Thursday, November 25, 2010

Hey kids! Comics and Paper Dolls!

When I gleamed on posting on paper dolls in comics earlier this week, I figured it would be quick research of something that shows up sporadically.
I could not have been more wrong.
Paper dolls in comics turns out to be a labyrinthine topic, covering the entire history of comics!
The first thing that comes to mind, of course, is Sugar & Spike.
Sugar & Spike remains one of the most imaginative, smart, least appreciated and least reprinted comics in the history of DC.
These two babies, who spoke their own language, the language all babies talk regardless of species (or age- they're able to speak baby-talk with Spike's grandpa, who has entered his second childhood), are next-door neighbors and sort-of boyfriend/girlfriend (Sugar calls Spike "dollface"). The babies  have their own language and amazing adventures. Smart, funny comics for kids that stand up to grownup readings.
The paper dolls included fashions submitted by readers, who were sometimes rewarded with original art.
As a sidebar, early in the development of the kids' cable network Nickelodeon, they were light on programming, not having a lot of ready cash for licensing. So they hired an animation company named Klasky-Csupo to make animatics of comics- a hceaper license. They'd move the camera from panel to panel, zoom in and out and pan a bit, and dub in a soundtrack based on the script of the comics.
Needless to say, one of the comics they used for this was Sugar & Spike.
AS K-C picked up steam, they developed a property named Rugrats- a story about babies who speak their own language and have amazing adventures.
The next thing that comes to mind is fashion and romance comics!
The best-known of these in contemporary circles, if the 1950s on can still be considered contemporary, are Marvel's "chick comics", Patsy & Hedy and the various Millie the Model series. Both families of books changed tone repeatedly, bouncing back and forth from gag books to soap opera career narratives (before becoming the super-mutant Hellcat, Patsy Walker was a nurse, and Millie and her rival Chili worked for the Hanover modeling agency).
Again, reader-inspired fashions figure in.  I have an original Al Hartley paper doll page that I'll add to this entry after I can get at the scanner again.
But the grandmama of all comic book paper dolls just has to be Bill Woggon's Katy Keene! The character, begun in 1947, still has revivals to this day in the Archie line, but none can compare to Woggon's original work.
This one dates from 1947, and was featured on a webpage devoted to the Paper Doll Convention!
Paper dolls were, of course, marketed as toys on their own apart from comics.
The earliest paper dolls I've ever seen in comics were in Vincent Fago's Peter Rabbit comics. Here's an example of Fago's charming, energetic art.
The first black woman cartoonist, Jackie Ormes, also did paper dolls in her strips. However, these were not reader-inspired, but were based entirely on Ormes' own designs, possibly related to her doll-marketing strategy. While her character Torchy (no relation to the Bill Ward character) did not have a doll, Ormes did market a high-end baby doll for black girls.

Two more come to mind.
The first is Katherine Collins' (nee' Arn Saba's) Neil the Horse. Since Katherine dropped off the map after moving back to Canada (our mutual friend Trina thinks Katherine's Leukemia may have returned and gotten the better of her), this piece may be the last Neil the Horse page to be published. Again, posting Neil paper dolls will have to wait till I have scanner access.

Finally, we cannot discuss paper dolls without mentioning Trina Robbins.
Trina's paper dolls range from Barbie Comics to California Girls and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a queer street troupe of cross-dressing nuns in San Francisco.

Trina's also the only comics creator I know of to do a paper doll of herself!

Obviously, this is far from exhaustive and more research/posting is in order.
For now, Let's leave it with a Batman paper doll from the Sunday Superman strip of the 1980s!


  1. Oops! While Jackie Ormes probably made some fashion designs herself, she actually did use readers' designs in her Torchy's Togs paper doll cut-outs (1950-54). Her Torchy doll had a word balloon and she spoke to readers, asking them to send her their designs. People from all over the U.S. sent her drawings and ideas and she often included them in the panel. Ormes once connected with a catalog service so you could order the clothing she showed; obviously real clothing available for purchase and not her own design. Also she produced fashion shows and probably got many ideas from the fashions in the shows. The doll-making enterprise was earlier than Torchy and was modeled on her little girl character, Patty-Jo, in a single panel cartoon, Patty-Jo 'n' Ginger (1947-49). Note that in the word balloon in the Torchy's Togs that you show she is speaking to women readers and suggests that they dress up for when "your fighting man comes home on leave." Pretty cool piece of history that refers to the Korean War!

  2. How embarrassing, especially since I recently read your wonderful book on Jackie!
    But thanks for the correction- always welcome and great to know I have such cool readers!

  3. Loved it, especially Trina! I used to collect these when I was younger, though not from comics. Thanks for posting.

  4. The good news - Sugar & Spike IS going to be reprinted next year. The bad news? It's going to be extremely expensive to buy a single book.

    It's this overpricing method that's scared me off from buying the $75 collection of Polly & Her Pals. Apparently, American comic companies still haven't learned from their competitors on how to market their books to a wider audience. Thankfully the John Stanley library has more reasonable rates.

  5. Agreed concerning the pricing. You can usually get them cheaper on Ebay or Amazon, but that doesn't solve the larger issue of overall pricing. The standard canard on this point is that the price of the book remains less than the back issues, but that's disingenuous.
    I wonder how the European book market compares to US? More research is needed...
    In any event, rest assured that I will be buying the Sugar & Spike book tout de suite (when it comes out, of course)! Thanks for posting and for reading my stuff!

  6. Any more thoughts on this Diana? Wishing so. It seems to me there's been a paper doll scanning craze in the last year or so. I wonder where else you would lead us ...

  7. Great article, and I learned some things I hadn't known. One slight correction, though; I'm a big Sugar & Spike fan, and I must point out that Sugar called Spike "doll-boy", not "doll-face". And I believe there's a reason for that other than her fondness for him. I haven't read the first story where they meet, but a fan did ask how it happened in a letters page, and it turns out that when Sugar first met Spike, she actually thought he was a doll, and not a real boy. So the nickname stuck even after she was convinced he was a real baby.