The Back Page Of The Sunday Comics

The other day Kish and I were wandering through a thrift store. On a shelf stuffed with old Saturday Evening Posts and long forgotten board games, I saw this Dondi puzzle.

Dondi? I haven’t thought of Dondi in years. For those of you who never encountered the little guy, he was a “goody two shoes” type who appeared on the back pages of the Akron Beacon Journal Sunday comics section. Dondi was one of those darkly colored, continuing story comic strips that had a more serious bent — like the severe-looking, judgmental Mary Worth, who always seemed to be meddling in other people’s lives, or Brenda Starr, Reporter, the glamorous, starry-eyed journalist who never seemed to actually sit down at a typewriter.

I never actually read any Dondi comics, because it was one of those back pages strips. I read the front page, with Peanuts and Dagwood and Blondie and Beetle Bailey, and would read back past Andy Capp and The Lockhorns and Cappy Dick, but Gasoline Alley was as far back as I would go. The last pages of the Sunday comics were forbidding territory, with strange adult themes. If Dondi was placed back there, with all of that drama and angst, that told you all you needed to know.

What kid would want to read that stuff? It would be like telling your Mom on a fine summer day that instead of playing outside with your friends you wanted to sit down with her and watch The Days Of Our Lives or As the World Turns.

Cappy Dick And The Power Of Trying

You are a kid on a Sunday morning in the 1960s.  It is winter and brutally cold outside, and doing something inside seems like a good idea.  You flip through the brilliantly colored comics section of the Sunday paper, and there you find your perfect companion — Cappy Dick.  Cappy Dick, the chuckling, patient, pipe-smoking sea captain who every week urged kids to “try for these great prizes!” and proposed all manner of odd games and activities for bored rug rats.

Cappy Dick was all about the art of the apparently possible.  It suggested different things that you could try.  They looked like they could be done — hey, it wouldn’t be in the paper if it was fake, would it? — and in any case it looked like it would be fun to try.

Never were egg cartons put to so many different uses!  You could take the carton, paint each egg-holding indention a different color, and toss bottle caps or pennies into them, with each successful throw generating different points depending on color.  You could learn how to make a successful flip book, or convert a shoe box into a crude castle, or make puppets out of clothes pins.  When Cappy Dick spurred your imagination, the blunt-edged scissors, Crayola crayons, and construction paper got a serious workout, and the smell of Elmer’s glue was intoxicating.  And when you were done, your hands crusty with Elmer’s glue residue and the kitchen table littered with scraps of paper and other odds and ends, you realized that trying to make something had been fun, even if the results didn’t quite look like Cappy Dick showed.

I’m sure parents of that era rolled their eyes from time to time as an excited youngster charged up, babbling about needing an empty round Quaker’s Oats container to try to make a gaily colored Polynesian drum.  But surely Moms across the land appreciated anything that would keep the kids occupied in some kind of quiet creative exercise for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, even if a bit of clean-up would eventually be required.

No doubt video games, elaborate plastic Barbie houses, and other ready-made modern toys spur some kind of creative impulse as kids play.  I wonder, however, whether the creative opportunities are not quite as rich as when kids gathered around the kitchen table and worked hard to make that Indian headdress or Pilgrim bonnet, laughing all the while.  Cappy Dick helped to fill many a dull afternoon, and it may have made kids of that generation just a bit more willing to at least try.  After all, you could win Great Prizes!