December 02, 2006

The Comics Curmudgeon

I basically learned to read by poring over comic strips. My father is a comic strip fan, and he had books of Peanuts, Doonesbury, and Pogo collections in his library, all of which I adored. I read the Sunday comics supplement from top to bottom (skipping only the soap opera comics), and for the entire time I lived with my parents, I read the daily comics religiously, too. I got the foundation of my knowledge of late 20th Century political and social history from Doonesbury.

My preteen and teen years were in the heyday of modern comics: Garfield, The Far Side, Bloom County, and Calvin and Hobbes actually made some kind of cultural noise and impact.

In college, I was obsessed with the classic comics (Krazy Kat), sought out underground comics (Raw), worshipped Life In Hell and Ernie Pook's Comeek, and I wrote and drew my own comic strip, Aspects, which ran five times a week in the NYU student paper, The Washington Square News. Writing a daily comic strip is a career ambition that has yet to fade entirely .

Since the rise of the Internet, I don't subscribe to a newspaper anymore, and I get my news from my My Yahoo page every morning. Yahoo allows three comic strip feeds to my home page, but I could only justify reading two daily: Doonesbury and For Better or For Worse. I would have chosen Get Fuzzy as my third, but for some reason Yahoo's Comics Module doesn't carry it.

Doonesbury is simply the best comic strip ever created, arguably better than Peanuts, mainly because in its last 15 years, Peanuts was softened and sanitized into emptiness by the success of its own global licensing program. The same thing happened to Snoopy that happened to Mickey Mouse -- he stopped being a character and instead became a symbolic corporate icon.

For Better or For Worse has some serious goofiness issues, but I'm also emotionally invested in the Patterson family in a way I'm frightened to admit. At last year's Licensing Show in NYC, I was wandering around alone when I spotted a booth peddling FBOFW licensing. I went up to discuss possible FBOFW tie-ins (I make licensed books for a living), and someone handed me a large printout of a FBOFW strip and told me to step up to the counter. I did this sort of automatically, because Licensing Show at the Jacob Javits center is an overwhelming experience that makes one quite loopy. It took me a few moments to realize that Lynn Johnson, the creator, illustrator, and writer of the strip was sitting right in front of me.

I'm mortified to admit that I completely lost my shit. Really, I've met my share of relatively famous people, and I'm no starfucker. Never have I geeked out as badly as I did in front of Lynn Johnson. I started gushing about how Farley's death saving April made me weep. It was totally embarrassing and she seemed a bit frightened at my reaction, honestly, but she signed two large strips for me and placed them in protective tubes and I walked away feeling ridiculously thrilled.

I can't imagine what I'd do if I met Garry Trudeau. I'd probably have a heart attack.

Anyway, a month or so ago I found myself really upset about the direction For Better or For Worse had taken with it's horrifying Elizabeth/Anthony storyline, and I did a Google search to find out if anyone else on the Internet was equally freaked. That's how I found The Comics Curmudgeon site. (All strips and text quote blocks -- in blue -- were lifted directly from The Comics Curmudgeon. Click any strip to make it larger and readable.)

For Better Or For Worse
, 11/28/06

No, you see Ellie, in the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the strong, handsome, interesting police, who investigate crime; and the witnesses, who mumble testimony through their cinnamon-bun-crumb-laden mustaches and try to avoid mentioning their total contempt for the niceties of fair trials in a common law jurisdiction. This one’s already out of Paul’s hands, I’m afraid.

Seriously, though, this is the worst thing ever. I hate all of you, die, die, die, die.

Written and maintained by Joshua Fruhlinger, The Comics Curmudgeon site has had me cracking up and feeling a wonderful sense of comics community since I discovered it. Josh is quite clever and funny about the wackiness, inconsistencies, craziness, obsessiveness, and stupidity of the current comics medium, and his interest in the soap strips (those slow-moving serial strips that seem so boring) has broadened my horizons, or at least broadened my arena of mockery.

I never paid much attention to Mary Worth, Apartment 3-G, Rex Morgan, M.D., Mark Trail, or Judge Parker -- those were pretty much the only strips I skipped as a kid. They were the comic dramas in the world of comic sit-coms I loved. Even Spider-Man was interminably boring, I thought.

That is, until you find a site dedicated to cleverly deconstructing them.

Mary Worth, 11/9/06

Mary Worth has of course been delicious all week, as Mary seethes inwardly at her coming obsolescence. Panel two may be the moment at which anger turns to self-doubt, the moment when Mary’s steely self-confidence began to soften just a little. More interesting, though, is panel one, in which she appears to be shoveling off-white glop out of bucket onto a cookie sheet. Many of you have wondered why exactly Mary has a thigh-high bench in the middle of her kitchen; the fact that she needs to drop her … food … from about a foot above its target would seem to illustrate how impractical this arrangement is. But I’ll bet she just likes the sound it makes.

The Comics Curmudgeon is a very popular site -- I've never seen so many comments on single posts. Hundreds of comments are put up in hours. Because comics are a medium with a language almost all Americans understand on a deep, intrinsic level from the exposure we've gotten to them nearly accidentally from birth, everybody's got something to say about them. For a long time, comics were considered America's most popular medium -- more people read them daily than any other printed media. Since newspapers are in such serious decline, though, the strips may be dying, too . . . unless syndication on the Internet somehow saves them.

How do you monetize that, though?

Ziggy, 11/9/06

See, “diversity” used to be code for “black people,” but now it’s code for “gay people.” This represents the new PC horrorshow that awaits us under a Democratic-controlled Congress. Marriage is between one man and one woman, not a cat and two mice. Sickos.

Mark Trail, 11/27/06

Yeah, Mark, I’m sure he’ll be very excited to learn that Molly’s safe, especially considering that he had no reason to believe that she wouldn’t be safe, since he left her in the hands of an experienced outdoorsman and all. It’s like the time I took care of a friend’s cat when she was out of the country, and the cat had some pretty disgusting gastrointestinal problems, but I didn’t tell her about it until after I took the cat to the vet and got it all worked out. Except I sought medical attention for the cat as soon as I realized he was sick instead of leaving him in the back of an open jeep so that he could be kidnapped by morons with stupid hair. So, my point, Trail, is good luck casually playing this bearnapping incident off when you go see Buck in the hospital.

Yes, that moose is talking out of its butt in the second panel. No, I don’t know why that’s happening or how to make it stop.

This is the post on The Comics Curmudgeon that made me laugh the hardest so far:

, 10/9/06

Things this deranged B.C. might possibly mean:
1. Columbus’ actions upon his “discovery” of Hispaniola began a legacy of enslavement and genocide that forever tainted the European colonial enterprise in the Americas.
2. What we need are more leaders like Columbus, who don’t let considerations of “political correctness” prevent them from getting done what needs to be done.
3. Them colored folk sure are good at the ball games.

The comic strip form is part of our American heritage, people. Yes, as William Carlos Williams says, "the pure products of America go crazy," but we must cherish our authentic, homespun insanity.

Or what will we have left worthy of celebration and mockery?

1 comment:

Lori Mocha said...

You should post some of your own comics!