I want to be very careful in evaluating what if any ways that the "long melodrama" strips of the classic comic-strip era-- PRINCE VALIANT, TARZAN, FLASH GORDON, WASH TUBBS-- have to being any sort of "graphic novels." While the individual story-lines of these strips do have greater potential for complication in the sense of being mythic, they don't have much of the "scope" often applied to the general idea of the novel. Since each of these storylines is just one narrative arc, without a lot of complementary development, such arcs might be better compared to the novella than the novel proper.
I also had some critical words for the narrative tendencies of the "long melodrama" strips in STRIP NO-SHOW:
What the elitists missed, however, was that comic strips, even at their greatest levels of excellence, were always hampered by the factors of serial progression. Certainly Sunday pages like NEMO and PRINCE VALIANT could get away with a somewhat "painterly" approach to comics-narrative, but they were the exceptions. Most story-strips, whether they appeared only on weekdays, on Sundays, or in a combined form, chose to pursue a straightforward linear narrative-- again, one designed to seduce the readers into regularly partaking of the newspaper that carried the comic.
Combining these observations, my verdict on the narrative story-strips of the classic era is that though they had greater potential for complication-- which I've elsewhere called "amplitude"-- because they could run at great lengths, they often did not use it because they were so concerned with "straightforward linear narrative." Thus the long narratives of comic strips often lacked the conceptual "scope" present in long novels-- a scope that I tend to identify with (1) Jung's functions of thinking and poetic intuition, and (2) my modification of Gerard Manley Hopkins' concept of "overthought" and "underthought." The "straightforward linear narrative" characteristic of story-oriented comic strips approximates to what I called "lateral meaning" in the above essay.
Story-strips tend to generate stronger tendency toward continuity than their opposite number, the gag strips. That said, when I was seeking a long story in Chester Gould's DICK TRACY strip, I said that I "found it hard to isolate particular sequences that I consider[ed] symbolically complex." Gould tended to spin off his narratives in an eccentric manner, and critics have attested that he usually did not plan his stories out in detail. Gould seemed to favor the dictum of Dashiell Hammett: "when in doubt, have a man with a gun walk into the room." The sequence I labeled JUNIOR TRACY FINDS A DAD provides a marked exception to this tendency, for throughout the story Gould's narrative is informed by one psychological pattern: to join together a man and a boy who are father and son in spirit. Moreover, to do so, Gould reached back into his previous story-lines, melding together the separate careers of Stooge Viller and Steve the Tramp as major players in his melodrama.
I found a similar "eccentric manner" as I read through several sequences of Al Capp's LI'L ABNER, and thus for the same reason ABNER's long stories are marked by a plethora of melodramatic plot-incidents. These incidents serve to give the reader the sense of linear progress, but they're usually so haphazard that they don't generate any significant mythicity.
My re-reading of ABNER is by no means complete. However, in the upcoming "mythcomic of the week," the sequence I have chosen is not the sort of thing most comics-mavens would have chosen. Most would probably have selected one of Capp's overt satires, like those involving the Schmoos.
The Schmoo storyline is a pretty good example of a strong "overthought," but I don't think it displays the mythic "underthought" that I've been searching for.