The Culture of the Marketplace in the Strips

Ernest Brennecke, looking back on the rise of the comic strip from the vantage point of 1924, praises the comics for representing "true things" rather than the "pursuit of the good and beautiful." Gilbert Seldes, in a book on the aesthetics of popular culture published in the same year as Brennecke's essay, defines comic strip realism similarly. In support of the assertion that "none of our realists in fiction come so close to the facts of the average man," Seldes notes that "the comic strip…is…more violent, more dishonest, more tricky and roguish, than America usually permits its serious arts to be." Comic strips expose the illusions of the "life of the average man" because comic strip characters "have so little respect for law, order, the rights of property, the sanctity of money, the romance of marriage, and all the other foundations of American life, that if they were put into fiction the Society for the Suppression of Everything would hale them incontinently to court and our morals would be saved again" (Seldes 197, 201).

Taken together, Brennecke and Seldes present a remarkably coherent vision of the comic strip as a realist deflation of bourgeois illusion. Coherence disintegrates, however, when these critics address the fact that many strips contain elements so far removed from realism as to deserve the label "fantastic." Brennecke acknowledges that some realist cartoonists resort to "wonder-geography" and talking animals, but he dismisses fantasy as a temporary vacation spot for the imaginations of artists who are "a little tired and in need of fresh inspiration" (674). Gilbert Seldes draws the distinction between realism and fantasy more sharply when he writes, "At the extremes of the comic strip are the realistic school and the fantastic," identifying George Herriman's Krazy Kat as the best example of the latter genre. And while Brennecke sees the fantastic in comics as a relatively minor offshoot of the form, Seldes sees the fantastic in Krazy Kat as the element that lifts it above the rest of the "vulgar" comic strips into the realm of high art. Herriman's work is, according to Seldes, "rich with something we have too little of--fantasy (203). Diverging from both Brennecke and Seldes, columnist William Bolitho identifies all strips as fantasy: "These interminable stories are indeed like an immense system of burrowings in the world of fantasy and imagination" (34). While all three authors identify an element of fantasy in the comic strips, they disagree wildly over whether fantasy departs from the essence of the form, elevates it, or defines it.

This disagreement is more a function of a strange duality in the comics themselves than of any error on the part of their critics. Throughout their rich history the funnies have aimed both to manufacture illusions and to puncture them. While bad boys and low-lifes like the Katzenjammer Kids, Mutt, and Calvin display an irreverent disregard for the illusions of manners, genteel pretension, or the idealized family, dreamers like Little Nemo, Little Orphan Annie and (again) Calvin live in a fantasy world of wish-fulfillment. I propose that the incoherence of comic strip realism as a genre points back to a central contradiction in turn-of-the-century American market culture. Reality and fantasy are two sides of a coin that turns up repeatedly as subject and subtext in the comic strips: the urban marketplace. Because the comics originated in the urban press, the city occupies a crucial but ambiguous position in their mythology. Comic strips represent the city both as an especially real place, the site of the "bottom line" of class and commerce, and as a dreamland of wish fulfillment.

The city has stereotypically served as a privileged site of the real, a noir world beyond the illusions of innocence and romanticism. But the reverse is equally true: the flip-side of the city's reality is its unreality. Amy Kaplan's ground-breaking study of American literary realism uncovers this side of the city by describing realism as an attempt to contain a sense of unreality generated by accelerating social change in the urban environment. Jackson Lears similarly argues that the disturbing sense of groundlessness associated with modernism can be traced in part to the unreal chaos of urban experience. But while both of these writers insightfully highlight the city's status as site of the unreal, I would argue that they fail to offer an adequate historical explanation for the persistence of the trope of the unreal city in American culture. Urban unreality is not simply a result of the rapid social change involved in the explosive urbanization of the nineteenth-century. Rather, the unreality of the city arises as the necessary counterpart to the reality of the city, the contradiction between urban reality and urban unreality reflecting a contradiction at the heart of market-culture itself.

In the turn-of-the-century comic strip, representations of the urban marketplace rock between the trope of the city as gritty reality and the trope of the city as decidedly unreal dream-realm of wish fulfillment. On the one hand, comic strips represent urban commerce and the demands of the market as the bedrock of reality underlying all idealistic and moralistic illusions. On the other hand, the urban marketplace strives to fulfill the fantasies of its resident consumers, as does the comic strip, and so the city becomes a surreal amusement park run mad.

While our experience with the contemporary comic strip genre may lead us to assume that the strips have always represented another order of reality at least insofar as they are fictions, the line between fiction and reality is much harder to discern in early strips from the turn-of-the-century. Many early "strips" illustrated news stories or reported on sporting events, and so could be described as a form of journalism. Cartoonists regularly went out on "the beat" with reporters in much the same way that a photographer might accompany a writer today. In this sense cartoons helped turn-of-the-century urban newspapers produce information that could give readers a sense of being in touch with the "real city." Even clearly fictional cartoons participated in this project.

The comic strip credited by many historians as the starting point for the genre provides a perfect example of the ambiguous line between journalism and fiction in the comic strip's early days. R. F. Outcault's Yellow Kid (named for his yellow nightshirt) presented readers with a portrait of a ghetto resident that its author claimed to have drawn from life. In an interview for The Bookman magazine Outcault tells us, "The Yellow Kid was not an individual, but a type. When I used to go about the slums on newspaper assignments I would encounter him often, wandering out of doorways or sitting down on dirty doorsteps. I always loved the Kid. He had a sweet character and a sunny disposition, and was generous to a fault."

The Kid is real to Outcault partly because Outcault has met real kids very much like him. But Outcault's choice of the street kid as the subject for his strip also suggests that when the newspapers tried to package the reality of the city, some parts of the city and some of its inhabitants counted as more real than others. Outcault uses a fictional representation of the working class to create a distinction between a genuine city and a superficial city. The claim that the Kid is real carries more weight because the Kid himself delights in exposing the reality underneath the illusions of authority.

A joke told by Outcault during the Bookman interview nicely illustrates the extent to which his satiric imagination depends on class constructions.

Before I let a joke go out of my richly furnished studio I always try it on some one to see how it goes. Usually I have my butler call all my servants into my studio-the coachman, the cook, the laundry-maids and the chamber-maids, my valet and the man who cares for my golf sticks. After they are all assembled I explain to them the joke, being careful to avoid putting my own very humorous personality into it and letting the joke stand for itself. They usually roar with laughter, when suddenly it occurs to me that, perhaps, they do so because I pay them their wages. Then comes in the man with the wash bill, and that puts an end to everything humorous. Seriously speaking…

The punch-line of this scene is the intrusion of power relationships and financial necessity (wages and bills) into the employer's pretension to humor, a punchline that depends on the perspective of servants who pretend to be more amused than they are. Outcault's implied understanding of this perspective grants him a certain authenticity, for the servants' heightened awareness of material considerations, based in their own material need, makes their position undeniably genuine.

Similarly, the world of the Yellow Kid is genuine because it is a world of underdogs who experience the realities of material necessity and inequalities of power. The kid and his companions exist to deflate the authority represented by the policeman, dog-catchers, and other instruments of social order. Just as the presence of servants keeps the middle-class humorist from taking his own joke too seriously by spotlighting the eroding material foundation of his pretensions, the presence of the working class represented by the Yellow Kid keeps the policeman and the reader from taking authority too seriously.

Some comic strip artists laid claim to a similar working-class authenticity by representing themselves in the position of employee. When Frank Willard, author of Moon Mullins, narrates a scene from his workplace, he portrays himself as a rowdy underdog much like the Yellow Kid. He becomes, in effect, the "tricky and roguish" character cited by Gilbert Seldes as the quintessence of the comic strip.

I worked for a syndicate manager once who got everybody in the place together once a week and jumped on a desk and gave us "pep talks." He didn't give us ideas, but, oh boy, how worn out we were after those pep talks. The guy that applauded the loudest got the most money, and I didn't get much as he found out who it was who gave him the bird.
--Frank Willard, as related in Sheridan (75)

When Brennecke locates the truth of comic strip realism in the comics' habit of "commenting trenchantly" on "the life of the middle classes" (Brennecke 667, 673), it is comics like the Yellow Kid and artists like Willard that he has in mind. This deployment of a rowdy "reality" with a class subtext suited the ethos of the papers Outcault worked for, and so demonstrated that class was only one half of the economic reality that undergirded comic strip realism. The other half was commerce. Michael Schudson notes that papers like The Journal and The World emphasized self-advertisement, openly acknowledging that readers paid their money to be entertained and that the publishers were out to sell papers. Features like Outcault's sold papers, and newspapers like The New York Times scorned the comics if they wished to position themselves above vulgar self-advertisement and the crass money-grubbing of circulation wars. Humor magazines competing with the comic supplements similarly pulled class on the yellow papers, while the yellow papers in turn used the low as a base from which to attack their rivals.

An ad for The Sunday World featuring George Luks' version of the Yellow Kid illustrates well the niche that the paper carved for itself within the cultural hierarchy. The Kid gleefully rolls up in a snowball icons representing the three most important humor magazines--Puck, Life, and Truth-- offering to replace weighty pretension with entertainment. Whether or not the paper's readership actually consisted of working-class consumers, the image of a working-class waif sold a set of expectations, suggesting that The World was both more honest and more fun than the bourgeois decency of papers like The Times or humor magazines like Puck. The Kid plays this role perfectly when he calls attention to the competition between humor publications for consumer dollars by crowing, "We ain't doin' a ting to 'em wid our eight funny pages."

This candid acknowledgement of the imperative to make a buck permeates the city as it is represented in Outcault's cartoons. From the start of Outcault's original Hogan's Alley strips, advertising served as a central target for his satire. The urban landscape of the Kid's world is plastered with posters advertising such products as "The Ridiculous Dress Stay." The omnipresence of advertising itself becomes the target of satire when we see an ad for "De Crank," a newspaper which "kontains all the principal and most interesting wheel advertisments," and apparently nothing else (June 21, 1896). In the context of Hogan's Alley, mock ads form just another layer in the strip's "bottom line"--its exposure of the "reality" of class and commerce.

The opposition between ideal surface and gritty economic reality proved to be a remarkably flexible trope, one which early comic strip artists could easily adapt to a wide variety of styles, messages, and target audiences. The disruption of illusions by an ironic awareness of reality provides the punchline for every installment of Winsor McKay's Little Nemo in Slumberland, for example, but Slumberland is a long way from Hogan's Alley. Rather than celebrating urban reality McCay revels in illusion, representing the world of Little Nemo's dreams in the curves of art noveau, neoclassical, and urban baroque fantasies. But even though McCay dwells lovingly on his fantastic dreamscapes, each strip ends with Little Nemo waking up and thus dispelling the fantasy of Slumberland. The agent of this disruption, a cigar-chomping clown named Flip, could easily have escaped from Hogan's Alley. To Little Nemo's chagrin, Flip constantly disobeys the instructions of the Slumberlanders, pursuing his own goals and causing trouble wherever he can. He can afford to act capriciously, for his uncle is the guard of dawn and so he can dissolve Slumberland at will by calling the sun and waking Little Nemo. Flip's power to dispel the imaginary world in part springs from a common-sense awareness of commerce that is foreign to Slumberland's nature; the daylight world which he represents is the quotidian world of business-as-usual. While Nemo stands in awe of Jack Frost's palace of ice, Flip calls in the High Price Ice Company to have it chopped into salable blocks. The little clown expresses his admiration of a cannibal chief's amazing goat-powered "automobile" by asking, "What'll you take for this machine, Mr. Chief?" Here, as in Hogan's Alley, the reality principle is associated with a no-nonsense conviction that everything has its price.

There is, however, a point at which the clear-cut opposition between fantasy and reality breaks down in Little Nemo. Some of McKay's most realistic portraits of the urban landscape are also his most fantastic. As Kirk Varnedoe and Adam Gopnik note, the dream-like quality of the real New York cityscape provided a direct source of inspiration for Little Nemo in Slumberland. The fantastic side of the real city, evoked so beautifully by McKay, highlights the fact that the reality of the city is created as much by the market's project of wish-fulfillment as it is by economic hard facts, and that often it is difficult to tell the difference between the two. Because even the physical structure of the city develops in response to market demands which are themselves responding to and creating the needs and desires of urban residents, the city itself can be read as a sort of dream-space. As Philip Fisher puts it:

Any city gives a map of the psyche, a quantitative account of the strength and complexity of the system of human desires at a given cultural moment. How much provision for sitting and watching, how rare and peculiar the variety of flowers or prostitutes for sale, how large the living rooms of apartments…compared to public spaces for entertainment…the city is the visible account of the balances and imbalances of the psyche.

McKay's strips bring out this aspect of the city not only by placing realistic urban settings in the context of dreams, but also by mirroring a part of the city devoted with special intensity to wish-fulfillment--the amusement park. Scenes like these recall the rides and electric splendor of Coney Island. As John Kasson notes in his history of Coney Island, electric lighting constituted a crucial attraction to Coney Island's night life. The lights and exotic architecture helped to create, in the words of Luna Park's designer Fredrick Thompson, "a different world--a dream world, perhaps a nightmare world--where all is bizarre and fantastic…" A world, one might add, within which customers could feel free to pursue and purchase their heart's desires. If, as Fisher suggests, the city is a map of the psyche, then Coney Island was the dreamspace within which New York City played out the whims of its id. McCay clearly borrowed from the architecture and ambiance of Coney Island when he constructed his own dream realm.

Slumberland shared more than just a glowing skyline with Coney Island; it also shared the fantastic appeal to consumer desire. The consumerist dimension of McCay's fantasy reveals itself in a crucial episode in the early Little Nemo strips. The first several strips depict Nemo as an unwilling visitor to a half-nightmarish world, and the child has not yet reached Slumberland proper, the administrative center to the empire of his dreams. Only when Nemo visits Santa Claus' toy warehouse, where he is told that he can eat as much candy as he wants, does he give himself over to the surreal experience of his own dreams. When he wakes up from this episode he expresses, for the first time, regret that he has been released from sleep, rather than relief. He never meets Santa himself--the toys and candy effect his conversion, not their maker. Nemo's new openness then facilitates his progress, and soon after this episode he reaches Slumberland itself. Not that Nemo's acceptance of the journey implies the journey's end: in Slumberland, as in the world of the consumer, there is always some new object of desire to pursue. Once within the boundaries of Slumberland Nemo must then make another trek to meet the princess of Slumberland, and then he and the princess start out together for yet another journey to meet her father, King Morpheus. The center of Slumberland is always receding.

Just as the bottom-line of commerce is always on the verge of floating away into heady fantasies of consumerism, the working-class character that represents hard material facts in the comics is always on the verge of being transformed into an exotic creature located not just at the bottom of the social order, but indeed altogether outside urban social reality. We can see this transformation in the work of both Outcault and Luks as they turn their attention away from New York City's slums and toward a more fancifully imagined oppressed class in the fantasy world of Joel Chandler Harris' black south. Luks's cartoon version of Uncle Remus shares many of the characteristics of the Yellow Kid's realism: it shows the members of a subaltern community poaching, gambling, and otherwise struggling for money and food while enjoying their position outside the pale of moral authority. But the policeman of Hogan's Alley is curiously absent here, and no comparable voice of moral authority steps in to take his place. For Luks and his New York readers, Uncle Remus exists in an idyllic world of his own, removed from the structure of authority that defines his subaltern status while at the same time drawing on that status to define himself in opposition to moral authority. Without the visible presence of a moral authority for Uncle Remus to disrupt, the "real" once associated with poverty seems to lose its weight.

For a brief period from 1901 to 1902, after he had already discontinued the Yellow Kid, Outcault also experimented with Harris-inspired fantasy in the form of a strip called "Lil' Mose." While some of Lil' Mose's adventures involve encounters between the black community and white authority, by the end of his tenure on the Sunday supplement Mose had left his home culture and its authority structure entirely. Later "Lil' Mose" cartoons detail his rather inexplicable journey to New York City, where he functions less as a member of an oppressed class than as an utter alien. Rather than revealing the "real city," Mose's point of view defamiliarizes it. For him the city is a fantasy realm. But if the city seems like a fantasy to Mose, he seems equally fantastic to the urbanites in the cartoons, in part because he is accompanied by a troop of talking animals.

Within the context of the original southern setting, Mose's animal friends fit into a certain realist logic by virtue of the fact that they embody Mose's own subordinate status. As a fox tells Mose,

A fox don' like ter steal, he wouldn't lie nor cheat.

but foxes is like folks…dey certain'y mus' eat.

An folks don' never send him geese nor any kin' ob game.

So he's got ter go an git it an a coon is jes' de same.

Recalling Luks' cartoons about Uncle Remus' poaching, Outcault offers what Alan Havig too generously calls a "commentary on the stereotypical behavior which whites ascribed to blacks" (34). But even in this cartoon which emphasizes so clearly the talking animal's role as an allegorical figure for the poor African American, the mystically idyllic scene in the lower right hand corner hints at the possibilities of the subaltern realm for pure imaginative escape. As Mose gathers with his animal friends under the moon, he acquires an otherwordly quality through his contact with such fantastic beings even as they become a realist allegory through their identification with his class position.

Once Mose leaves the imagined southern social structure that defined his status and heads for the city, the incipient fantasy of his earlier rural idylls achieves its full force. The reactions of New Yorkers reveal that he and his animal friends have a certain value as spectacles of pure magical aberration. Mose plays with a black mermaid at Coney Island while the natives gape so broadly at the animals that "you'd think dey'd break dere face."

Luks's Uncle Remus cartoons experiment with talking animals through the character of Mose the Trained Chicken, whose mischievous savvy makes him the perfect representative of comic strip realism's "bottom line." But, like Lil' Mose's animal friends, Mose the Chicken blurs the line between the realist's subaltern and an outlandish side-show attraction when he crosses over into the urban world. He appears in the incubator show "Hogan's Alley" cartoons, displaying an instinct for advertising wholly consistent with the fact that he himself becomes a freakish spectacle in the context of the Yellow Kid's world. A cross between an African-American and a chicken, he organizes the dual display of "chicks" in one incubator and "chinks" in another. The minority becomes a sideshow attraction, and the marginal becomes an escape.

The development of the talking animals in Luks's and Outcault's experiments with the southern idyll suggests a revealing genealogical relationship between the familiar animal characters in our contemporary comics and cartoons and the attempts of turn-of-the-century cartoonists to deploy class categories in the service of realist satire. What began as a representation of the subaltern, a satirical strategy designed to deflate moral authority, evolved into fantasy for fantasy's sake.George Herriman's Krazy Kat, which we have seen cited by Gilbert Seldes as the purest incarnation of comic strip fantasy, brings this fantastic transformation of the working class into especially sharp focus. Herriman's work certainly demonstrates a commitment to the origins of the talking animal in a working class with privileged access to the real. Indeed, he explicitly states that the funny animal of the typical comic strip exists to construct a "real" when he writes, "Almost any strip needs an animal in it once in a while, to add human interest, emphasize the reactions of the characters, to make the strip more realistic." Although he describes the "human interest" provided by animals with his tongue firmly in his cheek, his identification of talking animals as a "realistic" technique can be taken at face value in spite of his whimsical recognition of the paradox involved in this assertion. In his early cartoons Herriman uses animal characters to create a story or gag played out beneath the feet of a strip's human characters--a "sub"plot which functions much in the same way as the Shakespearean low plot. Animal characters beneath the notice of the human characters mimic their actions, rendering human pretensions laughable. Their small size and marginal position gives them a comic perspective similar to that of the Yellow Kid--they literally speak from "the bottom line" of the strip. In a 1909 sports cartoon by Herriman, for example, a duck named Gooseberry Sprigg provides a running commentary on a baseball game. Today we can recognize this technique in the little creature who stands on the margins of Oliphant's contemporary political cartoons. Just as the sheer insignificance of Oliphant's "little guy" helps him to quietly deflate the political giants above him, Gooseberry ridicules the foibles of sports celebrities while trying to avoid being stepped on.

Krazy Kat himself first appears in a miniature drama at the bottom of a domestic strip by Herriman called The Dingbat Family. As the Dingbats perform a more elaborately choreographed slapstick routine, a cat and mouse at the bottom of the panels reduce slapstick to its lowest common denominator: mouse throws rock at cat's head. It is tempting to interpret this minimalist slapstick plot as a self-satire on Herriman's part. In any case, he seemed to see the story that inhabited the bottom of the Dingbats' strip as a sort of oppressed class in the world of narratives. Describing the origins of his strip, Herriman quotes Harriet Beecher Stowe's Topsy, an archetypal incarnation of subaltern amorality: "Krazy Kat was not conceived, not born, it jes' grew." This is an inspired line for both Stowe and Herriman. Topsy reveals more than her ignorance when she denies her origin in a human mother--she both expresses her sense that she is less (or at least other) than human and conjures up an image of an infinitesimal proto-Topsy. Herriman similarly suggests an origin which stands outside the pale of human culture by virtue of its sheer insignificance. But while Topsy becomes integrated into human society as she grows, Herriman's animal sub-strips ultimately spun off into entirely unhuman worlds. Gooseberry Sprigg inherited his own strip, populated by talking birds. Krazy Kat and Ignatz became Herriman's most famous creations through a long process of evolution, growing from the inhabitants of the Dingbats' floor to the stars of a tiny strip running parallel to the Dingbats' to occasional substitutes for the Dingbats before they finally garnered a full-sized strip of their own. By the time they reached maturity they had left behind the human world for the fantastic world of Coconino County, a land which they shared with Gooseberry Sprigg, Don Kiyote, and a host of other fanciful animal characters. The position of these animal characters on the margin of human society ultimately allowed them to escape from that society into their own fantasy world, exchanging subalterity for an alternate reality.

Miles Orvell, in the process of evaluating the "posthistoricism" of Jay Cantor's novel Krazy Kat and Art Spiegelman's graphic novel Maus, critiques this aspect of Herriman's fictions when he writes, "In creating a self-contained aesthetic universe largely impervious to history, Herriman's strip seems essentially modernist, the product of an imperial imagination" (112). In the light of the genealogical relationship I've outlined here between Coconino County and New York City via Hogan's Alley, it seems inaccurate to call the universe of Krazy Kat "impervious to history." Coconino County draws much of its meaning from a tradition of representing working-class worlds in the comic strip. Orvell hits closer to the mark when he implies a critique of Krazy Kat on the grounds of its postmodernism, rather than its modernism. The final moral of the story Orvell tells about Cantor and Spiegelman is that these two authors, although writing in a postmodern vein, manage to bring the reader "back into the catastrophes of twentieth-century history in a way that calls for a healthy self-interrogation and self-renewal along with a reckoning of guilt and that takes us finally well beyond the usual pastiches of postmodernism and the forever disappearing self" (126). Krazy Kat, in addition to its crimes of modernism, also "anticipates the promiscuous confusions of postmodernism" (112) and so perhaps could be accused of the sort of pastiche that Orvell interprets as an attempt to escape from history. Orvell notes the characters' "dialect that fuses eclectically ethnic accents," the "destabilized desert spaces" and "surrealistic vocabularly" of the strip's graphic style, and "Krazy's androgyny." All of these elements are indeed present in Krazy Kat, all hint at pastiche and the "disappearing self," and all accentuate a decontextualization that removes the comic strip underdog from any class history.

We could blame this facet of Krazy Kat, and of comics in general, on the commodification of class issues and their absorption into consumer culture, corporate culture, the culture industry, and, ultimately, "the cultural logic of late capitalism." This take on postmodernism in general is best expressed in Fredric Jameson's Postmodernism, and it has been answered by such writers as Linda Hutcheon, who has argued that the techniques and genres critiqued by Orvell and Jameson can, in fact, be made to serve historicist purposes.

It would deprive Krazy Kat and the comic strips in general of their historical voice, however, to critique them solely within the context of our contemporary debates about postmodernism. Herriman's own comments about his strip point toward an alternative interpretation of the strips tendency to abstract their class representations into decontextualized fantasy worlds. There is something compelling in Herriman's assertion that the strip "jes' grew." It recalls Ishmael Reed's later use of the phrase in his undeniably postmodern novel Mumbo Jumbo. In Reed's novel (dedicated to Herriman, among others) "jes' grew" is an epidemic "disease" that strikes the States at the dawn of the Jazz Age, moving its victims to dance provocatively and to live with abandon. He writes, "if the Jazz Age is year for year the Essences and Symptoms of the times, then Jes Grew is the germ making it rise yeast-like across the American plain" (20). This Jes Grew comes out of the nowhere of the popular, but, in spite of its origins in the small and unimportant, builds such energy that it dominates the age. Like Reed's fantasy, the unreality of Krazy Kat and the comic strip in general can be read as a measure of its liveliness rather than a measure of its bad faith. It shows us the utopian side of a popular culture born in the marketplace, a fantasy that grows out of commercial culture but promises to transform it and acquire a life of its own. It offers the hope that the diminuitive will have its revenge.

The fantastic side of this utopian allegiance to the cultural underdog may be more pronounced in Herriman's work than in other comic strips, but its conflicted bonding of the real to the unreal and material necessity to desire ultimately characterizes the history of the strips. Born in the yellow press and partaking of its frank approach to money and business,the strips built the foundation of their humor on the commercial "underside"of the city. But commerce is not just the material reality of the urban environment. It is also the medium of desire. And so images of economic and class reality constantly transform into fantastic images of escape andwish-fulfillment, in the comics and in the larger culture of the marketplace.