thrift store finds: hi and lois- say cheese

(Thrift Store Finds is a mostly-weekly “column” of sorts where I discuss some of the cool books I’ve happened upon in my neighborhood St. Vincent DePaul store. Please don’t mistake me for an expert on any of the books I am writing about… I’m just a fan of a bargain.)

Today’s find is Hi and Lois: Say Cheese, published by Tor Books in 1987.

I believe I paid fifty cents for this paperback. Cover price back in ’87 was an absolutely crazy $3.50 cents. Regardless of date, I got the better deal on this collection.

The suburban family comic has been running in our local paper for as long as I can remember. It’s about as toothless and inoffensive as newspaper strips get and although I’ve enjoyed the two other strips created by Mort Walker and Dik Browne, I’ve never been a great fan of this particular comic.

For the record, Hagar the Horrible (Brown’s creation) and Beetle Bailey (another Walker strip) are pretty lame most days, but they have it over Hi and Lois in that the situations in those comics are unique. To my knowledge, there is only one viking/barbarian strip in American newspapers… and only one surviving military strip. At a glance, you’ll find close to a hundred or so “here’s a family from the ‘burbs, lookit how funny they are” comics in syndication. Many of them are quite a bit more interesting and innovative than Hi and Lois ever was during my time as a regular reader of the comic.

That being said, I had no idea how long Hi and Lois has been running in newspapers until doing some light Googling for today’s TSF. The comic debuted in 1954! I suppose one of the reasons why I never realized that is the way the creators always seemed to be shoehorning trends into the comic. Again, the comic was bland as heck… but it did feature endless gags about eldest son Chip’s love of video games and gadgets, a distinctly modern spin on the teenage archetype.

Reading through this collection, I was surprised at how many strips collected here marked the strip as a product of the mid 1950’s/1960’s. To wit, this panel with Trixie getting into the products underneath the Flagston cupboard wouldn’t cut the mustard these days, I fear:

Am I wrong? Does anyone else read that as her eatin’ Comet Bathroom Cleaner?

Also on display here is a character who still exists in the current incarnation of Hi and Lois but in a greatly neutered capacity: the Flagston’s neighbor Thirsty Thurston. Here’s an example of a Thirsty strip collected here:

The boozy lush was a well-trod comedic trope pretty much until the 1980’s and Thirsty fits that bill right down to his first name. I therefore find it remarkable to think back on my time reading the strip in newspapers in the ’80’s and ’90’s without being able to recall one instance where Thirsty was drunk! Walker, Browne, and company effectively white-washed the alcoholic out of Thirsty. I recall him being unreliable and a bit of a layabout but that’s all the characterization I took away from his portrayal in the strip.

For the record, I VASTLY prefer the two strips above to any printed under my own childhood readership. The strips collected in Say Cheese show a level of craft I’m not used to associating with Hi and Lois. I mean… look at the first panel of this strip and TELL me that’s not an effective drawing light years ahead of what’s currently being printed in newspapers:

I mean… I could take or leave the rest of the comic, but that first panel is a better drawing than anything I’ve ever seen in Hi and Lois! Most of these strip bear similar distinguishing features; it’s clear that many of these strips were plucked from relatively early in Hi and Lois’ run, because the creators weren’t simply phoning it in. To wit:

I like the way this strip juggles various perspectives. I like the way it has several different settings over the course of eight panels. As with Thirsty strip and the Trixie panel above, I like how it’s vaguely risque, but not in an over-the-top kind of way. Would that more strips in newspapers today look and feel more like this comic. Hell, it would be great if the Hi and Lois of 2011 aspired to be the Hi and Lois of 1960 or 70 or whenever women were wearing pantsuits.

As far as the design of this book, Say Cheese has, bar none, the WORST presentation of strips I have seen in my almost-two years of reading/collecting/writing about comic paperbacks. This has been a pet peeve of mine since I started Thrift Store Finds. I recognize these paperbacks weren’t intended to be archived and saved. Most of the books I look at here were cheapie print runs designed to be sold to children or teenagers, and destined for the trash bin.

Recognizing that, it still bothers me when it looks as though almost no forethought went into the presentation of comic strips. Look at the way Tor Books chose to run this Hi and Lois strip:

Look at that last panel? What’s going on with that?!? Why even bother running this comic in a print collection? It’s not as though it’s an amazing work of genius to begin with. There have to be hundreds of other Trixie comics they could have used. It makes my head hurt to look at the junky way these comics were sent out into the world.

Also, for the record: In none of these comics to Hi, Lois, and their kids go to London. The cover promises us London, the book never delivers. Sorry Anglophiles… or, you’re very welcome not to have had your country so besmirched, Anglophiles.

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