Norb piloting his blimp. Artist: Tony Auth.


Original medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: King Features Syndicate
First Appeared: 1989
Creators: Daniel Pinkwater (writer) and Tony Auth (artist)
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Writer Daniel Pinkwater is famous for children's books such as Lizard Music and The Hoboken Chicken Emergency, but is known for only one work in comics. Illustrator Tony Auth got his first …

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… professional experience working for a hospital, drawing medical subjects, and branched out into political cartooning in the 1960s. He, too, has eschewed regular comics, with one exception. In both cases, that single exception is the daily and Sunday King Features comic strip they collaborated on, Norb, which began in 1989.

Norb was a scientist and an adventurer, in the Indiana Jones tradition. Sticking to cartoons, the analogy would be Dr. Benton Quest or Prof Haley, except that Norb was in it for the laughs. He was assisted by a girl named Rat; a dwarf wooly mammoth named Eugen, whom he'd picked up in Yakutsk; and Jacobowitz, a stooge. Together, they battled mad disk jockeys, Tibetan monks from a lamasery in Los Angeles, the talking fish of an underwater floating island, and similar menaces. The only time a major plotline was resolved was when the series ended.

This came quickly — in fact, the strip lasted only 52 weeks, just short of a year. The decision to fold it was made because of poor reception. Only two positive responses came in, but they were impressive enough — novelist Chaim Potok and cartoonist Jules Feiffer were its only vocal fans while it was running. Other mail, Pinkwater later said, wasn't just indifferent — some of it was downright hostile. King Features, which didn't shy away from non-mainstream features like Krazy Kat, Zippy the Pinhead and Jacky's Diary, drew the line at Norb.

After the comic ended, it was a different story. People who missed it became quite vocal about wanting it back, but it was too late. Their only consolation was a 1991 collection of daily strips from Mu Press (Rhudiprrt, Prince of Fur; The Desert Peach) — the only time Norb ever got off the newspaper page.

Today, Norb seems to have legions of fans, who found Pinkwater's unusual sense of humor and Auth's clear delineations a refreshing spot on a comics page otherwise filled with what they perceive as a vast sea of sameness. A lot of them are probably kicking themselves for not speaking up when it might have done some good.


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Text ©2007 Donald D. Markstein. Art © King Features.