Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Here Comes the New Year, Same as the Old Year

I'm back!

I don't know how regularly I'll be posting. I'm not entirely sure how I sustained that whole once-a-day thing to begin with. This translation gig actually takes up a fair amount of time. However, we shall see what we shall see.

As I am going to be spending most of January 1st on various airplanes, I shall while away the time until midnight arrives in BC and my parents and I can blow our little bugles out the door* by exploring the radical new direction in which the hack who currently churns out Hagar the Horrible is clearly set on taking the strip.

As we can see, today's gag is one that has made an appearance in the comic at least once and very probably five or six hundred times before. The gags in Hagar are, in fact, all recycled, and they have been since the seventh strip, which was the strip published the day after the cartoonist ran out of ideas. This commendable practice is entirely medieval in its provenance, albeit with a modern twist. Instead of borrowing bits and pieces from various "auctors" and thus imbuing his work with "auctoritee," the Hagar cartoonist is borrowing bits and pieces from his own strip and thus imbuing it with both "auctoritee" and status as an "auctor." He is his own source. The technique is innovative--or would have been in 1390--and has been emulated by most of the legacy cartoonists, though seldom so successfully as in this case.

Today's comic again draws on antifeminist stereotypes and the idea of horns representing a cuckold to provide a fresh take on the old "don't-lie-to-me-or-your-horns-will-fall-off" chestnut. Helga, as the typical nagging wife, is also the type of a hypocrite: she rails at her husband (probably with cause, as Hagar demonstrates when he grabs the horns) while actually forbidding him to shed his status as a victim of her own adultery. Hagar unwittingly clutches this status close; he thinks he is unwilling for Helga to know his secrets, but he is really wilfully blind to her treachery. Ah...the womens! The nagging, nagging womens! What a terrible double standard is imposed upon men by this socially and politically powerfully sex!

We here see a subtle evolution in the trope. In the earlier example, Hagar blatantly lies to Helga, thus demonstrating his guilt. In today's comic, Hagar indicates his potential for guilt but never utters the lie. I suspect that the next permutation of the gag will involve a wholly innocent Hagar and a raving, unreasonable Helga with unearthly blue flames issuing from her bodily orifices. Really, it's only a matter of time.

Happy New Year. May the funny pages continue to be relentlessly medieval in their content and outlook. I truly can't imagine that they won't.

*My family has some quite odd traditions. It's best simply not to ask.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Comic-Strip Christmas Carol: Stave Five

Jim Davis blinked, dazed, at his surroundings. The mist was gone. He was in his own bedroom, kneeling beside his own bed, and morning light was streaming through the curtains.

"I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future," Davis repeated joyfully, and he rushed to the window to look out upon the new world.

And then, halfway there, he paused.

What did it mean, anyway? How did one live in the Past, the Present, and the Future? Didn't he already do that? Had the Ghost been implying he should change something? Give something up? Garfield?

"That's absurd," said Davis aloud to the empty room. "I've worked hard on that comic. Why should I give it up?"

Don't, then, the Ghost of Comics Past seemed to whisper in his ear. But remember little Jimmy.

"Little Jimmy was a bit of an idiot," said Davis. Already, the visions he had seen were fading, dying out in the stark light of the new day. "Children are naive. They grow up. They realise the real ticket to success is a solid business model. You don't get that by mooning over comic strips.

Remember the young man who wants to be a cartoonist, whispered the Ghost of Comics Present.

Davis felt a pang, but he counted to ten, and it passed. "Also naive," he said, "not to mention selfish. Why should people indulge him if he isn't willing to conform to industry standards? He has talent; he should give the syndicates what they want."

A spectral Ghost of Comics Yet to Come pointed forbiddingly at a phantom remainders table.

"Uh-huh," said Davis. "Come on...Garfield will never be remaindered in my lifetime. It's exactly what people less. The perfect formula. People who complain about it are cynical discontents. And I hardly have to lift a finger to make it happen."

As he moved towards the door, Davis thought, for an instant, that he saw all three Ghosts floating before him in the air, gazing at him reproachfully. "Oh, lighten up," said Davis. "You guys sure know how to ruin a punchline by hanging around for one panel too many."

And so, heart considerably lighter than it had been ten minutes before, Jim Davis left his bedroom at last.

The Ghosts stared disconsolately after him. "Well," said Johnny Hart, materialising, "another one bites the dust."

"We've tried this chap," said the Ghost of Comics Past. "We've tried Bil Keane, Cathy Guisewite, Lynn Johnston, the entire Walker clan. Every time it's the same: a ten-second epiphany, then bam! Right back to the drawin' board. Why the &^*$ does it happen?

"Cartoonists," explained the Ghost of Comics Present wearily. "They all have amazing capacities for ignoring stark reality."

The Ghost of Comics Yet to Come, exuding menace from every pore, extended a forefinger and pointed out the window. The other Ghosts, following the finger, noticed a pub across the street.

"Yeah, all right," said Johnny Hart. "To tell you the truth, I could do with a drink."

And the four of them faded out, leaving as evidence of their visit only a slight chill in the air..., tucked neatly under Jim Davis's pillow, a copy of the first Garfield collection, already out of print.

P.S.: A random online name-origin dictionary reveals that "Garfield" means "triangle field" in Old English, but I have chosen to take my favourite meaning of "gar," "spear," and translate it forward into Middle English. "Trianglefeld" just doesn't have the same ring as "Sperefeld."

Why the heck would it matter whether Garfield had stolen Jon's pants? He never needs his pants; he's always stuck behind that counter thingy. I'm also a bit* curious as to how Garfield managed to swipe Jon's pants, which Jon was presumably wearing at the time.

I do not particularly want to think about the fact that Jon apparently owns only one pair of pants.

P.P.S.: I'm afraid marking has once again taken over my life, and I'll have to take another break. With luck, I'll be back in a couple of days.

Stupid, stupid marking.

*Not a big bit.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Comic-Strip Christmas Carol: Stave Four

Some time later, Davis opened his eyes.

He had expected--or, at least, hoped--to be back in his bedroom once more. No such luck. Mist roiled about him as he struggled to his feet. He seemed to be on a plane of some sort, though he couldn't see far enough through the fog and darkness to tell how vast it might be.

"Hello?" he quavered. "Spirit? Anyone?"

There was no reply...but he became aware, then, of a presence at his back, and he turned.

A dark, silent figure stood there, cloaked and hooded in black. In one skeletal hand it carried what looked like a rotting newspaper; the other it extended before it, pointing through the mist.

"Ah," said Davis. "I take it you're the Ghost of Comics Yet to Come?"

The Ghost said nothing, but inclined its head slightly.

"Lead on, then," said Davis, feeling--perhaps not unreasonably--that whatever was Yet to Come in the world of comics, he himself would have influenced it immeasurably.

The Ghost, still pointing, slid through the mist, and Davis followed. After only a few steps, he found himself stumbling through into...

...What was this? A dingy bus station late at night...five or six men and women sitting, exhausted, on benches, or leaning against the wall. Three of them, saw Davis, were reading newspapers, and he moved eagerly to peer over the shoulder of the first.

The man flipped the paper closed before Davis could catch more than a glimpse of the interior, then turned to the woman next to him, whom he seemed to know. "Been reading this all day," he said. "Anything good in yours?"

"Well," she said sardonically, "Mary Worth is fixing someone's life again. And Dagwood is late for his carpool."

They both laughed. "God," said the man, "I wish the syndicates would just let those damn things die. Who do they think reads them, anyway?"

A bus pulled into the station, and the couple boarded, leaving their newspapers on the bench. Davis tried to pick one up, but his fingers slipped through it as if it, or he, was insubstantial. "Spirit," he cried, "help me!"

The Ghost pointed at the paper, and the pages riffled as if in a high wind, finally stopping at the comics page.

Or was it the comics page? Before him, Davis could see only three tiny strips: Mary Worth, Blondie, and The Family Circus. The rest of the page was given over to advertising and the detailed discussion of a hand of celebrity poker.

Davis stared at the page in horror. "It can't be," he said. "Where's Cathy? Where's Hagar the Horrible? Where..." He paused. "Where is Garfield?"

The Ghost pointed. Davis rose and followed it back into the mist, emerging finally in a brightly lit office. Before him, Davis saw a man...surely the same young man he had witnessed not long before, crouching in his dingy room as he sketched out comics. The man was older now, and he sat toiling at a desk job in one cubicle among many.

"Is he a cartoonist now?" asked Davis, but the Ghost merely pointed. Davis, following its finger, moved closer to the man.

A woman stopped beside his cubicle. "Got that report done yet?"

"Hardly." The man sighed. "My head hurts."

"Jim won't care," said the woman, shrugging. "You'd better get to work."

"I'm always at work," said the man. "I shouldn't be here, you know. I was going to be--"

"Yeah, yeah, rich and famous, whatever," said the woman. "When are you going to shut up about that, Steve? Newspaper comics have been dying a slow death for years. No one wants to read them; there's certainly no audience for yours. Finish the report."

She moved away. Steve stared hopelessly after her for a moment, then reluctantly returned to his report.

Davis looked anxiously at the Ghost. "Tell me it's not so," he said. "Tell me he still has a chance. Tell me it's not too late!"

The finger pointed. Davis followed it back into the mist.

He emerged in a second-hand bookstore. The proprietor, a creaky old man, moved slowly amongst the shelves, dusting; otherwise, the place was deserted. Davis walked forward. A sense of foreboding was growing in him, but he couldn't seem to stop himself from following that pointing finger, now directed towards a table near the back of the store. Closer he moved...and closer...

Garfield. The table was full of Garfield collections, all of them tattered and worn, none of them under ten years old. He had been remaindered.

For the third time, Davis fell to his knees. "No, Spirit," he cried. "I am not the man I was. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!"

The Ghost stood, still pointing at the table.

"I will honour comics in my heart all my life. I will live in the Past, Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the incredibly low prices on these covers!"

He caught at the Ghost's hand...but the Ghost was no longer there.

P.S.: I don't even understand how today's Garfield is meant to encompass any sort of joke. Why would Santa Claus care if a cat put on a false moustache? Are we meant to accept that Garfield really thinks Santa is that naive? Are we meant to care? I can only conclude that Jim-Davis-as-Dessicated-Monk is at work grinding out nonsensical idiocies yet again.

By the way...the word "Santa" existed in Middle English, but it referred to a female saint. The name "Santa Claus" probably would have made medieval people point and laugh.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Comic-Strip Christmas Carol: Stave Three

Jim Davis collapsed onto his bed and fell immediately into a deep, dreamless sleep. He awoke only when the clock was once more striking midnight. Remembering the words of Johnny Hart, Davis looked wildly about for the second Spirit.

At first, he saw nothing...but various stealthy sounds soon alerted him to the fact that someone was crouched at the foot of his bed. Davis leaned over as far as he could and beheld an emaciated young woman in threadbare clothing, a pen clutched in her right fist. She was running her fingers up and down the cracks in Davis's floorboards.

She noticed him watching her. "Oh, sorry," she said, leaping to her feet. "You'd be surprised at how much change sometimes gets stuck in those things. I am the Ghost of Comics Present."

"Why are you looking for change in the floorboards?" said Davis, who had rarely encountered anyone imbued with an air of such quiet desperation.

"Come and see," said the Ghost. The bedroom vanished, giving way to a much smaller, shabbier room: a bachelor apartment, cramped and falling to pieces. A man in his early twenties was working at a cheap IKEA kitchen table. Davis peered over the man's shoulder and saw several half-finished comic strips.

"Hey," said Davis, "this guy's very good. The art is simple but effective, and the words complement it well. And look at this punchline. It''s...I don't know...right on the tip of my tongue..."

"Funny?" suggested the Ghost.

Davis snapped his fingers. "That's it! So which syndicate has picked him up?"

"None," said the Ghost. "He has tried them all, but he is rejected again and again. All the rejections begin with praise. 'You are a warm, intelligent writer, but...' 'Your comic captures the humour in an unusual scenario, but...' 'We were impressed by your astute use of visual storytelling, but...'"

David bit, cautiously. "But what?"

The Ghost shook her head. "But his comics encompass an ongoing storyline, not simply a gag-a-day world frozen in time. But he is not writing about office workers, suburban families, or high-school sports, and the syndicates therefore aver that his comic lacks wide appeal. But there is no room for him in newspapers choked with legacy strips and long-running features that have long since ceased to be funny."

Davis became aware that he was beginning to experience an unfamiliar sensation. It took him a moment to realise that it was guilt. In an attempt to stifle it, he said, "Okay, sure, if he ignores convention--"

The Ghost said, "How much good art has sprung from a slavish devotion to convention?" And Davis, despite his rather indignant feeling that he was being thumped over the head with an Odious Moral Lesson, had no reply.

She went on: "Do you think this cartoonist is alone? All over the continent, young cartoonists are struggling to break into a business dominated by a few lazy people who are already rich enough to retire permanently. By clinging to fame without putting any work into it, they are both depriving new artists of the opportunity to shine and ensuring that newspaper comics will not grow and change. The more out-of-date the strips become, the less interest the public will demonstrate in them."

Davis was only half-listening. The plight of cartoonists in general was just an abstract concept to him...but the young man he could see working hard at a comic no one was going to read was quite real. "What's going to happen to him if he can't sell his comic?" he asked.

"Who cares?" asked the Ghost. "He may as well give up his dream and start working in an office. Less competition for you, yes?"

Once again, Davis found himself falling to his knees in supplication. He clutched at the Ghost's rags and found them coming away in his hands. Beneath them, clinging to the Ghost's flesh, were what looked like two wasted children, bestial and sharp-featured. Davis recoiled from them in horror.

"Ah, yes," said the Ghost, "them. The boy is Tradition; the girl is Lowest Common Denominator. No matter how I try, I cannot escape them."

"But that's horrible," said Davis.

The Ghost said, "Why? They have been clinging to you too for many a year."

Dreading what he would see, Davis glanced down...and two little faces peered up at him as he felt phantom fingers dig into his flesh.

Jim Davis fainted.

P.S.: Today's Garfield isn't the best possible candidate for medievalisation, but I do seem to be committed, via my current Dickensian format,* to medievalising five Garfield comics in a row. I have thus sucked it up and translated the word "blink." Believe it or not, "Twynklen" really does mean "to blink" or "to wink"; it can refer to the human eye or to a shining star (thus the song). I aver that it works just as well for that tiny little Christmas light, though frankly, I'm not sure that even such a wonderful word as "twynkle" can save this strip.

I propose that the mice in Garfield hook up with the mice in Overboard, build a spaceship, and blast the hell off the funny pages. They will have plenty of adventures, and we won't have to read about them any more.

*Yes, I do realise that Charles Dickens was not writing in the Middle Ages. I could access my academic training and trot out a convoluted, evidence-clogged justification of my attempts to parody him, but instead, I think I'll just direct your attention towards a shiny object and run swiftly away.

A Comic-Strip Christmas Carol: Stave Two

Blame the lateness of yesterday's comic on my absurd need for sleep. I shall try to finish today's eventually as well.

Jim Davis woke at midnight to find someone in the room with him: a fat man with a disproportionally large nose, odd bandy legs that seemed too spindly to support his weight, outdated clothing, and a tendency to drop his "'g"s and swear entirely in keyboard symbols. "I am the Ghost of Comics Past," said the fat man. "Tonight, I'll be showin' you the error of your ways. Come with me, you ol' #$&%@!$."

Davis found himself floating out the window. He drifted for a moment, then fell...and landed, not, as he had expected, on the pavement, but in a bedroom strewn with old-fashioned toys and comic books. A small boy sprawled on his stomach on the bed, leafing through a newspaper. He took no notice of the Ghost or Davis, the latter of whom leaned forward to catch a glimpse of the date on the paper: July 15, 1955.

"Why," said Davis, "this is my own bedroom! And that's...that's me!"

"Got it in one," said the Ghost in a genial manner. "Little Jimmy, back on the farm again. And just look at what he's readin'."

Davis peered over the boy's shoulder and saw...

"All my old favourites!" he exclaimed. "Nancy! Blondie! Popeye! Peanuts! Pogo! They're all here!"

"Tha's right," said the Ghost. "Most of them were still funny then."

"I remember," said Davis fervently. "The hours I used to spend poring over the funny pages! The joy they brought me! I wanted to be like those cartoonists; I wanted to bring that kind of happiness to readers."

"And so you did," said the Ghost. The scene dissolved, then reformed. They were in the same room, and the boy Jimmy was still there...but he was older now, curled up on the bed, doodling on a scrap of paper. Davis saw slightly lopsided versions of Charlie Brown, Pogo, Beetle Bailey.

"Ol' Jimmy had talent," said the Ghost as the scene melted again. Davis was now in the different room, watching a yet older Jim Davis opening a Chicago Tribune that looked to be from June 19, 1978. "And one day, his talent led him to invent--"

"Garfield," breathed Davis, watching his past self read the first published Garfield strip ever. "The Tribune tried to cancel it, but no one would let it. And look what it's become!"

"What it's become?" intoned the Ghost...and Davis shrank back from its expression. "What has it become, boss? An automaton...a zombie, still clingin' to the glories of the past, churned out by a committee!"

"But...but you're the Ghost of Comics Past," quavered Davis. "You should like the backward-looking, the tribute to the genius of yesteryear..."

"I may be representin' the past," thundered the Ghost, "but I don't expect everyone to live there. We shouldn't be forgettin' the past, but that's no reason for us not to move forrard into th' future! Adaptation! Growth! Change! Tribute without stagnancy! Remember ol' Jimmy, and stop *&$% well betrayin' what he stands for!"

The Ghost, as he spoke, had grown to monstrous size, apparently swelling with indignation. Jim Davis fell to his knees and clutched at the Ghost's bow-legs in supplication. "Mercy!" he cried. "Mercy..."

The Ghost shrank...dwindled to a bedpost. Davis was back in his own room, in his own Now.

P.S.: As you can see from today's translation, this is the sort of strip that, while purporting to deal with universal themes, becomes dated quite quickly; the language in it thus reads as code to succeeding generations. The problem, of course, is that Davis is so stuck in the past that he genuinely believes that all his readers will know what a lava lamp is.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Comic-Strip Christmas Carol: Stave One

Jim Davis, or whoever does Jim Davis's work for him nowadays, has a sweet, sweet deal. The Davisites* churn out three near-identical panels a day. The jokes are old and/or stupid; the characters do not grow or change. As young, hungry cartoonists shiver outside in the cold, the Davisites hunch over their drawing tables, sneering, "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?"

Jim Davis:

I am the ghost of your colleague, Johnny Hart. I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, and yard by yard, constructing it of terrible jokes, cardboard characters, predictable situations, lazy art, and the inability to recognise my own shortcomings. Would you know the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It is a ponderous chain!

You wonder at my condition, as I was always a good man of business? Humour was my business. The promotion of enjoyment was my business; cleverness, originality, boundary-pushing, and good writing were, all, my business. The earning of money was but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!

I am here to-night to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. You will be haunted by Three Spirits. Without their visits, you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first to-morrow when the comics appear in the newspapers.

Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us!

P.S.: And yes, this strip is worthy of medievalisation. The stupidity of the joke is as nothing compared to the idiocy of the unchanging "art." Jim Davis isn't quite one of our trio of monks, but he operates like an ancient monk gone to seed, bored with his own work and taking as many shortcuts as humanly possible. Instead of drawing all sorts of monsters in the margins of his manuscripts, he produces the same one over and over. He is, really, to be pitied.

*Quite like Deadites, except that even if you cut off their heads, sever their limbs, and burn their bodies and/or drawing materials, they keep grinding away at this damned strip.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Maybe I Could Feed My Students' Papers to Marmaduke

I'm nowhere near finished my marking...I am mired in plagiarism idiot driver clipped me with his car this evening...and a large dog tried to eat me. In honour of the last of these depressing circumstances, I shall spend at least a brief time with our friend Marmaduke.

In today's comic, we see that Marmaduke has grown to the size of an SUV. The joke is no longer simply that he's a great big dog; it is that he is becoming the canine equivalent of Audrey II.* If the artist is, in fact, familiar with the rules of perspective, he is calmly and deliberately drawing Marmaduke to be the same height as the guy with the hat...when Marmaduke is lying down. That, my friends, is a great big dog.

As well, the Antichrist story continues apace. As the Beast gains more power, that power begins to have an effect on his physical presence. Beware, Random Walking Couple; Marmaduke will swallow you whole. Just look at that tongue. It looks like an identifying mark of the Hellmouth to me.

Before long, Marmaduke will grow to roughly the size of Saskatchewan, and Armageddon will begin. It's really only a matter of time.

*If you have never seen Little Shop of Horrors on stage, now is probably a good time to start.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Slightly Behind

Due to marking beyond my control, Japes for Owre Tymes will be taking a short break this weekend. You may already have noticed the beginning of this break happening yesterday. That portion of the break occurred accidentally. The rest will be occurring on purpose.

I apologise for any inconvenience, though if you are truly inconvenienced by the lack of Middle English comics, our funny pages are in an even worse state than I keep implying.

With luck, I shall get enough work done tomorrow that I won't feel guilty about resuming my daily Japes on Monday. Until then, happy weekend. May your piles of marking not be as hideously enormous as mine.

Yours in the midst of another headache,

Angry Kem.
P.S.: To tide you over, here is a picture I drew for my class. You probably recognise Harry Potter...but the guy on the left is Sam Vimes from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. We were discussing the Pratchett/Rowling clash that took place after Rowling announced that she didn't particularly like fantasy and hadn't thought of her books as belonging to the fantasy genre until after she had finished the first one. There is really no reason for me to post this picture, but I was feeling all empty and wrong about publishing a post that did not contain any images. I think I may have issues.*

*Oh, all right...I know I do have issues.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Banality of Evil

It really is a week for medieval puns. Today, Love Is..., which deserves to be mulched, burned, and flung into an abyss of everlasting darkness, makes a pun that works better in Middle English than it does in the modern variant of the language. Oh, sure, we still tell a man who hasn't shaven for a while that he "looks a bit rough"...but why do we? Because "rough" means not simply "rugged" or "not smooth" but also "hairy"...that's why. The male Loveshmoo is hairy...and thus "rough" to the touch. Ha ha ha ha ha!*

I sincerely advise you not to think about the following facts:

1) The Loveshmoos are naked.
2) The Loveshmoos appear to be prepubescent.
3) The Loveshmoos have no identifiable sex organs, though the female Loveshmoo does have tiny nipples, whereas the male Loveshmoo does not.
4) Nonetheless, the male Loveshmoo can grow facial hair.

I really, really hate these little guys.

*I never said it was a good medieval pun.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Oh, My Sainted Aunt...I Must Scrub My Brain Out with Soap

Sometimes, when I'm reading The Family Circus, I find myself thinking, "Good grief, this is appalling. Oh least I know it can't possibly get worse."

And then it does.

Today's Family Circus may be one of the most horrifying single-panel comics I have ever seen. At first, it looks innocuous. Billy is taking Dolly's measurements as PJ looks on. How precious! How cute that the widdle childwen are acting just like adults...

...and fixating...over Dolly's...bust size...*

Heavens to Murgatroid, Keanes. What the hell is wrong with you?

The humour here is probably supposed to be inherent in the fact that Billy innocently calls Dolly's funny pear-shaped measurements "perfect." Perhaps the Keanes think they are being progressive in describing Dolly's lumpy body as "perfect." However, what we actually have here is a tiny little girl buying into the myth that women should have "perfect" measurements. How old is Dolly? Five? Six? Isn't it nice that she's already learning to obsess over her body? Look at that coy, self-satisfied smirk on her face. Any minute now, she's going to strike a Paris Hilton pose and go around modelling bathing suits.

The Keanes are clearly trapped in the past. Their outmoded portraits of women make me want to punch brick walls for fun. Go back to the Middle Ages, Keanes. You wouldn't be considered progressive there either, but at least you'd be out of my hair.

*It is entirely possible that my head has just exploded.

Proof! We Have Proof! Vindicated! Vindicated!

Though I dealt with Apartment 3G just three days ago, I need to return to it again now because today's strip contains fairly definitive proof that Brother Lawrence exists. I am happy to say that this comic really is created by a medieval monk who must strenuously exercise his imagination when dealing with just about anything.

My evidence:

On Saturday, Tommie made a beautiful pun on the word "male," which, in the Middle Ages, could mean both "masculine" and "evil." This pun does not exist in modern English. Without it, the strip made no sense at all; with it, it became quite clever. Brother Lawrence is not a stupid man, my friends. He may be naive about the outside world, but he knows his wordplay.

Today, Margo comments that her boyfriend has "fallen off the edge of the earth."

The edge of the earth? Really? Isn't it now more usual to say, "He's dropped off the face of the planet"? The latter expression acknowledges Earth's spherical nature; the former assumes that it is flat. Margo is here speaking in a medieval or pre-medieval idiom. She does not know that the earth is round because as far as her creator is concerned, it isn't.**

Brother Lawrence, show yourself. We know you're out there. Don't be ashamed. You may not know much about much, but we appreciate your attempts to imagine the world outside your monastery, and we support you on your mental journey of discovery.* Good on you, holy Brother. Keep up the strange but inadvertently entertaining work.

*Just be careful not to fall off the metaphorical edge of the metaphorical earth.
**Okay, okay, okay. As voxindeserto has pointed out, I am buying into unwarranted stereotypes of medieval ignorance. Brother Lawrence would have known the earth was round. However, it is possible that his characters, as silly women, would have known no such thing. Thank you, voxindeserto, for presenting a better solution. I shall try to be fairer to my trio of monks in future.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Anniversary...and Now I Shall Mock You

I suppose it is actually quite cruel of me to medievalise Gasoline Alley for the first time on the occasion of its ninetieth anniversary. Luckily, I am well on the way to building a reputation as someone who is quite cruel all the time. Congratulations, Gasoline Alley and its bevy of intergenerational creators. I respect your accomplishment. I also think it may be time for you to change or die.

In a way, Gasoline Alley is an anomaly among legacy strips. The demon Wikipedia tells us that Frank King began the strip as a Chicago Tribune Sunday feature involving a bunch of guys standing around talking about cars; it was popular enough that it spawned a daily comic. Through the years, the characters of Gasoline Alley have, unlike other creaky comic-strip characters such as Nancy or Hi and Lois, grown and changed. A baby who appeared on the protagonist's doorstep in 1921 is now in his late eighties; older characters have died, giving way to the younger generations. In fact, the comic has a great many characters. Unlike Blondie, a mere whippersnapper of seventy-eight, Gasoline Alley has the potential to have remained fresh throughout its run, as, for the most part, has Doonesbury, which has adopted a similar multi-character technique.

The problem is that Gasoline Alley has become so incredibly stupid that it has to be read to be believed. A relatively recent storyline involved the unbearable character Slim plotting to buy an asteroid and drop it on a basketball court that was bothering him because it was attracting perfectly polite basketball-playing teenagers who assaulted him with their NOISE, NOISE, NOISE, NOISE.* The fact that the perfectly polite basketball-playing teenagers were all black was pretty damned cringe-inducing, though admittedly, Slim is probably not meant to be a particularly sympathetic character. Lately, he has been displaying open greed, breathtaking arrogance, and utter self-centredness, not to mention hypocrisy, as he attempts to steal back a painting he had been given but thrown away because he thought it was worthless. A few months ago, there was a long, soul-deadening plot revolving around a cat-food commercial. It was probably meant to be whimsical. It wasn't.

In other words, though this strip was, in its time, innovative and amusing, it has dwindled to a shadow of its former self. The current creator can certainly draw, but his plots are rarely worth reading. It's really too bad.

As today's strip looks wistfully back into the past, it makes a good candidate for medievalisation. Gasoline Alley is, like other legacy strips, essentially past-focussed. It recognises that the twenty-first century is happening, but it kind of wishes it weren't.

Happy Birthday, Gasoline Alley. Maybe there is hope for you; it would be nice if there were. It would be nice, in fact, if a legacy strip would show the ability to move with the times...if the characters did not simply grow older but also grew up. Though you have become stupid, Gasoline Alley, perhaps there is hope for you yet. Do not go gentle into that good night.

P.S.: My translation of "Gasoline" is weird, but I stand by it.

*At this point, you should be imagining the Grinch grimacing as those little wee animated drumsticks pound at his ears.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Better to Wash Dogs in Hell Than...Well, I'm Not Sure

Back in what reader Voxindeserto has competently identified as the centre ring of the Seventh Circle of Hell (the place of punishment for suicides and spendthrifts), Louie the Demon Dog and the condemned pirate souls continue their eternal struggle. Our last visit to the pirates acted as a demonstration of forced soul-on-soul torment, though there was perhaps a hint of rebellion in Charley's sculpting of a topiary squirrel with which he meant to agitate Louie. In today's strip, we see the dead-eyed, emotionless pirates demonstrating somewhat more autonomy by attempting to fool the demon into leaping into a bucket of what I suspect may actually be holy water. The demon, however, is not fooled; the tell-tale bursting bubbles (representing the hopes of the souls) send him scrabbling under his Fiery Bed of Despair. The pirates may attempt to rebel, but the demon will always be one step ahead of them. He is playing with them, really. Every once in a while, he lengthens the leash, letting them believe they are nearly free...and then he yanks it back again.* The illusion of potential escape is, of course, part of the punishment. The pirates will never get free.

Unfortunately, neither will we.

*Oh, the terrible, terrible irony. The dog has the pirates on a leash! Snork!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

All...Men...are Like That?

It was difficult for me to resist today's Family Circus, wherein little Billy says in what is apparently complete innocence, "Daddy, my pen is stuck in your pencil sharpener." However, 1) I did a FC cartoon quite recently, and 2) that particular comic would make much better fodder for Utterly Filthy Filth for Our Times.* If Chaucer had known what a pencil sharpener was, he probably would have had a field day with this comic.

Luckily, fun stuff is also happening elsewhere on the funny pages. The Apartment 3G monk, identified by me a few days ago as the silent, contemplative Brother Lawrence, is gamely having a go at guessing what women talk about when they are alone together at their secret female bourbon parties. So far, the subjects of discussion have been Alan (a dead man) and Gary (a living man). It seems that once the ladies have drawn the mystic circle and chanted the runes of power, they tend to settle down to good long chats

Brother Lawrence interacts with women only very rarely. There are a few nuns who turn up at the monastery every once in a while, but he tends to avoid them. Nonetheless, he has a vivid imagination and has often thought about women, whom he regards in the same light as the dog-headed cannibals he has read about in books full of Isidore quotations.** The good Brother does, however, find himself frequently having to fall back on writing about what he knows, and what he knows is the world of men. Of course these women would discuss men. Doesn't everybody? Yet since they are women and thus completely alien, their conversations must necessarily be alien as well; they therefore talk about how frustrating men are, just as men in the same position might talk about how frustrating women were.

A major clue that this comic is the brainchild of a medieval monk lies in Tommie's final statement, which contains a Middle English pun. The word "male" means "male," but it can also mean "evil." Tommie is, in fact, coming out with an antimasculist rant: the very opposite of Brother Lawrence's natural inclination. He really does enjoy getting into the brains of creatures so completely inscrutable. If he knew about novels, he would be thinking about writing one.

*A site that doesn't exist but should.
**The dog-headed cannibals are actually only the tip of the iceberg. Just don't ask about the people with ears so huge they are able to use them as sunshades.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Life is a Playground...but Don't Tell the Ladies

Hagar the Horrible, ever the progressive comic, today returns to the fifth of its six themes: "women are repressive nags designed to keep men from having any sort of fun at all, and we should hate and fear them." Here, Hagar teaches his son Hamlet that if a real man wants to experience happiness, he first needs to learn to keep his activities secret from the women in his life. Those women will be naturally inclined to stop him enjoying himself by indulging in the exclusively male activities of fighting, raiding, drinking beer, partying, and playing games.*

Here we are...right back with the medieval antifeminist movement again. Note how the very clouds in the sky mimic Hagar's words of foreboding, looming over father and son as if representing the forbidding presence of Helga herself. The pathetic fallacy merely underlines the seriousness of the whole issue. Why, men, are women such killjoys? Why do they choke all interest and satisfaction out of life? Do they exist solely to do so? Their lives revolve around men, right? It isn't remotely possible that they sometimes like to have fun themselves, is it? Nah. They probably don't exist when men aren't in the room. That's really the only explanation for all the nagging.

Hagar is set in the Middle Ages. I shall pretend that this fact explains its consistently medieval treatment of women. Har. Har. Har.

*I forget: is Hagar a Viking warrior, or does he live in a frat house?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Great Minds Think Alike, Albeit Not Always at the Same Time

I shall celebrate the fact that I am not going to starve next term* by whaling on poor old Ziggy for attempting to comment on the Harry Potter books, which I happen to be teaching at the moment. Woo-hoo. I have a job.** Moving on:

Tom Wilson started syndicating Ziggy, based around a character he had first invented*** for a book published by a greeting-card company, as a newspaper comic in 1971. In 1987, Tom Wilson II took over.**** The comic is not about anything. Ziggy is no one, and he has no interests. Nonetheless, he appears in newspapers every single day.

Ziggy is one of those comics that desperately try to keep up with modern times that their creators do not understand. Tom Wilson II has clearly heard of cell phones and That Other Crazy Stuff Those Kids Have These Days, but he is able to write and draw about them only in the vaguest of terms. Ziggy seems particularly prone to receiving weird answering-machine messages from seashells. That is the only truly interesting thing I can think to say about him.

Today, Mr. Wilson II makes a hilarious joke about a series of books that ended in the summer of 2007. It is a joke you have probably seen before, for the simple reason that every living, breathing cartoonist made it in, yes, the summer of 2007, if not before. Hell, some of them made it as early as 2000. Mr. Wilson II demonstrates his natural inclination towards the Middle Ages by leaping eagerly and with Ent-like speed upon the phenomenon of the Harry Potter books. One can almost sense him triumphantly punching the air and crying, "Yes! Yes! I am being Topical! No one has ever done anything like this before!"

Mr. Wilson II is longing after the fourteenth century; I just know he is. Daily, he must hold himself back from creating comics about Ziggy's miserable life as a peasant in fourteenth-century England. His comic seems to be about nothing only because, tragically, he cannot gain his heart's desire and write about a world that has been dead and gone for six hundred years.

Mr. Wilson II, take a look at my translation. Today, I fulfil your dream.

*Don't you just love this whole "I am a sessional, and thus I have to reapply for my job every three months" thing? I know I do.
**For now.
***Perhaps "invented" is too strong a word. According to the demon Wikipedia, he stole the idea from an anonymous college student.
****I am not making this up.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Another Ancient Pun and Some Gratuitous Fleshy Bits

Next in its series of Puns So Old Not Even Chaucer Would Have Touched Them is The Family Circus's take on the word "draw." Admittedly, it probably would have been more likely for English people in the Middle Ages to make a bath, but if we follow the idiom back into the Mists of Time, we will likely find that the original sense of "draw" here derives from a meaning that was around in texts by 1400 and probably earlier in speech: to draw water from a well (and then use it to make a bath). I thus claim that the Keanes are once again dredging up jokes designed not just to make extremely old people titter and cry, "What are they teaching them in these schools?", but to make the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-etc.-grandparents of these extremely old people do the same thing.*

It is also worth noting that the Keanes have been drawing** their sweet little doppelgangers half-naked a lot lately. Jeff and Bil Keane rarely miss an opportunity to strip the kiddies--especially little Jeffy, interestingly enough--down to their skivvies. All that pale, doughy flesh on display is really beginning to make me feel physically ill. For pity's sake, Jeff Keane: cover up the munchkins. Don't punish the rest of us for your need to draw*** yourself unclothed. Get a hobby. Rediscover the joys of life. Fling down your pens and dance away, happy and free, no longer obliged to draw**** this pestilential comic.

Eh...I knew that last one was too much to ask.

*Technically speaking, obviously.
**I here use "draw" in only one sense of the word. I thought you would like to know.
****Yeah, yeah.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Wisdom of Noght Returns

Our friend Zero is at it again. While technically the least intelligent of the denizens of Camp Swampy, Zero tends to demonstrate a certain foolish wisdom. Last week, he used this wisdom to teach us about the Bible. Today, he uses it to draw our attention to the fact that War Is Wrong. His wistful question, emerging from so childlike a brain, comes at us with the same visceral impact as "Is there a Santa Claus?", "Don't you love me any more?", or "Why would they discontinue my favourite chocolate bar?"* O Zero, accept me as a disciple. Teach me the path of truth.

Looking at the comic outside a medieval context simply does not work. When one does, one has to take into account the fact that Beetle's comment in panel one is the comment of a soldier. It is, in fact, the comment of a soldier whose country is at war. Zero's reply is the reply of another soldier. The whole comic dissolves in a big steaming vat of silly nonsense.

No...I shall stick with the medieval interpretation. I have faith. I shall cling to the following thought:

Angry Kem, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Angry Kem, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Angry Kem, there is an intelligent Beetle Bailey. It exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no wisdom in this comic! It would be as dreary as if there were no Angry Kems. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which comics fill the world would be extinguished.**

'Nuff said.

*Why? Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?
**Yes, you have seen these two paragraphs before...or something like them, at any rate.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Monk #3 Tells It Like It Isn't

I think it's probably time to name our monks.

If you remember, we have discovered three lonely medieval monks toiling away at newspaper comics. They all belong to the same monastery, but they rarely speak to one another; they are wrapped up in their own imaginative pursuits.

Monk #1, the creator of Apartment 3-G, is called Brother Lawrence. He has taken a vow of silence and spends much of each day sunk in contemplation. His comic-strip specialties are realistic dialogue and human interactions.

Monk #2, the creator of Archie, is called Brother Francis. He was dropped off at the monastery by his young, unmarried mother when he was five days old, and he has lived there every since, never venturing outside the walls. His comic-strip specialties are nubile young girls and their...attributes.

Monk #3, the creator of The Better Half, is called Brother Cuthbert. He is an extremely holy monk who remains always within his cell, only ever emerging to pray with his fellow monks. His comic-strip specialties are marital disputes and references to current events.

Today, Brother Cuthbert is in fine form. Almost exactly a month ago,* he drew a comic dealing with Stanley perpetuating identity theft on his cat; now what has gone around has come around, and Stanley himself is the victim. Brother Cuthbert still has absolutely no idea what identity theft is. He is worried by it--he is sure that it is the work of the devil--but he wouldn't know it if he passed it in the street.** He was, however, a little uneasy about his cat interpretation, and he is taking this opportunity to have another go at a definition. Since he is rather worried by his own deteriorating physical condition, he is projecting his anxieties onto his comic-strip characters.

It's also worth noting that Brother Cuthbert is so modest that he can't bear to draw Stanley with his shirt off. He has thus given Stanley's stomach angular folds that make it look a little bit like a shirt. He has forgotten to leave out the belly button, but let's cut him some slack; he's obviously trying his best.

*I seem to be returning to Brother Cuthbert's work roughly once a month. My theory is that he's actually creating an extremely widely spaced series of thematically related comics, probably because he's bored.
**Especially since he wouldn't be caught dead in the street.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Write About What You (Already) Know

A very long time ago, a tribe of early human was trembling on the verge of an intellectual breakthrough. These people had, for generations, been using simple sounds to signify certain concepts: for instance, "cold," "hot," "danger," "follow," "jerkface."* However, some young and clever members of the tribe had lately been discovering that they could make more sounds, which would then mean more things. A rudimentary grammar was beginning to form.

One day, as the sun rose over the veldt, one of these intelligent young people turned to the other and made the very same joke that Marvin makes today. In that instant, language was born.

I think perhaps what I'm trying to say is that today's Marvin does not tell a new joke. Technically, of course, it doesn't really tell a joke at all...but the attempted joke in this comic is so creaky that poking it with a stick would probably cause it to collapse into a pile of dust. Throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, other cartoonists have created comics featuring this exact same joke. I really hate this joke. I have read it so many times in so many different (albeit ominously similar) forms that I am even now resisting an urge to beat it with a baseball bat until it stops moving.

It works well in Middle English because it was old even in 1350. If Tom Armstrong had been writing then, he probably would have attributed the joke to Isidore of Seville.** Geoffrey Chaucer likely rolled his eyes when he heard this joke. What I think I'm driving at is that it's old. It's old, Tom Armstrong. You are telling an old joke. You are always telling old jokes. Either stop it now or get in your handy time machine and go back to school early humans in the art of non-humour. You are, after all, the past master of that.

P.S.: "Marvin knoueth a flie in milk" is a medieval way of saying, "Marvin can see the obvious." Yes...yes, he can.

*There has been a word for "jerkface" since humans became capable of rational thought, plus possibly for some time before that.
**Cardinal rule for medieval writers: if in doubt, attribute it to Isidore of Seville.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Middle Ages Go On and On...

Look, boys and girls: we are laughing at Irma Thurston again today! Isn't this fun? Irma is a downtrodden hausfrau with a self-centred ass for a husband, and we snicker at her plight because only an incredibly stupid woman (the womens...the brainless are they) could have got herself into such a situation. Today, we laugh harder than usual at Irma because it appears Thirsty actually indicated in their prenuptial agreement that he was going to be a sexist bastard...and she married him anyway. Why laugh at Thirsty? A man has a right to be a jerk. It's the woman idiotic enough to marry him who is deserving of our ridicule.

Oh, Hi and out-medieval the Middle Ages. You don't do it by being side-splittingly hilarious, a la Chaucer, or by meshing complex and layered theological implications with secular frames, a la my good friend Anonymous, or by contracting the plague, a la far too large a percentage of the population of Europe. You do it by pretending to be progressive--Lois Flagston has an actual job, after all--while actually putting the uppity women in their place. Your pretence at mocking Thirsty while you have a go at Irma would identify you as satire if you were not too moronic to be satirical. Instead, you're simply mean-spirited and petty. Way to go, Hi and Lois. Propel those women all the way back to the late thirteen hundreds...where they belong.

Someday...somehow...someone will publish a comic strip featuring a female protagonist who does not spend ninety percent of her time kowtowing to men, never complains about her weight or attempts to purchase a bikini, and is neither impossibly hot and thus created to be drooled over nor impossibly ugly and thus created to be laughed at. She will not be The Condescendingly Wise Girlfriend. She will not be The Unattainable Bombshell. She will not provoke knee-slapping guffaws as she slaves for her delightfully lazy husband. She will be a real person with real feelings and motivations. I am expecting her to turn up whenever the Middle Ages are over.

That should be any century now, really.*

*I live in hope.

Friday, November 14, 2008

And I Thought I Was Cynical...

The ferocious headache that I have gained by spending eight solid hours updating my teaching dossier in order to reapply for the job I have right now--not that there are any guarantees I'll get it again, so it's possible that next term I shall be living under a bridge in the Don Valley--and actually finishing everything a whole hour before the deadline*, then taking another hour and a half to get my damn computer to send the damn relevant files to the right damn address without freezing, crashing, developing an alternate personality, and trying to expel me into space...** any rate, the ferocious headache that I have gained doing all that is as nothing compared to the throbbing horror that invades my brain when I glance at today's Momma. I really don't understand why this comic is allowed to live. Who reads it? Who thinks it is funny? Who doesn't see Momma herself and go, "Aaargh! The bugs! The bugs are back!", then try to stomp on her before she scuttles beneath the sink?***

The harsh cruelty of Freda's proclamation that she can't tell the difference between a living husband and a dead one**** reveals her as a medieval antifeminist stereotype. You see, gentlemen, all women think of you as mere furniture. They are ugly, cold-hearted shrews who may have been quite pretty right up to the point they shrank three feet, gained forty pounds, started wearing ugly hats, and decided that husbands were unnecessary appendages. While a first glance tells us that the cartoonist is laughing at Freda's husband, the second confirms that he is, in fact, laughing at Freda. Scorn her, readers. Shake your heads sagely at her womanly callousness. That's what medieval antifeminist stereotypes are for.

Some day, I am going to lock Mell Lazarus in a room with sixteen older women and a number of chainsaws. He should consider this blog entry fair warning.

*Extremely unusual for me. I never get applications in more than five minute before they are due. I do not like this state of affairs, but it exists nonetheless.
**That's more like it.
***This "joke" was not intentionally stolen from Ces Marciuliano's Medium Large, but once I'd written it down, I started having the sneaking feeling that I may have been unintentionally plagiarising, and when I went to check, I found that Mr. Marciuliano had, indeed, portrayed Momma as a dust mite. To be fair, I think of her as more of a cockroach. I'm pretty sure that she's hatching her young in that coffin.
****Well, maybe he wasn't her husband. Maybe he was her brother. I think I just squicked myself out.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

When Allegories Kill

Shoe is a comic strip about a bunch of birds who live in trees, wear clothes, fly to work (briefcases and all), and seem to be bird-sized and people-sized simultaneously. It is possible that it has been around since 1977, though it's hard to tell; the demon Wikipedia doesn't say, and other sources are kind of ambiguous. I do know that its original creator is dead. It is now churned out by a team.

A problem frequently encountered by cartoonists who 1) work with anthropomorphic animals and 2) care even remotely is that their characters are virtually human and thus can't seem to stifle the urge to make jokes about devouring animal flesh and taking pets for walks. Watching a dog Plugger walking his dog is an almost hallucinatory experience. Melissa DeJesus and Ed Power, the young, hungry creators of My Cage, get around the pet problem, at least, by giving their platypus protagonist a pet amoeba. Most cartoonists don't bother to think about the issue this deeply. They thus end up mindlessly producing comics quite like today's Shoe.

My friends...only a medieval context saves this comic from being utterly horrifying. I don't know what the hell kind of bird the Perfesser is supposed to be, but he has always reminded me rather of a other words, a chicken. Why is he so calm when the waiter mentions that frogs' legs (NOTE THE APOSTROPHE, ZOMBIE-LIKE SHOE DRONES*) taste like chicken? Why does he only stare in wide-eyed horror after the waiter has made his egregious and unfunny "Kentucky Fried Frog" joke? Why does he seem to be okay with the idea of restaurant-goers devouring his flesh? Why am I thinking this deeply about bloody Shoe?

When the comic is transported back to the Middle Ages, however, its meaning becomes relatively clear. The conversation is a veiled reference by two birds (read: patriotic Englishmen) to the despised frogs (read: French). When the waiter posits that frogs' legs taste like chicken, he is implying that the French seem, on the surface, like the English (chickens), though deep down, they're terrible French cowards, known mainly for their love of running away** (and thus frog legs are very different from chicken legs). The question about popularity rubs salt in the "French people are snivelling traitors who shake with fear when swords are forced into their unwilling hands"-type wound, and the waiter's reply is a sniggering dismissal of the French: even their name sounds stupid when it replaces the good old English "chicken."*** The Perfesser is horrified because he is realising for the first time that Frogs really aren't like Chickens; the waiter's phrase has driven the terrible truth home.

The fact that this allegory is absolutely full of holes is irrelevant; medieval allegories usually are. At any rate, anything is better than the alternative.

*It is, of course, entirely possible that whoever is writing Shoe right now subconsciously recognises its medieval leanings and is leaving out this patently non-medieval punctuation mark as a subtle acknowledgement of this fact.
**This was a real medieval stereotype. I am not applying it in any way to modern France. I would not give George W. Bush the satisfaction.
***I have "Morlond" for "Kentucky" because it is possible that "Kentucky" means "meadow." Don't ask.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

And He Will Come, and He Will Give Thee a Goofy Look, and the World Will Erupt in Flames

If not for the Antichrist allegory that lends profundity to every Marmaduke comic, I would despair for the future of newspaper comics. Strip away the allegory, and what is left? A really big dog, that's what. Surely no one would spend fifty-four years laughing at that.

In today's strip, a young sinner learns that when the Antichrist's disciple promises that you will ride on the back of the Beast, you are actually going to end up with your belt clamped in his slavering jaws as he drags you cheerfully off to torture and, eventually, Hell. Note the golden-haired innocence of the disciple here. He seems all virtue, whereas he is actually scheming to snare more credulous urchins for his Master and is right now thinking simply, "Horrible death to all. Horrible death to all!" From the number and size of the coins on the milk crate,* the disciple has made forty-five cents, an indication that 1) Antichrist has now devoured two children, 2) one of them cheated the disciple of a nickel, and 3) the disciple hasn't noticed because he can't add up change. Beware the evils of not paying attention in math class, my children! Beware! You may end up working for the Destroyer of All...and liking it!

*Okay. Excuse me...but who gets wooden milk crates now? I was born in the 1970s, and I only ever remember the plastic ones. How do all these comic-strip characters turn up with miraculous wooden milk crates? Perhaps Antichrist has created this one with his infernal powers, but why? WAKE UP, CARTOONIST! IT'S 2008! THERE ARE NO WOODEN MILK CRATES ANY MORE!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bible Stories for Our Friend Noght

Is it just me, or does Zero strike everybody as the most refreshingly imaginative character in Beetle Bailey? Unlike Sarge, Beetle, Killer, and the rest, Zero tends to think outside the box. Sure, he can be seen as sticking within his stereotype--Beetle is Lazy, Sarge is Violent, Killer is Lustful, Zero is Stupid--but in Zero's naive approach to the world is a child's boundless creativity. Why, he asks today, do we complain of days without sunshine? Are there nights without darkness? If day and night are utterly opposed, how can we possibly have days without the sun? Wouldn't such days be nights? Would nights without darkness be days? When the sun hides behind clouds, can it actually be said to be "gone"? If it were, wouldn't it be night? Isn't "day" more than the mere apparent absence of sun? If there is no sun, why is there light?*

Ah, Zero...sweet Zero. Your words clearly constitute a medieval-style leading question designed by the "lerned" to teach the "lewed" about the Bible. Look how perfectly Zero's query sets up a discussion about Genesis 1:4-5, in which God separates the light from the darkness, calling the former "day" and the latter "night." God doesn't separate the sunshine from the darkness...oh, no. Day is light; night is dark. We can't have a whole night without darkness because the darkness is night! And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Zero's question may seem foolish, but it contains more potential for wisdom than Beetle's griping. Silly Beetle: there are no days without sunshine. The sun is always there, lurking just on the other side of the clouds. Follow the Philosophy of Zero, Beetle. It will teach you how to survive the unchanging, stereotype-clogged landscape that constitutes your world.

**Yes, I have had this footnote before. I shall have this footnote again. Get used to this footnote.