The many faces of Frank Godwin’s Rusty Riley . . .

In an earlier post, I discussed the fact that Patty Miles is portrayed in several very different ways in the course of the Rusty Riley comic strip.  But other characters were also overhauled during the course of the strip, and one of those was none other than Rusty Riley himself.  I am going to delve into that topic a little at this time.

Below are shown two highly divergent versions of Rusty Riley.  One is from the first year of the strip (1948), and the other is from the last year of the strip (1959).  In the first, Godwin has obviously pulled out all the stops, as far as providing detail goes.  Probably some of that detail is due to the fact that the first strips pretty much had to be extremely impressive, because many newspapers would determine, based on that art, whether they would subscribe or not.  The later strip is equally competently drawn — but it is more spare.  The later strip also seems to portray a more mature Rusty!

Early Rusty

The above is from February 1948.

Later Rusty

The above is from July 1959.  Once again, it is seen that Godwin’s skill had not diminished  during the years after the first strips.

I haven’t really discussed the “conventions” of the Rusty Riley strip, but I’ll touch on that now, because it is pertinent.  Offhand, I can’t remember where I saw this, or perhaps it was one of my daughter’s findings in the course of her study of the daily strip, but I believe that in at least a couple of places (reasonably early in the strip, I think), it is shown that Rusty is fourteen years old.  Now, the strip ran for about twelve years, and it is evident that the characters did not age according to the passage of time that the strip itself experienced.  That is, the strip lasted about twelve years, but if Rusty had ages along with the strip, he would have been about twenty-six when the strip ended.

One possible anomaly is that in a fairly early strip, Patty makes reference to the junior prom — which might, and I only said might, imply that she was a junior in high school.  That might make her sixteen.

Still, Patty could be fourteen as well.

As the strip progresses, I think the characters do age — a little!  This isn’t a gag strip of the sort where no one needs to age, and events take place in some sort of Neverland.  No, in the Rusty Riley strip, time does seem to pass.  Events take place over extended periods, vacation time happens, Rusty needs to return to school, and so on.  But the time seems to pass in spurts.  Nonetheless, it seems that perhaps a few years pass for Rusty during the twelve years that the strip was running.  Still, time may have “plateaued” at some point, and I suppose that any further aging would have taken place at a very slow pace, if the strip had continued.

So, by the time the strip ended, maybe Patty and Rusty were both around seventeen.  (Yes, I realize that the strip, to some degree, reflects changes in the world exterior to the strip — for example, in Patty’s attire and hair-styles.)

Why do I bring this up?  Well, the differences in appearance of Rusty and Patty in the course of the strip are probably to some degree based on the fact that both of them are growing up (although at a slow pace).  But that alone does not explain everything.  And, by the way, I have not made a scientific study of the chronologies involved, so the foregoing discussion may raise some issues, but it is not super-authoritative.

—Tom Sawyer

December 16, 2013

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