10 Worst Comic Strips Tropes That Aged Poorly

Split image of Addams family, Peanuts and Garfield comic strips

Comic strips and newspaper cartoons once formed a part of the backbone of the artistic industries. It was a huge storytelling platform that has survived into the digital age but is nowhere near as prevalent as it once was. Looking back, many of the tropes that were defined during the period are still very helpful today.

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However, there are some elements that consistently came up throughout classic comic strips, that have not aged all that well. Perhaps due to the way in which the medium worked or the time period in which they were made, these tropes wouldn’t really fly with today’s audiences.



10 The Newspaper Origin

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Not only was it the trope of comic strips, but it was the very foundation. Cartoonists would produce their work through various newspapers, with their art syndicated around the world directly to consumers. It became a trope of the papers themselves, to find different strips throughout their pages.

No other methods of distribution truly took off, especially not self-publishing or producing full books of artistic content. Of course, this trend aged poorly as the newspaper industry died out. While it has had to evolve and move online to survive, the boom period was truly reliant on newspapers and thus has harmed comics ever since.

9 Serialized Formats

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>A group of cavemen look at a projectiom of a stegasaurus tail

The most optimistic and beloved cartoon characters could appear in multiple different stories for the audience to invest in. However, artists wanted a way to tell longer narratives. Thus, many strips moved to a serialized format. The shorts interlinked and connected together at the end of a week or month depending on the number of times a comic was published.

This trope, to start linking stories together hasn’t aged well. The comic strips that work as one-off pieces, such as The Far Side or The Addams Family, can still be viewed today in their single form. For those strips that are part of a larger tapestry, it’s difficult to track them all down together to follow the narrative. No matter the number of panels, a comic strip is best when it doesn’t run into the following paper.

8 Color Revolution

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Garfield stares at himself in a mirror

The color revolution occurred in the comic strip industry and changed everything. Traditionally the only way to tell these narratives was via the simple black-and-white lines of a traditional printing press. But with the revolution came evolution. It became a trope to expect color from the top comics; Garfield was a notable user of color narratives.

RELATED: 10 Weirdest Details From Old Garfield Comics

However, color never truly added anything to these sketches. With the simplicity of black-and-white having defined the industry for so long, it was difficult to see how these new technologies could help tell better jokes and stories. Ultimately looking back, the coloring of famous comic strips hasn’t aged all that well, because many still love the original versions more. It was a trope that tried to move with the times.

7 Unflattering Caricatures

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>One scientist works on a missile while another prepares to surprise him in The Far Side

Caricatures are a huge part of the cartoon industry. Indeed, many strips like In The Bleachers or The Far Side relied on a caricature style of art throughout their work, depicting fictitious individuals. This was natural, however, when real people were caricatured, those art styles started to age badly.

Specifically, any satirical cartoons that depicted real people, that exaggerated their features, can now be deemed to be controversial. While it’s a technique still used today, there are instances of past comic strips that nefariously used the trope in a racist or derogatory manner. This kind of artwork should have never had a place in the newspapers.

6 Nuclear Family

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>The Addams Family eat dinner in a comic strip panel

Some of the best comic strips of all time followed the exact same trope. To build a story around a nuclear family. The Family Circus, Calvin & Hobbes, and The Addams Family are all perfect examples where this is the case. A mother, father, traditionally 1 to 3 children, and a few side-characters to round out the pack.

This trope simply reflected the beliefs of the time period, that the nuclear family was the most traditional way to set up a household. Of course, that’s aged poorly in the years since, with all manner of families unrepresented in those strips. What’s interesting is the sheer number of comics that followed the same pattern without any thought of trying something new.

5 Set In The Time Period

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Charlie Brown instructing Snoopy that he's the boss in classic Peanuts comics

Some of the most memorable comics, like Peanuts, could largely take place in any era. However, there are those that have dated themselves thanks to the setting, scenarios, political commentary, or satirical jokes included within the captions and speech bubbles.

RELATED: 10 Most Beloved Running Gags In The Peanuts

A great comic strip should be timeless, but the trope to try to make the humor work for audiences at the time means that those same gags aren’t necessarily going to hit modern viewers. When those strips were made there was no telling whether they would live on in a digital future forever more, so it’s natural that they are dated. But those that avoided the trope are all the more special.

4 Misogynist Character Presentations

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>jeff keane Lynda and Barry in the Family Circus comic strip

Whether it was the opening years of Blondie or the subversion of expectations in The Addams Family, the comic strip industry did write many of its jokes about the misogynistic stereotypes of women. There are many comic strips that assumed a lack of intelligence for their female characters.

Indeed, this is a trope that has aged terribly, with some comics even evolving over time to present the women in their stories in a more favorable light. Comic strips should be about loveable losers and satirical reflections, gender should not make any difference within them, and being female certainly shouldn’t lead to jokes at the character’s expense.

3 Gender Conformity

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>The cover for The Family Circus complete comic strip collection

With discussions of a nuclear family and misogynist stereotypes, one additional trope accompanied those two factors. Gender conformity was so regular in comic strips that it was unusual to see a female character as anything other than a love interest for the lead, or a housewife and mother.

It’s difficult to name the list of female heroes that have surpassed the comic strip industry, who didn’t hold one of those roles. It’s certainly another reflection on the time period in which the cartoons were created, but it’s an aspect that hasn’t aged well with modern cartoons looking to switch up the roles.

2 Treating Kids With Low Intelligence

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Charlie Brown writing a letter in Peanuts

One of the most beloved running gags in Calvin & Hobbes was related to the young man’s intelligence. Despite being a kid, Calvin was incredibly smart and often showed up his parents. It’s a great inclusion in the comic that has aged superbly well. However, a single trope continued to undermine its good work.

Most of the time kids were used in a comic strip for comic relief. They were treated as silly or dumb, with the cartoon in the newspapers aimed at those parents that were exasperated by their offspring. It also promoted the trope of parents not listening to their children despite the kids being right, which pushed the stereotypes further. Ultimately, none of it aged particularly well.

1 Political Musings

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>split image of Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes in old comic strips

Political musings are a dangerous thing without the benefit of hindsight. Whether it was in the single-panel political strips of the satirical variety, or the narrative-based long-form pieces that commented on life; big ideas and opinions also came with big risks.

Thus looking back across many different newspapers, there are certainly some strips that have not aged well due to the political thoughts of the time period. The industry continues to go down that route and plays to the audience of its day, but it’s interesting to see what readers might think years down the line.

NEXT: 10 Times Calvin & Hobbes Broke Our Hearts


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