Syndicated Newspaper Strip

Dark Shadows fans who were sad about the cancellation of the TV show could take some comfort in the fact that the adventures of Barnabas Collins continued for some time in the funny papers. (But the stories -- featuring vengeful warlocks, fierce werewolves, and menacing cat people -- were far from funny.)

One of the most commonly collected DS items is the comic book published by Gold Key from 1968 to 1976. Less well-known is the Dark Shadows newspaper comic strip which ran 7 days a week from March 14, 1971 until March 11, 1972. Syndicated by the Newspaper Enterprise Association, the strip was carried by many papers, including the New York Daily News, the Los Angeles Times and the Denver Post.

Unlike the vampire in the comic books, in the newspaper strip Barnabas actually looks a great deal like his TV portrayer, Jonathan Frid. Dozens of images of Barnabas from throughout the run of the strip are quite obviously based on familiar publicity stills of Frid in his vampire makeup.  
These strong likeness -- along with the rest of the illustrations for the strip -- were created by artist Kenneth Bruce Bald. Bald was also the artist of two other popular syndicated strips: Doctor Kildare and Judd Saxon. But in his forward to a reprint collection of the strips, Dark Shadows: The Comic Strip Book (Pomegranate Press, 1996), Bald said Dark Shadows was his favorite. "It wasn't just because I was an ardent fan of the hit TV show," he wrote, "I had been a follower of the vampire genre from the age of ten when Bela Lugosi's Dracula first took possession of me as surely as if the old bloodsucker had bitten me himself."

Although he included three other characters from the TV show -- Carolyn, Elizabeth, and Angelique -- he did not endeavor to make them look like their TV counterparts. For example, Liz is a very young looking widow who slinks around Collinwood in tight, low-cut black dresses with her hair piled glamorously on top of her head. She looks a little more like Audrey Hepburn than Joan Bennett. In fact, like the rest of the female characters in the strip, Elizabeth was greatly inspired by Bald's wife and favorite model, Kaye Bald. (The Pomegranate Press book includes some reference photos of Mrs. Bald in costumes.)

One other "character" in the strip changes its face from time to time. Bald's interpretation of Collinwood is a combination of Seaview Terrace and Lyndhurst -- the real houses used to shoot exteriors for the TV show and film, respectively. In some strips, the house only resembles one house -- but in a few, elements of both are evident.

Bald's love of vampires and other creatures of the night is evident in the look of the strip. The characters look properly menacing, and they stalk through the antique-filled, ornate halls of Collinwood.

No writer is credited for the strip, but the story editor was Elliot Caplin. Caplin, the younger brother of Al Capp, (who created Li'l Abner), also wrote the Doctor Kildare strip.

The strip consists of six story lines, each lasting two months. Reading the strips back to back (as in the Pomegranate Press book of reprints), there is some pretty annoying repetition, but that's because some papers either didn't run the Sunday (color) panels, or they only ran the Sunday ones, so readers had to be able to follow the story if they only saw the weekday strips or the Sunday ones.

The stories don't take place in the same world as the TV show, comic books, paperback novels or films. Besides the fact that core family members (including Roger and David Collins) aren't present, some basic facts are different. For example, Elizabeth is the widow of Michael Stoddard, instead of Paul Stoddard of the TV show. (In one strip, Elizabeth and Carolyn are shown visiting Michael's grave.) Also, Barnabas lives in an old stone cottage rather than the Old House.

The stories are entertaining, and the strip was popular. But Dark Shadows went off the air in April 1971, just a few weeks after the strip debuted. So, when the first one-year contract with the strips creators expired, the strip was canceled too. It was reasoned that if the show wasn't on, fans no longer cared about the Collins family. Obviously, they were a little off base on that assumption....

All in all, the strip stands as a strong entry in the DS franchise, with high-quality art and well-scripted stories. And if you're a Frid fan, it's really something you shouldn't miss.

The daily strips, trimmed neatly from newspapers, are worth about $25 each. The Sunday color pages are worth about twice that. Dark Shadows: The Comic Strip Book retails for $15.95.


Craig Hamrick is author of
The Dark Shadows Collectibles Book.

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