“Do We Have Any Birthdays to Celebrate?”

Yes, indeed, we do! In fact, for a couple different reasons, 2024 is a comic-strip-history banner year for birthdays.

Ninety-five years ago the adventure strip era began in January 1929, with the advent of the Nowlan/Calkins Buck Rogers in the 25th Century A.D. and Hal Foster’s debut depicting Edgar Rice Burroughs’s immortal Tarzan! We reprinted that first Foster work as an LOAC Essentials volume in 2015:

Today, it’s not always easy to understand that “darkest Africa” was still a mystery to most Americans, and Tarzan was so popular he would spend decades conquering every mass medium; this ballyhoo in advance of the comic strip’s launch in the Tacoma, Washington News Tribune captures the way many readers felt about Lord Greystoke and his world:

As two additional candles to put atop this 95th birthday cake, here is Foster’s first strip in the series, along with a more Tarzan-centric strip from about five weeks later in the run:

Five years later, the popularity of both Buck and Tarzan — coupled with the Tribune News Syndicate’s hit crime series, Dick Tracy — brought King Features into the adventure realm with three new features drawn by the young Alex Raymond. The Flash Gordon/Jungle Jim Sunday page also bowed on January 7th, 1934. Even more widely anticipated than that science-fiction/jungle-thriller twin bill was “hardboiled” mystery author Dashiell Hammett’s comic strip venture, teamed with Raymond: Secret Agent X-9. Here’s the inaugural installment of that strip, from January 22, 1934:

Note how a major newspaper like the Philadelphia Inquirer gave X-9 above-the-masthead promotion in their Monday morning edition:

We collected X-9’s earliest adventures in one large, eye-catching 2015 volume:

Then Mandrake the Magician bowed late in the first half of 1934, . A run of almost eight decades began with his June 11th daily. We’ve moved a few years beyond Mandrake‘s launch to share two tasty magician-related tidbits with you: first, a photo-with-caption from the Richmond, Virginia News Leader circa late January, 1937 features master prestidigitator Harry Blackstone admiring an adventure of his fictional comrade-in-conjuring, and from that same year, a full-page Mandrake installment all the way from Sydney, Australia, by way of a publication known as The Australian Women’s Weekly! Again, click each image for an isolated view:

So — Happy 95th to Hal Foster’s interpretation of Tarzan, and Happy 90th to X-9 (and Flash and Jungle Jim), and Mandrake and Lothar, as well!

We didn’t forget that there are a few other comic strip-related 90th birthdays that also occur in 2024! We’re saving those for a celebration to come in the second half of the year.

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