The Evolution of Sunday Comics: A Colorful History

The Evolution of Sunday Comics: A Colorful History

The Sunday comics, also affectionately known as the “funnies,” have held a special place in the hearts of newspaper readers for generations. These vibrant and entertaining comic strips have been a staple of weekend leisure, captivating audiences with diverse stories, characters, and humor. In this article, we delve into the rich history of Sunday comics, exploring their origins, evolution, and enduring popularity.

Sunday Comics

The Sunday comics or Sunday strip is the comic strip section carried in most western newspapers. Compared to weekday comics, Sunday comics tend to be full pages and are in color. Many newspaper readers called this section the Sunday funnies, the funny papers or simply the funnies.


The first US newspaper comic strips appeared in the late 19th century, closely allied with the invention of the color press. Jimmy Swinnerton’s The Little Bears introduced sequential art and recurring characters in William Randolph Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner. In the United States, the popularity of color comic strips sprang from the newspaper war between Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. Some newspapers, such as Grit, published Sunday strips in black-and-white, and some (mostly in Canada) print their Sunday strips on Saturday.

Subject Matter and Genres

Subject matter and genres have ranged from adventure, detective and humor strips to dramatic strips with soap opera situations, such as Mary Worth. A continuity strip employs a narrative in an ongoing storyline. Other strips offer a gag complete in a single episode, such as Little Iodine and Mutt and Jeff. The Sunday strip is contrasted with the daily comic strip, published Monday through Saturday, usually in black and white.

Popular Strips

Famous American full-page Sunday strips include Alley Oop, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, Blondie, Bringing Up Father, Buck Rogers, Captain Easy, Flash Gordon, and Thimble Theatre. Such classics have found a new home in book collections of recent years.

Role of the Color Press

After the publisher of the Chicago Inter-Ocean saw the first color press in Paris at the offices of Le Petit Journal, he had his own color press operating late in 1892. At the New York Recorder, manager George Turner had R. Hoe & Co. design a color press, and the Recorder published the first American newspaper color page on April 2, 1893. In 1894, Pulitzer introduced the Sunday color supplement.

Sunday Strip Layout

Early Sunday strips usually filled an entire newspaper page. Later strips, such as The Phantom and Terry and the Pirates, were usually only half that size, with two strips to a page in full-size newspapers, such as the New Orleans Times Picayune, or with one strip on a tabloid page, as in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Revivals and Other Formats

During the 1950s, there were a few short-lived attempts to revive the full-page Sunday strip. Other formats for Sunday strips include the half-page, the third of a page, the quarter page, the tabloid page or tab, and the half tab, short for half of a tabloid page.

The Birth of Sunday Comics

The inception of Sunday comics is closely intertwined with the development of color printing technology. In the late 19th century, newspapers in the United States were on the brink of a transformative era. Jimmy Swinnerton’s “The Little Bears” is often credited as one of the earliest instances of sequential art and recurring characters in American newspapers. This pioneering comic strip debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner, marking a significant step toward creating Sunday comics as we know them today.

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The emergence of color comic strips can be attributed to the fierce rivalry between newspaper tycoons William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. As they vied for readership, they sought innovative ways to attract audiences. During this newspaper war, color comic strips gained immense popularity thanks to the introduction of color presses. While some publications, like “Grit,” continued to feature Sunday strips in black and white, many embraced color, adding a vibrant dimension to these comics.

Diverse Subjects and Genres

Sunday comics have never been limited to a single genre or subject matter. They have spanned a broad spectrum of themes, offering something for readers of all tastes. Some of the most prominent genres included adventure, detective stories, humor, and even dramatic strips with soap opera-like narratives, such as “Mary Worth.”

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Continuity strips, with their ongoing storylines, became a hallmark of Sunday comics. These strips kept readers engaged week after week as they followed the exploits of beloved characters. In contrast, other strips offered quick gags or humorous anecdotes in a single episode, such as “Little Iodine” and “Mutt and Jeff.”

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The Sunday strip stands in contrast to its daily counterpart, typically published from Monday to Saturday and often in black and white. However, many comic strips appeared both daily and on Sundays. Some told the same story in both formats, while others, like “The Phantom,” featured entirely different Sunday narratives.

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Several strips, like “Prince Valiant,” were exclusive to Sundays, immersing readers in epic tales only on weekends. Conversely, strips like “Rip Kirby” remained daily-only features and never graced the colorful pages of the Sunday comics. Sometimes, Sunday strips, like “Buz Sawyer,” served as spin-offs, exploring different characters and storylines from their daily counterparts.

Iconic Sunday Comics

Over the years, numerous Sunday comic strips have captured readers’ hearts and left an indelible mark on the medium. Some of these iconic strips include:

“Alley Oop”

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“Alley Oop” takes readers on a time-traveling adventure with a caveman named Alley Oop, known for his exciting escapades and encounters with dinosaurs. The strip has been a perennial favorite.


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“Blondie” introduces readers to the humorous and endearing married life of Dagwood and Blondie Bumstead. Chic Young created this comic strip, a newspaper mainstay for decades.

“Bringing Up Father”

IMG 8319 - The Evolution of Sunday Comics: A Colorful History “Bringing Up Father” is a classic strip that humorously chronicles the cultural clashes and escapades of Jiggs and Maggie, a working-class couple who come into wealth.

“Flash Gordon”

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“Flash Gordon” catapults readers into science fiction and space adventures. Created by Alex Raymond, it remains a beloved classic in comic strips.

“Thimble Theatre”

“Thimble Theatre” introduced the world to the indomitable spinach-eating sailor Popeye, created by E.C. Segar. Popeye’s adventures have delighted audiences for generations.

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While these iconic strips have garnered well-deserved fame, many lesser-known comics, such as “Specs” and “The Captain’s Gig,” have faded into obscurity. Nonetheless, they remain essential to the colorful tapestry of Sunday comics’ history.

The Role of Color Printing

The introduction of color printing played a pivotal role in the evolution of Sunday comics. After witnessing the capabilities of color presses in Paris, the publisher of the Chicago Inter-Ocean wasted no time and had his color press operational by late 1892. George Turner, manager of the New York Recorder, collaborated with R. Hoe & Co. to design a color press, enabling the publication to showcase the first American newspaper color page on April 2, 1893.

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Joseph Pulitzer introduced the Sunday color supplement in 1894 to outshine his rivals. The Yellow Kid, often regarded as one of the earliest American newspaper comic strips, made its debut in Pulitzer’s New York World in 1895. However, William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal managed to secure the rights to The Yellow Kid, employing it as a critical weapon in the heated newspaper circulation wars. This led to the coining of the term “yellow journalism,” which tainted early comics as less genteel entertainment and highlighted the commercial significance of the “funnies.”

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In 1905, Winsor McCay’s “Little Nemo in Slumberland” began, pushing the boundaries of comic art by exploiting color for aesthetic purposes and incorporating adult irony into the dialogue. By 1906, weekly Sunday comic supplements had become common in newspapers across the United States. They played a significant role in boosting newspaper circulation and attracting readers of all ages.

The Heyday of Sunday Comics

Throughout the 20th century, the Sunday funnies became a cherished tradition for families, enjoyed by adults and children alike. Millions read these comic strips, giving rise to famous fictional characters like Flash Gordon, Little Orphan Annie, Prince Valiant, Dick Tracy, and Terry and the Pirates.

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Leading the pack of classic humor strips were titles such as “Bringing Up Father,” “Gasoline Alley,” “Li’l Abner,” “Pogo,” “Peanuts,” and “Smokey Stover.” Beyond humor, educational strips like King Features’ “Heroes of American History” provided readers with insightful content.

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In addition to comic strips, Sunday comics sections featured advertisements presented in comic format, single-panel features, puzzles, paper dolls, and cut-and-paste activities. These sections often engaged readers with creative endeavors, such as assembling dioramas featuring subjects like the Grand Canyon or a Buffalo Hunt.

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Notably, some radio stations in the United States incorporated Sunday morning programs in which announcers read aloud from the Sunday comics section. This allowed listeners to follow the action in the panels while enjoying the dialogue. An extraordinary event occurred on July 8, 1945, during a New York newspaper deliverers’ strike when New York mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia read comic strips over the radio, demonstrating the widespread appeal of these comics.

The Sunday Strip Layout

The layout of Sunday comic strips evolved over the years, adapting to the available space and changing publishing standards. Early Sunday strips occupied a newspaper page, delivering a visually stunning and immersive experience. Strips like “The Phantom” and “Terry and the Pirates” were typically half the size of a newspaper page, with two strips sharing the space, or even more petite in tabloid-format publications like the Chicago Sun-Times.

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Cartoonists needed to adhere to a standardized layout as the variety of formats for Sunday strips expanded. This allowed newspapers to choose how to present the strip effectively. A comic book-like format was sometimes adopted for strips like “The Spirit,” with sixteen or eight-page standalone Sunday supplements included in newspapers. However, during World War II, paper shortages led to shrinking the size of Sunday strips. After the war, strips continued to decrease in size to reduce the cost of color printing.

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The last full-page comic strip was “Prince Valiant,” published on April 11, 1971. This marked a turning point in the history of Sunday comics as dimensions and page counts continued to decrease. While Sunday comics sections that once contained ten or twelve pages in the 1950s had shrunk to six or four pages by 2005, some publications still held onto large-size Sunday comics, like the Reading Eagle, boasting eight Berliner-size pages.

Revivals and Diverse Formats

In the 1950s, there were sporadic attempts to revive the full-page Sunday strip, but these endeavors, like “Lance” and “Johnny Reb,” were primarily artistic rather than commercial successes. Sunday strips have embraced various formats, including half-page, third-of-a-page, quarter-page, tabloid, and half-tab.

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In many cases, only the most oversized format of a Sunday strip is complete, with other formats cropping or omitting one or more panels. These “throwaway” panels often contain material not essential to the main storyline. Cartoonists frequently fill the initial panels of their strips with these gags, recognizing that not all readers may see them.

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Some exceptions to this rule include strips like “Steve Canyon” and, until its later years, “On Stage,” which were complete only in the third format. Another approach is to include a separate strip, referred to as a “topper,” either at the top or bottom of the Sunday page. With the topper, the strip forms a three-tier half-page layout; without it, it becomes a two-tier third-page format.

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Half-page Sunday strips are presented in various styles by different syndicates. King Features, Creators, and the Chicago Tribune often use nine panels, with only one reserved for the title. On the other hand, United Features and Universal Press’ half-page Sunday strips, most of which adopt a third-page format, use two panels for the title.

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The half page has become the standard and most complete format for many Sunday strips, including classics like “Peanuts.” A few strips have been popular enough for artists to insist the Sunday strip run in a half-page format. “Calvin and Hobbes” was among the first to do so, followed by “Outland” and “Opus.”


IMG 8302 - The Evolution of Sunday Comics: A Colorful History The history of Sunday comics is a colorful and dynamic journey, reflecting the evolution of print media and readers’ preferences. From their early days as full-page extravaganzas to their present status as compact and versatile comic strips, Sunday comics have continually adapted to changing times. photo output 156 - The Evolution of Sunday Comics: A Colorful History

While some classic strips remain beloved and enduring, others have faded into the annals of history. Yet, Sunday comics continue to captivate readers with wit, charm, and storytelling. They have played a significant role in shaping American popular culture and will likely continue to do so, offering a cherished tradition for families to enjoy for generations to come.

Read also

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) – Sunday Comics

1. What are Sunday comics?

Sunday comics, also known as Sunday strips or the Sunday funnies, are a comic strip section typically featured in most Western newspapers. They differ from weekday comics as they are full-page and in color.

2. When did Sunday comics first appear in the United States?

The first U.S. newspaper comic strips emerged in the late 19th century, coinciding with the introduction of color printing. One notable early example is Jimmy Swinnerton’s “The Little Bears,” which introduced sequential art and recurring characters in William Randolph Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner.

3. What contributed to the popularity of color comic strips in the United States?

The popularity of color comic strips in the U.S. can be attributed to the newspaper war between media moguls William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. This rivalry led to the inclusion of color comic strips in newspapers.

4. What types of content can be found in Sunday comics?

Sunday comics cover various subject matter and genres, including adventure, detective, humor, and dramatic strips with soap opera-style situations. Some strips follow ongoing storylines, while others provide standalone gags. The variety of content caters to diverse reader preferences.

5. How do Sunday comics differ from daily comics?

Sunday comics are usually full-page and in color, whereas daily comics are smaller and typically published in black and white. While some comic strips appear daily and Sunday, others, like “Prince Valiant,” are exclusive to Sundays.

6. Can you name some popular Sunday comic strips?

Some famous American Sunday comic strips include “Alley Oop,” “Barney Google and Snuffy Smith,” “Blondie,” “Bringing Up Father,” “Buck Rogers,” “Captain Easy,” “Flash Gordon,” and “Thimble Theatre” (the strip that introduced Popeye).

7. What is the role of the color press in the history of Sunday comics?

The introduction of the color press played a pivotal role in the development of Sunday comics. After the first color press was seen in Paris, U.S. newspapers began using color presses to print comic strips. This allowed for the creation of colorful, visually appealing Sunday comic sections.

8. How did Sunday comics contribute to the newspaper industry’s growth and competition?

Sunday comics, like “The Yellow Kid,” played a significant role in the newspaper circulation wars between media giants like Hearst and Pulitzer. This competition gave birth to “yellow journalism” and highlighted the commercial potential of comics.

9. When did Sunday comic strips start to shrink in size?

Due to paper shortages, the size of Sunday comic strips began to shrink during and after World War II. Over the years, Sunday comics decreased in size and the number of pages, a trend that continues in some newspapers.

10. Are there different formats for Sunday comic strips?

Yes, Sunday comic strips come in various formats, including full-page, half-page, third-page, quarter-page, tabloid, and half-tab. The format used depends on the newspaper’s layout and design choices.

11. What is a topper strip in Sunday comics?

A topper strip is an additional comic strip that usually runs above or below the main strip. It was a common practice in early Sunday comics. Toppers often provided extra content or humor.

12. Can you provide an example of a Sunday comic strip that maintained a full-page format?

“Prince Valiant” was one of the last Sunday comic strips to be published in a full-page format. It continued in this format until April 11, 1971.

13. Are there any revivals of the full-page Sunday strip format?

In the 1950s, there were attempts to revive the full-page format, but they were short-lived. Examples like “Lance” and “Johnny Reb” were artistic successes but not commercially sustainable.

14. How have the dimensions of Sunday comic strips changed over time?

Sunday comic strip dimensions have evolved. They have become smaller, and multiple strips may be crowded onto a single page in some newspapers.

15. What is the most common format for Sunday comic strips today?

The most common format for Sunday comic strips today is the half-page. Strips like “Peanuts” are often published in this format, offering a balance of content and space.

16. Are there differences between daily and Sunday strip dimensions today?

In some cases, there are minimal differences between the dimensions of daily and Sunday comic strips. Some newspapers opt for similar dimensions for both formats to streamline production.


  1. Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary – Definition of “funnies.”
  2. Robinson, Jerry (1974). The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art. Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
  3. Holtz, Allan. “Obscurity of the Day: Wimpy’s Zoo’s Who.” Published on March 17, 2008.
  4. “Página Cinco – Da tristeza suicida à confiança serena: as histórias completas de Horácio”. Article in Brazilian Portuguese. Retrieved on July 12, 2023, from
  5. “Editora Pipoca e Nanquim publicará a coleção ‘Horácio Completo’, um ‘resgate pré-histórico’ do dinossauro filosófico criado por Mauricio de Sousa – Correio do Cidadão”. Article in Brazilian Portuguese. Published on March 24, 2021. Retrieved on July 12, 2023.
  6. Becker, Stephen. Comic Art in America. Published by Simon & Schuster in 1959.
  7. “William Randolph Hearst and the Comics” – Information related to William Randolph Hearst and the influence on comics.
  8. The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture – Additional historical information.
  9. Watterson, Bill (1995). Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book. Published by Andrews and McMeel. ISBN: 0-8362-0438-7.
  10. Holtz, Allan. Stripper’s Guide Dictionary Part 1: Sunday Strips. Published on August 14, 2007.

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Written by Tor Alosson

I am a passionate writer with a deep love for exploring diverse topics. My writing endeavors span a broad spectrum, allowing me to delve into various subjects enthusiastically and curiously. From the human experience's intricacies to the natural world's wonders, I find joy in crafting words that bring these subjects to life. My creative journey knows no bounds, and I embrace the opportunity to share my thoughts, stories, and insights on everything that piques my interest. Writing is my gateway to endless exploration, a realm where I can freely express my thoughts and ideas and connect with others who share my appreciation for the written word.

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