world first began appearing in print. Back then, it could be found in only seven newspapers. Today, with Schulz, 67, still at the helm, it remains the most popular comic strip ever, syndicated to more than 2,300 papers in 68 countries.
In many ways, "Peanuts" helped bring comics into the modern age, leading the way for the likes of "Doonesbury," "Calvin and Hobbes" and Berkeley Breathed's "Bloom County" and "Outland" strips.
"It's focused on the intimate problems of maturing and adjusting to other people and developing relationships," M. Thomas Inge, author of the book "Comics as Culture" and an authority on American popular culture, said of "Peanuts."
Comic historians trace the modern strip to 1894 and "The Yellow Kid, " a sort of turn-of-the-century Bart Simpson. Drawn by Richard Outcault, who would later create the even more popular "Buster Brown" strip, "The Yellow Kid" started a revolution. Soon, every newspaper was carrying comics.
Comic books came into being in the '30s, the best known of which was "Action Comics." Its debut issue featured a new hero named Superman.
Comics later became increasingly graphic in content, with the '50s bringing a craze in gory-horror comic books that drew much the same outcry faced by today's rap music and heavy metal. Social critics claimed the comics fostered teen violence and juvenile delinquency.
But comics survived and, in the late '60s, such adult "underground" comics as Robert Crumb's "Zaps" began appearing, bringing the sexual and political content of comics to a new high, or low, depending on your point of view.
"Both comic strips and comic books have been around long enough to mature," Inge said. "They're being taken more seriously as art. Comic strips are more sophisticated, more satirical . . ."
"These characters are really our mythical figures," he said. "In the 19th century, Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill were appropriate mythological figures in wilderness culture.
"In the 20th century, the wilderness society gave way to a technological society and Superman and Batman become more appropriate in the urban society.
"This is our folklore," he said of today's comics. "The folk aren't up there (in the hills) anymore. The folk have moved to the city and we need a new folklore, a new mythology."