"...From Nickelodeon": The Comic Strip

(Right: The first masthead for the Sunday Rugrats strip, from Creators.Com; ©1998 Viacom.) (Left: The secondmasthead for the Sunday Rugrats strip, from Creators.Com; ©2000 Viacom.)

Rugrats From Nickelodeon was a comic strip that featured the Rugrats and their families in daily, comic-strip form. It ran from 4/5/1998 to 5/3/2003.

Presented by Creators Syndicate (syndicators of One Big Happy, B.C., The Wizard Of Id and advice columnists Ann Landers and the late Erma Bombeck) in association with Nick, the Rugrats strip featured stories designed to be enjoyable for everyone, from little kids to adults, the same hallmark associated with the TV series.

Rugrats join a line of other hit TV series that had strips in the past; unfortunately, previous series didn't last long in comic strip form. These series include The Muppets, Sesame Street, Rowan & Martin's Laugh In, I Love Lucy, Star Trek, Star Wars, Dallas, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and, most recently, The Simpsons.

The Writers

1. Scott Gray

2. Gordon Kent

3. Lee Nordling (also editor)

4. Chuck Kim

5. Scott Roberts -- He also produces his own comic book, Patty Cake & Friends, published by Slave Labor Publishing. Patty Cake also appears occasionally in Nickelodeon Magazine.

6. J. Torres

7. Mark Bilgrey

8. John Zakour

9. Rob Moran

The Artists

During the strip's 5-year life span, at least 8 artists drew the Rugrats strip, some pencils only, some inks only, some both.

(First names of 5 & 6 are unknown.)

1. Steve Crespo -- did the art for the earliest strips; still shares credit in many papers and online editions with Scott Gray.

2. Will Blyberg -- inks.

3. Gary Fields -- Does pencils and/or inks, as well as handles all the lettering (except for strips drawn by Baker and some unsigned strips). He is also a frequent contributor to Cracked magazine. Gary Fields has since quit the strip to do other projects.

4. Kyle Baker -- did pencils and inks. The lettering he uses is very similar to the ones in Peanuts (imagine Stu and Didi saying nothing but "wah-wah-wah, wah-wah-wah-wah-wah"). Kyle Baker is best known for his alternative comics work, especially graphic novels like The Cowboy Wally Show and Why I Hate Saturn, as well as the 4-issue Instant Piano mini-series with Evan Dorkin (Milk & Cheese), Mark Badger & Stephen DeStefano. His latest graphic novel from DC / Vertigo, You Are Here, is now in selected bookstores nationwide (for mature readers).

5. Anonymous -- some strips aren't signed at all. So far, at least 2 artists did unsigned strips. See below for details.

6. Rodrigues -- Pencils & Inks. According to Scott Roberts:

"[Rodrigues' involvement was during] a brief period wherein the strip was being farmed out to South America for art. A common practice, used by Disney as well, when production houses are looking to cut costs. There are plenty of good cartoonists in the Southern hemisphere, but the labor rates are lower."

7. Tim Harkins -- Pencils; has also taken over lettering since Fields quit.

8. Vince Giarrano -- Pencils.

9. Scott Roberts -- Pencils (see above)

How The Rugrats Strip Was Made

Each strip involves at least 3 to 5 people in the production process -- the writer, the artist (or the penciller & the inker), the letterer (who's not credited in the strip), and the editor (also not credited, though he oversees its production). Even though there's always 2 or 3 people listed in each strip's signature, the writers and artists don't actually work in teams. Everything is done through Lee Nordling, the editor, who assigns the scripts to the pencillers based on what he feels is the best match. Here, the writers submit their scripts to Nordling, who then assigns them to the artists. The finished artwork is then sent to Gary Fields for lettering, using the "Ames guide" for the best and neatest lettering. After they're finished, they send the finished product to Nordling for his approval, or if they have a question, they send Nordling the preliminary artwork for his advice. After the final product has been approved by Nordling, he submits them to Creator's, who then distribute the strips to its clients.

While many writers submit their scripts in the usual typewritten format, Scott Roberts writes the scripts in another way --  he writes them in the form of thumbnail layouts, which is more natural to the way he works; this way, he can better demonstrate the gag to Nordling by staging it himself.

The Strip Index

For a brief synopsis on what happened in the strip, click here.

Mott's Applesauce Cups

Special Rugrats strips by Gray & Harkins were also printed on single-serve cups of Mott's Flavored Applesauce, available in watermelon & fruit punch flavors and sold in packs of 6.

There are 2 strips. One strip has Angelica & Susie braiding each other's hair, but when they run out of their own hair, they start braiding Chuckie's hair. The other strip has Dil saying "Mine!" when he grabs Tommy's toys; eventually, Tommy lets Dil grab his ears.

The Public Reaction To The Rugrats Strip
" comedy is allowed in the comics page; just take a look at Family Circus, Rugrats and Cathy."

-- Frank Cho, Liberty Meadows comic book #17, 12/2000

So far, the consensus of the public's opinion on the Rugrats strip has been mixed; some think it's the best strip ever, while some equate the Rugrats strip with the No-Pest Strip. There are 6 factors influencing the strip's popularity:

1. Readers expect the strip to be just as exciting as the TV show, only to be disappointed when they read the strip. In my opinion, the Rugrats strip has an average storyline and art, only because it's a comic strip. It's wrong to compare a comic strip with the TV show, as they're 2 different things.

2. The art in the daily strip lacks any shading of any kind. Because of this, the hair of Chuckie, Didi & Stu are as white as an albino, Angelica's tights have black circles on white instead of green dots on blue, and the planet on Chuckie's blue shirt is neither red with yellow rings nor yellow with red rings, but just a black outline on Chuckie's white shirt. If the artists did this on purpose to encourage papers to color the strip, or for young readers to color it, the readers aren't buying it. In my opinion, papers that offer daily color comics are doing Rugrats readers a favor by coloring the strip, which makes it more easier to read than the original black-and-white version. With the dailies colored, the strip is more easier on the eyes; even a black-and white strip with shading is more eye-pleasing. Many papers offer black-and-white dailies only; therefore, they either dropped the dailies in favor for Sundays only, or, when they bought the strip, they decided on running the Sundays only.

3. The use of text and fonts aren't doing wonders for readership, either. In the early days of the Rugrats strip, readers complained that the text is not hand-drawn, undermining the integrity of the strip. These days, some comic strips and many comic books use computerized fonts to letter the word balloons, as they save time in the production of the strip. Keep in mind, though, that the type of font used varies on the artist doing the strip. There are two notable fonts in the strip so far. One is Kyle Baker; his use of Peanuts-style fonts makes it seem as if Charles M. Schulz is moonlighting as Rugrats letterer. The other is the first anonymous artist; the fonts the artist regularly used is too small in comic strip standards; they're just as big as the syndicate copyrights in most comics (in my opinion). Also, in light of this, the strip's dates in these strips was twice as large as the text in the dialog, and up to 3 times as large as dates used in most other comics.

Since then, the lettering situation improved, with Gary Fields, and later, Tim Harkins, doing lettering by hand.

4. The stories, though they're as average or slightly above-average as other comics, are questionable, especially since there's no continuity between strips. Because of this, it's impossible to get a good storyline going in strips like these, as well as difficult to develop characters further. Some sequences, later on, had some continuity between the strips.

Some early Rugrats strips had this scenario: one panel shows the Rugrats on a special adventure, either in space, in the jungle, etc.; the second panel shows them where they actually are, like in the sandbox, crib, etc.

Finally, in the 9/12/1998 Gray / Fields strip, some people (me included) thought they spotted a violation of the most cardinal rule of Rugrats, the rule that many fans of the show already know:
The babies understand what they say to each other, and the babies somewhat understand what the adults say, but the adults never understand what the babies say.

In that strip, Tommy & Chuckie watch a Sci-Fi program on TV. When they see a planet on TV that's similar to the one on Chuckie's shirt, Tommy says in the 3rd panel that the aliens live on Chuckie's shirt. In the 4th and final panel, Chuckie watches TV without his shirt on while Didi examines Chuckie's shirt.

According to writer Scott Gray, a lot happened between the 3rd & 4th panels of the strip. In the part we didn't see, Chuckie took off his shirt and threw it in the trash can, which is the small, bucket-like object on the right side of the 4th panel. Didi saw what happened and took the shirt out of the trash can.

Due to rigid space constraints in the daily strip, a lot of important elements in storytelling end up being left out, leading to confusion. This is also the reason why Boris is being kicked out of the strip (see below).

5. Some papers are dropping other strips, many of them popular, to accommodate the Rugrats strip. One example is the Washington Post; in their recent poll of comics readers in their paper, Rugrats was rated the paper's worst strip in all age groups. Because of this, the Post restricted Rugrats to Sundays and, during the week, reinstated the strip that the Rugrats kicked out -- Frank Cho's Liberty Meadows (distributed by Creator's from 1997 to 2001; was dropped by author to concentrate more on his other projects and to get away from syndicate censorship).  Here's what he has to say about this, after Liberty Meadows returned (from Creator's website):
"Thank you Washington Post Readers for all your loyal support and valiant effort in bringing Liberty Meadows back to The Washington Post. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You guys are the greatest!"

(In my opinion, Liberty Meadows is the funniest strip ever, filling a void left behind when Bloom County / Outland quit. Read the comic book when you get a chance.)

Runner-up in the worst comic category in the Post (and still running everyday) is Bill Griffith's Zippy, which many readers find whatever Zippy's saying hard to understand. Keep in mind that other factors were included in the decision.

Often, because of this public reaction, this led to some papers relegating Rugrats to Sundays only, or dropping it outright, so the previous strip can be reinstated. Keep in mind, though, that I'm not saying that there wasn't anyone reading Rugrats, as the outcome of these polls may dissapoint those fans.

For Further Reading...

I suggest reading "The Calvin & Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book" by Bill Watterson (Andrews & McMeel, 1995). This book includes the evolution and the state of the comic strip (not just Calvin & Hobbes, but the medium in general), as well as his views on merchandising. Look for it at fine book stores and libraries everywhere.

Boris Banished

In yet another low point for the strip, Boris was unceremoniously kicked out of the Rugrats strip because he offended Jews. For details, click here.

Repeating Itself

In a sequence that ran 1/12-14/1999, Angelica told nursery rhymes to Tommy & Chuckie. While the stories are diffrerent, the art is, more or less, the same. For details, click here.

Papers That Carried "Rugrats"

The following is a list of some of the 130 papers that have carried the Rugrats strip to some capacity. While many papers on this list carried Rugrats during the entire run, some dropped the strip early and/or did not pick the strip up until later.

United States:
State: Paper(s):
Alabama The Birmingham News
Arizona The Arizona Republic (Phoenix)(Sundays only)
California Davis Enterprise
Colorado Denver Post
Connecticut Greenwich Times
The Advocate (Stamford)
District Of Columbia Washington Post (Sundays only)
Florida The News Herald (Panama City Beach)
Walton Sun (Santa Rosa Beach)
Illinois Commercial News (Danville)
Taylorsville Daily Breeze
Indiana News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne)
Noblesville Daily Ledger
Iowa Cedar Rapids Gazette
Quad City Times (Davenport)
Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque)
Kansas Abilene Reflector-Chronicle
Kentucky Lexington Herald-Leader
The Mountain Eagle (Whitesburg)
Massachusetts Lawrence Eagle-Tribune (North Andover)
Minnesota Star-Tribune (Minneapolis)(Sunday only)
Mississippi The Sun-Herald (Biloxi)
Missouri Kansas City Star
Nebraska Omaha World Herald
Sidney Daily News
New Jersey The Trentonian (Trenton)
New Mexico Albuquerque Tribune
Clovis News Journal
Santa Fe Journal (daily only)
New York Albany Times-Union
Syracuse Herald-American
North Carolina The Gastonia Gazette
Ohio Independent (Massillon)
Tribune-Chronicle (Warren)
Pennsylvania Carlisle Sentinel
Daily News (Lebanon)
North Hills Daily Record (Tarentum)
Observer-Reporter (Washington, PA)
Valley News Dispatch (Tarentum)
Philadelphia Inquirer (Sunday only)
Reading Eagle
Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader
Texas San Antonio Express-News
Utah Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City)
Virginia Northern Virginia Daily (Strasburg)
Washington The Seattle Times (daily only)
West Virginia The Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) (replaces Doonesbury)
The Intelligencer (Wheeling)
Wyoming Wyoming Eagle & State Tribune (Cheyenne)

Foreign Markets:
Country: Paper(s):
Australia The Sunday Times (Perth, Western Australia)
Sydney Morning Herald
K-Zone (children's magazine that publishes the Sunday Rugrats strip once a month)
Brazil O Globo (Rio de Janiero)
(also published Sundays in the "Globinho" supplement)

If your local paper carried the strip, but it's not on this list, let me know about it, and I'll add it on here.

Papers That Dropped The Rugrats Strip During Its Run

During the last couple of years, some newspapers are starting to drop the strip entirely, as the strip did not meet their expectations. Here's the list.

Akron Beacon-Journal
The Atlanta Journal & Constitution (Sundays only)
Boston Herald
Chicago Tribune (may still be warehoused)
Cincinnati Enquirer (dropped for Pokemon, as of 9/11/2000)
Colorado Springs Gazette (ousted by opinion poll of readers)
Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch (dropped as of 3/14/1999)
Daily Sun (Lady Lake / The Villages, FL)
Delaware County Daily Times (Primos, PA)
Detroit Free Press (Monday-Friday; in color)
Detroit News & Free Press (Saturday (black & white only) & Sunday)
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Houston Chronicle
Las Vegas Sun (daily only)
Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sundays only)
Los Angeles Times
Memphis Commercial-Appeal (dropped 3/17/2003 for a reinstatement of "Arlo & Janis")
National Post (Toronto, ON)
New York Daily News (dropped as of 4/19/1999)
El Nuevo Día (San Juan, PR) (in Spanish; about 2 months' delay from original date; for more info, click here)
Philadelphia Daily News (in color; daily only; dropped as of 4/16/2001)
San Jose Mercury-News (dropped as of 4/19/1999; online strip dropped March 2001)
The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ)(ousted by opinion poll of readers)
The Sun (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

Note that the strip has been dropped in 2 key Rugrats cities -- New York (headquarters of Viacom & Nickelodeon) and Los Angeles (home of Klasky-Csupo and Nicktoon Studios); because of this, most of the people involved in the strip's production are not able to see the final product in their local papers -- they either have to wait until it comes online, or have someone send them copies from a distant newspaper. Also, The Orlando Sentinel never picked up the strip, even though Orlando is the home of Nickelodeon Studios.

And on an ironic note, 2 papers in Tennessee that picked up the strip, closed down. These papers are:

The Banner (Nashville) -- closed down in early-1998, shortly before the strip's 4/5/1998 start date. Its competitor, The Tennessean, did not pick it up.

The Chattanooga Times -- closed down 1/4/1999 and merged with The Chattanooga Free Press; it's unclear whether or not the new Times & Free Press picked up the strip (though it's certain that it's not carried on Sundays).

(Special thanks to Scott Gray, Jon Cooksey, Rob Simpson, Scott Roberts , Gordon Kent and Don Del Grande; additional info from Editor & Publisher (3/28/1998 & 4/11/1998) and  Animation World Network)

Return To Rugrats Home Page