Comic strip artists find the humor in growing older

Great Americans can be ignored by much of the media, but these days they are getting a lot of attention in one amazing place: comics.

Newspapers and online comic strips that focus on the lives of great characters attract readers of all generations. Other strips take them out of the secondary cast to become central figures in their story arcs.

Some popular strips, like Garry Trudeau’s “Doonesbury”, Are allowing their characters to age year after year, a phenomenon that was previously virtually unheard of. Mike Doonesbury, for example, has aged from college to grandpa, and has never seemed more satisfied with life.

Here are some of the comics and creators at the forefront of this trend:


When Brian Crane set out to become a cartoonist in the late 1980s, his goal was to find “something no one else did.” The result was “Pickles,” a strip that focuses on a retired couple, Earl and Opal Pickles, and their family, including grandson Nelson, an elementary school student.

“Pickles” debuted in April 1990 and now appears in about 900 newspapers around the world, as well as online.

While legend has it that Earl and Opal were inspired by Crane’s in-laws, he says he was inspired by “in-laws, outlaws, everyone.” Increasingly, he says, this includes his wife and himself.

Humor in “Pickles it often involves a bit of a fight between Earl and Opal, though Crane says he has tried to soften the two over the years.

“Pickles” by Brian Crane

Brian Crane

In a recent strip, Earl complains that the chicken broth in his kitchen cupboard is decades past its expiration date: “This chicken’s great-grandchildren are long dead, but that’s still sitting in our closet.” To which Opal replies, “If the 20-year-old chicken broth killed you, you’d be dead.”

Crane says he rarely receives complaints because he is portraying older people in a negative way, and when he does, they usually come from younger readers.

“My usual response is that I’m just looking for humor in the midst of trying to grow up,” he says. “My philosophy is that if you can laugh at it, you can live with it.”

Now 72, with seven children and 21 grandchildren, Crane has plenty of material to take advantage of and has no plans to retire.

“It’s become a lot easier,” Crane says. “Now I’m practically writing about myself.”

‘Flo and friends’

“Flo & Friends,” which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, is subtitled “Aging with Attitude!” The main character, Flo, is a 65-year-old who raises his teenage granddaughter.

The comic was a creation of John Gibel, an Akron, Ohio businessman and active volunteer who wanted to create a strip focused on older adults. He brought in Jenny Campbell, a local writer and artist, as a collaborator. When Gibel died unexpectedly of a stroke in 2005 at the age of 56, her family signed the strip to Campbell, so she now says it was about the price of a Starbucks Grande Caffè Latte.

“When I started, I thought ‘65, this is old,’ so I did Flo 65, ”Campbell says with a laugh. “I just turned 65 last year, so the strip is getting more and more autobiographical. The characters have become very good friends of mine. “

Like many cartoonists, Campbell moves away from politics and religion: “Anything that will generate hate mail. My joy in life is that I have a career where I can make people laugh. controversy “.

When Campbell addresses some of the most difficult issues that older people face in real life, he does so with a light touch. For example, “I don’t mention Alzheimer’s,” he says, “but I kind of make fun of losing my memory, because that’s what’s happening to me. I’m living the same things as my characters.”

When not busy with “Flo & Friends,” Campbell works at the other end of the age spectrum, illustrating children’s books. He also had the unique honor of drawing the cartoon dog and cat featured on the Ohio car license plate “I’m Pet Friendly,” which raises money for animal shelters and related causes. The license plate of your car says: IDRUIT.

‘Sally Forth’

A mainstay of the comic book pages, “Sally Forth” turns 40 in 2022. In the same year, Francesco Marciuliano will spend a quarter of a century as a writer. Jim Keefe is the current illustrator of the strip.

The strip focuses on Sally, a 40-year-old working mother, and her extended family, including her parents and her husband Ted.

In recent years, the oldest crew has taken a prominent place in the plots of the strip. Ted’s father died in 2017 after an illness that lasted for many months. This year, Sally’s mother, Laura, has been moving into her home as she prepares to live with Sally’s sister, Jackie, and Jackie’s husband, Ralph. Ralph, meanwhile, wants to change careers, but fears he’s too old to do so.

“Sally Forth”

Francesco Marciuliano and Jim Keefe / King Features Syndicate

Like many writers, Marciuliano, 54, often draws on his own experiences and those of his friends. After her father’s death in 2016, she used Ted’s father’s death to explore death, pain, and the awkward, unfamiliar situations survivors may find themselves in.

Ted, for example, has to choose a funeral home by searching for one on Google because no one had made plans before. And on a panel, a well-meaning funeral director suggests that if Ted pays with a credit card instead of a check, he will earn reward points. Both came directly from Marciuliano’s experience.

This story provoked some complaints from people accustomed to a happier “Sally Forth,” says Marciuliano, but abundant praise from readers who had lost a father.

Marciuliano, who also writes humorous books and the comic book “Judge Parker,” says that in portraying his older characters, he strives to avoid both “the big, good person” – “who shines with his eyes.” and handing out candy ”- and the“ Great Old Person, ”the skateboarding grandmother, for example.

Sally’s mother, Laura, who seems willing to play a more important role in the strip, is unlikely to be described as good or bad. Sharp and stubborn tongue, he rarely sees himself without a glass of wine in his hand and especially likes to torment son-in-law Ted. No wonder he is moving in with her others daughter.

See also: You can find love again when you’re old and sad, at least that’s the message of these movies

‘The new 60’

Former advertiser Andy Landorf and John Colquhoun saw a niche for a strip about a group of friends like them: about 60 active years, adapting to a new phase of life in a changing world. The two men write the strip, which they released in 2018, while Colquhoun draws it. (If the characters look a bit like the mascot of the Little Caesars pizza chain, it’s no coincidence. Colquhoun drew it too.)

‘The New 60’ by Andy Landorf and John Colquhoun

Andy Landorf and John Colquhoun

“The New 60” features a new strip every Tuesday and Friday on, on Facebook FB,
Instagram and Twitter TWTR,
; and via a weekly email. Publishing digitally gives creators instant feedback.

“The comments I love are like,‘ Did you put a hidden camera in my kitchen? ’Landorf says. On the other hand, Colquhoun points out, they also occasionally get the “okay boomer” from their GenX fans on Instagram when the characters say something that bothers them.

See: A rare Superman comic has just sold for $ 2.6 million. Is it time to start considering these collectibles as an investment?

Much of the humor in “The New 60” is based on how the world has evolved since the baby boomers’ youth. In a recent installment, for example, the character Sam is going to buy a new van. After the vendor exalted a model’s Bluetooth, satellite radio, eight-inch LCD touchscreen, and other new features, Sam says he just wants a simple pickup for tasks like carrying wood.

“Where would I go to get a truck like this?” he asks. “Uh …” the salesman replies, “1982”.

Greg Daugherty is a freelance personal finance and retirement writer who has written frequently for Next Avenue. He was previously editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest New Choices and senior editor of Money magazine.

This article is reprinted with permission from© 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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