14 forgotten heroes of newspaper comic strips, from Big Ben Bolt to Terry and the Pirates

Do you remember characters like Kerry Drake, Johnny Hazard, Brick Bradford and Secret Agent X-9?

Image: Dale Messick works on her Brenda Star, Reporter (AP Photo / Charles E. Knoblock)

The daily comic strip is no longer the massively popular medium it once was in the 20th century, but the art form lives on online. As print newspapers continue to shrink, however, the inky iteration is certainly in decline. 

While you can still find funny pages in your local paper, the serialized adventure comic is a fading memory. Newspaper comic strips were once the domain of detectives, ace pilots, pirates, superheroes and cowboys. 

There have been many, many syndicated adventure comics over the last 100 years, too many to include here, so we are focusing on ones that made it to the 1960s, 1970s and beyond. You likely read some of these as a kid. Which was your favorite?

1. Jane Arden


A prototype for Lois Lane, Arden was more popular in England and Australia, but the intrepid reporter certainly had her influence here. Five artists, including Frank Ellis, drew the strip over its four decades. Warner Bros. made a movie in 1939. Arden's strips often came with cutout paper dolls, with outfits submitted by loyal readers around the country.

Image: Alternate World Comics

2. Big Ben Bolt


John Cullen Murphy drew this punchy boxer strip from 1950 to 1978.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

3. Brenda Starr, Reporter


Perhaps the most well-known name here, Brenda Starr had an incredible run from 1940 to 2011, from covering the war to blogging. Creator Dale Messick logged four decades, constantly updating her romantic investigator with the days fashion and hair. In later years, Starr moved to India. The cool eye patch-wearing Basil St. John drew in the boys looking for pirates.

Image: Pinterest

4. Brick Bradford


Writer William Ritt and artist Clarence Gray crafted this Flash Gordon–like fantasy starting in 1933. In 1952, Paul Norris took over, sending the aviator on adventures until 1987.

Image: Wikipedia

5. Phil Corrigan, Secret Agent X-9


Genius noir author Dashiell Hammett co-created X-9 with Flash Gordon father Alex Raymond. That's an impressive pedigree. From 1967–1980, the era you most likely recall, the strip was written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by Al Williamson, who also handled the daily Star Wars strip. X-9 was referenced in episodes of Columbo and Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Image: Pikitia Press

6. Kerry Drake


From 1943 to 1983, this detective gave Dick Tracy a run for his money with realistic investigative techniques and complex mystery. The strip is mentioned in the novel Lolita.

Image: Annex Galleries

7. Mickey Finn


Cartoonist Lank Leonard created this Irish-American cop, who took a more humorous approach to his adventures from 1936 to 1976.

Image: Lambiek Comiclopedia

8. Friday Foster


A trailblazing, visually masterful production with a brief run from 1970 to 1974, Friday Foster followed the global travels of its titular fashion photographer. Spanish cartoonist Jorge Longarón dazzled on what would be the first title to feature an African-American female lead.

Image: Museum of Uncut Funk

9. Johnny Hazard


World War II pilot turned Cold War secret agent, Hazard was like a blend of James Bond and X-9. His dangerous deeds were published from 1944 until 1977.

Image: Wikipedia

10. Red Ryder


By now, everyone knows this cowboy thanks to his tie-in BB gun, as featured in A Christmas Story. He packed a pistol from 1938 to 1964, with sidekick Little Beaver on Papoose the horse.

Image: Antiques and Auction News

11. Scorchy Smith


One of the older entries on this list, Scorchy just made it to the Sixties, running from 1930 to 1961. This gritty pilot adventure showcased a handful of artists over its three decades, including the awesomely chiseled cheekbones of Rodlow Willard, which you can see here.

Image: Wikipedia

12. Sky Masters


Comic book legend Jack Kirby co-created this star-bound adventure in 1958, at the height of the space age. The master artist crafted inventive panels for Sky and his crew to move within.

Image: Wikipedia

13. Smilin' Jack


The Adventures of Smilin' Jack flew from 1933 to 1973. As you may have noticed, most of these heroes seemingly ran an exact four decades, from 1930s to 1970s. Jack has colorful buddies Downwind Jaxon and Fatstuff to keep him company in the sky.

Image: Sekots Studio

14. Terry and the Pirates


Likewise, Terry and the Pirates, a sort of American spin on Tintin, ran from 1934 to 1973. Young Terry Lee was role model for daydreaming boys of the time, as he trotted the globe with the daring Pat Ryan and April Kane. There are some wonderful collections of this gorgeous, dense saga.

Image: Hooded Utilitarian

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Delmo 27 months ago
There was a FRIDAY FOSTER film starring Pam Grier, and serials for SMILIN' JACK & TERRY AND THE PIRATES.
TerryBeatty 27 months ago
Though Tintin predates Terry and the Pirates by a few years -- it was not well known at all in the US when Milt Caniff created his strip. I doubt Milt was familiar with it at the time.
EricFuller 27 months ago
I remember Kerry Drake was in the Rocky Mountain News. There was storyline where Kerry's daughter was kidnapped by a deranged woman who thought she was her daughter. That was good one.
KevinButler 38 months ago
I remember reading"Brenda Starr"in The Sunday Comics section of "The New York Sunday News"/"The New York Daily News"..I enjoyed reading about he adventures..and she also appeared in the movies..in a movie serial(Ms.Joan Woodbury played the title role)and a Feature film(Ms.Brooke Shields played "Brenda"in the film)..there were also two TV movies(Ms.Jill St.John..played "Brenda" in the first TV movie).
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