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Comic strips earned stamp of approval

I admit it: It’s an obvious case of gross parental failure and surrender to the sinister electronic forces that surround us. Is it possible for the comics to compete with TV, video and rented movies? It’s a question of glitz, I suppose. Comics have no glitz.
When I was following the career of Dick Tracy, for example, I’d never even heard of glitz. I just knew that Tracy and all the other characters were arriving at my house every day, bringing new adventures that ended up with the forces of good in command.
I always considered the comics one of the best sections of the paper and I still do. Thus, even before my children were able to read, I tried interesting them in the comics, reading certain strips aloud. As they got older, and we were passing around sections of the paper, I’d never ask them whether they’d seen the editorial page or the business section.
“Have you seen the comics today?” I’d inquire. Of course I already knew the answer. I handed over the section and they feigned interest, and we played out that routine for a few years, and then we stopped. I just gave up.
With few comics readers in that generation, I occasionally worry about the future of newspaper comic pages. Will the time soon come when they fill that space with more important material, like recipes for salsa, guacamole or orzo, or self-help stories highlighting dysfunctional marriages or interviews with visiting rock musicians?
As I contemplate those grim possibilities, I’m cheered by the United States Postal Service and its colorful and authentic commemorative series of 32-cent stamps depicting some of the great comic-strip characters. I am using them exclusively now, as a tribute to people like Dick Tracy, Blondie and Popeye, characters who all played such important roles in my life.
Consider the impact of Dagwood. He was portrayed as the typical bumbling husband with a classic understanding and adoring wife, Blondie. He concocted those ridiculous huge sandwiches–and the name lives on–and he had to contend with a blustering and foolish boss, Mr. Dithers.
Those of us who read Blondie and followed Dagwood’s troubled business career and his dealings with the obnoxious Mr. Dithers were learning about the workplace: how to get along with a negative boss. If we ever encountered a Mr. Dithers, we could always remember how Dagwood handled himself.
Dick Tracy was probably my favorite as he contended with a never-ending cavalcade of villains like Flattop, Pruneface, the Mole and Mumbles. I envied Junior, Tracy’s youthful sidekick, and wondered how he could be hanging around the police station or tagging along with Tracy when he should have been in school.
The postage-stamp set includes 20 different comics, all of which were immensely popular in their time. Some–like the Yellow Kid, Little Nemo in Slumberland and Krazy Kat–were among the earliest strips, dating to the late 19th and 20th centuries. Most of the others started later and continued for years.
The Katzenjammer Kids are in the group–the mischievous Hans and Fritz–and so are Flash Gordon, Bringing up Father (with Jiggs and Maggie), Terry and the Pirates, Barney Google, Prince Valiant, and Li’l Abner with Daisy Mae in a scene from Dogpatch. Little Orphan Annie is on a stamp, with her loyal dog, Sandy; Nancy is honored, with her buddy Sluggo; and Brenda Starr, one of the most glamorous of newspaper reporters, has a stamp showing her reading the latest edition of the Daily Flash.
The United States Postal Service has been making a new impression in recent years with its commemorative issues of truly unique stamps. Some are just too good to mail, and that’s part of the USPS strategy. Not every stamp sold is affixed to a letter and mailed; that helps the USPS balance its budget. For years, I bought the same dreary stamps used by most people.
Not anymore. Now my stamps are chosen with care from the changing offerings at the post office. The comics are my current favorites. My regret is that my children can’t appreciate the significance of seeing Brenda Starr, Popeye, Dick Tracy and the others on a postage stamp.
(Dick Hirsch always takes his licks.)


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