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!