Can you believe 'Ripley's' is 100? Yes. Yes, you can.by Laura Vernaci
Believe it or not, the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” brand has some incredible news to share — its comic strip turns 100 this month!
Founder Robert Ripley launched his unbelievable career of discovering the world’s oddities on Dec. 19, 1918, when he published his first cartoon, “Champs & Chumps.” The daily fun facts cartoon has continued ever since, and Ripley, famously, went on to create books, a live radio show, short films, the first “reality” TV show, and museums (known as “odditoriums” at the time).
“People love bizarre facts and strange occurrences, particularly if they’re true," said Associate Editor Reed Jackson, who works with the Ripley's Believe It or Not! cartoon for Andrews McMeel Universal. "Before the Internet, before The Guinness Book of Records, heck, before World War I – there was Ripley."
GoComics recently sat down with the current "Believe It or Not!" illustrator John Graziano, who took the helm in 2004 and is only the seventh illustrator in the cartoon’s history (including Ripley himself). You can read current and past strips here on GoComics. Submissions for the cartoon are always welcome.
GoComics: What is your history with the cartoon? Has there been much of a variance over the years from illustrator to illustrator?
I took over the helm of illustrating the cartoon in May of 2004, with the first published date of my work being Sunday, June 27, 2004. Most of the illustrators since Ripley have used a detailed, realistic style mixed with some “funny” bits that are decidedly more cartoony in nature.
GoComics: What is your role as illustrator, and what is your process of creating the strip?
Sabrina Sieck [the cartoon’s researcher] provides the voice of the feature panel, researching and discovering new odd facts and tidbits that are unbelievable, just like Ripley used to do in his day. The facts are provided to me as a list, and I choose three items for each daily and four [items] for [each] Sunday panel, trying to think about how a particular group of facts will come together. Sometimes, they’re variations on a theme; sometimes, they’re all completely different, but I can see how they can fit together in my head before I start drawing. But before I put pen to paper, I research the items and gather photo references to base the drawings on. The facts we use come from anywhere and everywhere — online sources, print sources, social media, and even fan submissions.
GoComics: Why do you think Ripley’s cartoon became so popular, eventually exploding into a brand that has included books, radio, TV programs, and, eventually, museums?
It seems to have been a natural progression for the cartoon panel to grow into other media opportunities. The public demanded more, and Ripley had the intuition and foresight to deliver. One of the main reasons I believe the feature had become so popular was that it was “interactive” from the beginning. We take this description for granted now but in the heyday of Ripley’s popularity, people were encouraged to send in their weird facts, feats, and stories for a chance to be immortalized by Ripley in his cartoon. The public reacted to the cartoon with much enthusiasm, and Ripley was once voted most popular personality in the country.
GoComics: How has the cartoon strip influenced pop culture in the last century?
Aside from the familiar use of “Believe It or Not!” in everyday language, Ripley's became synonymous with all things weird and wondrous, amazing and hard to believe, yet all true! You still hear it mentioned in movies when something unbelievable happens. Our TV show with Jack Palance in the 1980s catapulted us back into the heart of pop culture, as did our TV show with Dean Cain in the early 2000s. The phrase, “Believe it or not,” is such a part of the common vernacular — stop and count how many times you hear people say it in a day!
GoComics: What is Ripley's doing to celebrate the milestone?
There are a number of things planned for the milestone event year, and first and foremost will be the release of our Ripley’s Believe It or Not! 100 Years coffee table book that for the first time will give readers a comprehensive history of all things “Believe It or Not!”, from Ripley’s life story to what we as a company are involved with in the 21st century. We also participated in the Hollywood Christmas Parade and it was our honor to invite as a guest in the parade, Art Janssen, a 109-year-old man who is from the same town Robert Ripley was born in — Santa Rosa, California! The parade will air on the CW Network on Dec. 14, at 8 p.m. EST. Additionally, we will be ringing in the New Year in Times Square to celebrate our 100th anniversary with a spot on the host platform on Countdown Stage, and much more.
GoComics: Do you have a favorite cartoon either that you’ve done or in the strip’s history?
People have often asked me what my favorite "Believe It or Not!" fact is, and I have to reply that I have yet to see it! I’m always looking to top what has been done previously, artistically, and editorially ... Believe It!