Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Some cartoonists evidently believe that quantity trumps quality: that is, if they appear to have drawn three whole panels in a particular strip, they should get credit for drawing three whole panels in a particular strip.
Some cartoonists evidently believe that quantity trumps quality: that is, if they appear to have drawn three whole panels in a particular strip, they should get credit for drawing three whole panels in a particular strip.
...Annoying, isn't it? Well, cut-and-pasters, that is how I bloody well feel when I read one of your lazy, stupid comics. I do realise how much work drawing a comic is--I do three or four a week myself*--but I don't feel that the horror of slaving over three panels of line art justifies Ctrl+C abuse. Just. Draw. It. Geeze.
Mind you, the copy-and-paste effect can sometimes be used well; for instance, see p. 66 of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: The Doll's House, in which the four identical panels speak to the clone-like natures of the two characters in them. I don't think Jim Davis is using the effect in quite the same way in the comic featured below.
Garfield has been around since 1978. It has been syndicated more widely than any other strip. It has won awards. It has been mocked roundly and at length on the Internet; perhaps my favourite bit of Garfield mockery is Garfield Minus Garfield, in which the strips are markedly improved when the title character is erased from the frames. The comic stopped being fresh and interesting many, many years ago. This week, it has more or less hit rock bottom, though I wouldn't be surprised if it somehow broke through that rock bottom and continued its magnificent freefall.
This week, you see, Jon and Garfield seem to be spending their three panels standing and/or lying in exactly the same postures in every frame as they discuss Jon's old flames (or as Jon discusses Jon's old flames and Garfield thinks sarcastic thoughts about them). Today's comic is the second in this excruciating series, and I shall not be hugely surprised if another appears tomorrow. Oh, Garfield, how far you have fallen. You used to be funny. You caused laughter and mild stomach pain. Now...only the anger and the bitter, bitter hatred remain.
My personal theory is that the strip below takes place in a medieval version of Hell. Jon and Garfield, condemned eternally for their various deadly sins (Jon: pride, lust, envy; Garfield: sloth, gluttony, avarice, wrath), are stuck in the Circle of Hell reserved for men who talk to their pets. They are forced to stand absolutely still in one another's company as they relive past humiliations and reflect on their earthly failures. Their expressions of ennui are tokens of their justified damnation; even now, as the flames of retribution lick invisibly at their ankles, they are completely unaware of how boring and petty they are. Even Chaucer's Pardoner would balk at telling stories about these two. They represent the banality of evil and are doomed to do so for all eternity.
*And don't get paid for it. Are you beginning to understand my resentment? Shall I elaborate? With sharp knives?
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Marmaduke (the character) is a big dog.
Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
There is only ever the one joke in Marmaduke. Actually, calling it a "joke" may be a bit insulting to actual jokes. The fact that Brad Anderson has spent fifty-four years telling his one flimsy non-joke over and over and over again every goddamn day truly blows my mind. I expect the very first Marmaduke ever was mildly funny. Perhaps, at that point, no one had ever drawn a one-panel comic about a big dog before.
It has now been done. It has been done so often that if Anderson hasn't repeated every one of his comic's scenarios at least twenty times, I'll eat my hat.*
Today's comic takes one of these scenarios (i.e., Marmaduke is such a big dog that he can steal ice cream from a small child) and reduces it to complete incomprehensibility. If I saw a Great Dane slurping up someone's ice-cream cone, I would not observe that his begging technique was faulty; I would observe that his ice-cream-stealing technique was spot on. If the artist had even shown Marmaduke's intent to beg, perhaps placing him in the traditional begging posture while he snaffled the kid's treat, the cartoon would have approached humour, albeit from a very great distance. Here, however, we just have a great big dog evoking "hilarity"** by virtue of being a great big dog.
In many recent strips, we have detected more than a hint of medieval allegory. I don't think that I am out of line in claiming that such allegory may just make an appearance here. Big dog as big dog? Not funny. Big dog as Antichrist? Side-splittingly hilarious. The fake Spider-Man demonstrates one aspect of Antichrist, but Marmaduke truly is the Beast: larger than life, apparently benign, and apt to remove ice cream from the possession of the faithful while pretending to humbleness. This comic derives from a later stage of Antichrist's career, when he is hardly even bothering to act any more; instead, he devours ice cream (read: souls) with unholy glee as his disciples, blinded by his earlier disarming goofiness, explain his actions to the uninitiated. Soon enough, Marmaduke will grow to even greater size and attempt to devour the world.
*I do not have a hat.
**"Hilarity," in quotation marks, is the funny pages' variant of hilarity. The two terms actually have very little in common.
Drabble is a comic strip by Kevin Fagan, launched in 1979. It focuses on the family life of the Drabble family.
The entry then lists the Drabble characters and the Drabble books, or at least those published before 2000. It links to Drabble. It stops.
Wikipedia is sometimes a very silly site, but in this case, it is wise indeed. There just isn't that much to say about Drabble. I despise it with a seething, uncontrollable hatred that turns my innards into a roiling cauldron of doom, but when I try to express why, I come up with something like: "Well, it...deals with these people, see. They're Drabbles. Ralph Drabble is fat. June Drabble ('Honeybunch' to Ralph) wears a dress and has a world-weary attitude towards her husband. Norm Drabble is stupid. Patrick Drabble is nerdy. Penny Drabble is precocious." Then I have to stop. The seething, uncontrollable hatred is still there, but I can't explain its presence.
However, a trip back to the medieval period explains everything. Drabble is attempting to be Everyman; it simply isn't succeeding very well. We're supposed to laugh at these people because they're "just like us"...but most of us really, really don't want to be like the Drabbles, who encompass and exceed the worst stereotypes of the 1950s American nuclear family. The Simpsons pulls this scenario off with a certain amount of charm; Drabble trips over its own idiot feet. It has been doing so for nearly thirty years. It must die.
In this comic, Norm Drabble once again demonstrates his complete lack of a spine in front of Wendy, the Token Smart Girl Who Always Rejects the Protagonist Moron. He is thus clearly acting as a demonstration of humankind's lack of effect on the material world. We should, quoth the cartoonist, concentrate on the spiritual. Our journey through this life is like the journey of an imbecile through a flock of ducks: uncomfortable, laced with fecal matter, completely without discernible impact, and ending in humiliation. All we can do is yearn for that final, irrevocable puddle, meanwhile concentrating our thoughts on the Big Duckherd in the Sky. Everyman, he will go with thee and be thy guide. Do not be disconcerted by the Ducks of Human Existence!
In other news...there is, as I have discovered, a Middle English verb that means "to scare away (birds)." Would that we could still use it today.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
...what was I saying?
Er. You could, in fact, claim that the Keanes' comic was all these things, but if you look at it more closely, you realise that these gentlemen are merely writing several centuries too late. Take today's comic, for instance. My God, says little Billy to Dolly, his disciple...those guitar strings aren't strings. This observation constitutes a major philosophical and theological revelation. If the strings are not strings, then human perception is faulty; we are not simply stuck at the back of Plato's cave but quite happy to remain there, secure in our approach to the world through the flawed medium of language. Little Billy is here experiencing a major spiritual awakening. The strings are not strings; the physical is not the ultimate. In the "strings" of the guitar resides music, which goes beyond the essentially "stringness" of the physical property but has to be teased from the instrument by a human hand guided by a human brain. Are the guitar strings not equivalent to us? Are we not played upon by the metaphorical hand of the Creator? Are we not imbued with souls so that we become more than the mere physical? If we learn to see beyond our own "stringness," we can leave both the philosophical and the theological aspects of the cave behind us and emerge into an understanding of our relationship to our universe and the Lord of All.
Revelatory in the twenty-first century? Not at all. Revelatory in the fourteenth century? You bet. The Keanes, in embracing an archaic understanding of the philosophy of religion, have courageously declared themselves immune to the ravages of both time and common sense. They are not afraid to get medieval. They are true artists of a previous age.
*Scott McCloud actually argues that The Family Circus is not, by definition, a comic, as it rarely shows events in sequence; it is instead a cartoon. I like Scott McCloud's stuff enormously, but I'm going to pretend he never said that.
**Name changed to protect the very, very guilty.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Stan Lee, the Master of Marvel, the Creator of Wisecracking Heroes in Brightly-Coloured Spandex, was in charge of this strip himself. It is arguable that he is still in charge of this strip, though it is also arguable that most of the writing and all of the drawing are done by other people. What he doesn't seem to be in charge of is giving this incarnation of poor Spidey anything to do beyond sitting in front of the television and whining about how nobody likes him.
You remember the Spider-Man of the comic books and recent movies...the free-wheeling, one-liner-spouting, cocky, joyfully insufferable little Everyman we all know and...know? Gone...vanished clean away. This Peter Parker is a lethargic wannabe with no motivation and a tendency towards self-pitying pouting. Watching him slump on his couch and complain to his wife about how horribly misunderstood he is is excruciating. This is not an action strip; it's a therapy session.
Of course, who can blame him? The newspaper Spidey has to go up against the lamest collection of villains ever to graduate from the Academy of Ultimate Evil. Imagine the thrill of confronting the Persuader! Watch out: he may persuade you to leave him alone! Mercy! Meeeeeercyyyyyy...
Oh, Stan, Lee, how far you have fallen. I...hurt inside.
Look at today's strip. In and of itself, it constitutes an argument that the current Spider-Man storyline is actually a medieval-style allegory about the end of the world. See...lately, Spider-Man has been having to contend with an impostor who dresses in a Spidey suit and goes around wreaking havoc. We are now in the process of finding out that the impostor's boss, Big-Time, is out to get his revenge on Spidey for sending him to prison many years ago.
Clearly, this is the story of the coming of Antichrist. Spidey is Jesus (and therefore the third aspect of God), since his story, being that of a hybrid hero,** acts as an imitation of Christ's. Big-Time is the devil, sent to prison/Hell by God back In The Beginning. Note his association with time and thus atrophy; the devil has brought death into the world. As Satan possesses a human child who grows up to mimic Christ outwardly while truly being the Antichrist, the incarnation of absolute evil and the harbinger of the End of Days, so does Big-Time create the fake Spidey, the incarnation of absolute silliness and the harbinger of...what? The End of Strips? We can only hope.
At any rate, Mr. Lee and his flunkies have produced a note-perfect medieval Doomsday allegory. Hell, Big-Time even looks like the devil; he's got the pointy little beard and everything.
We could use more allegory in the funny pages. It would make up for the lack of actual funny.
**Which the Internet is for.
***I wrote a whole Ph.D. thesis on this guy. I could bore you for days.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
I'm sure The Better Half originally seemed like a damned good idea. A short, fat man marries a tall, angular woman and hijinks ensue! Let's see how big we can draw Stanley's nose! Marriage is funny because everybody hates it! This was cutting-edge humour in 1956. Actually...what am I saying? This wasn't cutting-edge humour in 1356. Geoffrey Chaucer would have taken one glance at this thing, then rewritten it so that Harriet was constantly cuckolding Stanley right in front of his eyes. Farting would probably have been involved in some way. The word "throng" (not "throng" in the sense of "crowd" but "throng" in the sense of "violently thrust") would have made an appearance. It would have been dirty and vulgar and mean and low...and far, far funnier than its current incarnation.
Today's strip is what you get when you are writing a comic that has been around for fifty-two years and you suddenly awake to the fact that there is absolutely nothing your characters can say to each other that they haven't said five hundred times already. You throw your hands into the air, draw Stanley in a cat suit, and go back to bed, possibly for the rest of your life.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
In its original format, Apartment 3-G does not come with glosses. It probably should. The possibilities for moral commentary are endless here. If this comic had been around in the Middle Ages, it would have been created by a wild-eyed monk who hadn't left his cell since the age of twelve but had heard a lot of people talking about the terrible things that went on in the world outside. Every character would have represented a different sin or virtue. The monk would have prayed solemnly over each panel.
However, he would secretly have identified with Margo, who I'm pretty sure has no soul. That would have said a lot about him.
P.S.: I quite enjoyed translating "telephone"; I took the Greek bits of the word and replaced them with relatively equivalent English bits. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go answer the fersoun.
Monday, September 22, 2008
In this strip, Momma sits around complaining to an equally tiny woman that her life is terrible and she is likely going to end up as a sort of geriatric Eliza Doolittle. Momma and friend richly deserve to visit the Middle Ages, though frankly, they never actually seem to have left. The whole "When I am old, I shall have to beg on the street" attitude expressed here doesn't really seem to have a hell of a lot to do with the Western world in the twenty-first century. Middle-Ages-wise, the only thing missing is Momma's griping about how she's such a poisonous shrew that no convent will take her.
I have renamed Momma "Sophie" for the purposes of this strip. "Sonya" does derive from "Sophie" and is not, moreover, a name that would ever turn up in medieval England.*
*I can't imagine why.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Marvin is characterised by lazy writing and the tendency to cut and paste both jokes and art. This particular strip is a case in point. While, unusually, the artist seems to have drawn all three panels instead of using one of them over and over, he has derived his "joke" from every other comic ever published since the dawn of human intelligence.** In fact, red-headed, bespectacled Clare bears such a strong resemblance to red-headed, bespectacled Margaret from Dennis the Menace that you've got to wonder whence Mr. Armstrong's inspiration has come.***
Luckily, the comic is redeemed by its obvious medieval atmosphere. Dennis and Mar--er, Marvin and Clare are innocently acting out a stereotypical antifeminist scenario, with Clare demonstrating through her embryonic concern with marriage that women are single-minded, grasping vixens, conditioned from birth to trap men into soul-deadening relationships. Her red hair identifies her as an infant witch; her glasses proclaim her short-sighted, narrow-minded nature. Marvin, on the other hand, demonstrates the wisdom of men, as he simply isn't going to fall for that rubbish. That's right, Marvin: put the filly in her place. You can always get her pregnant and abandon her later on.
*Apparently, someone named Pat Moran published an earlier strip called Marvin from 1973 onward, but I can't find out anything about it beyond the name.
**Or, rather, "intelligence."
***However, you haven't got to wonder very hard. And that should probably be "inspiration."
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Luckily, this comic teaches a lovely medieval-style moral lesson. To wit: if you are a selfish little hellion who is incapable of letting his young sister blow out the candles on her own frickin' birthday cake, you deserve to be forced into pink frills and paraded before a jeering crowd as your mother and sister smirk in the background. Blow not out the candles on thy sister's cake, little Billy. They are morality candles. Beware. Beware. Beware.
However, an alternate interpretation might see Billy in the right here. Note that thought-bubble-Billy is in cruciform position. Could it be that those are actually the candles of sin? Billy, as Christ, has "blown them out" and been rewarded with ridicule and martyrdom. His father is conspicuously absent from this comic...except as the stark black signature at the top of the piece. Father! Why hast thou forsaken me? Poor exegetical Billy. He means well.
Unfortunately, this comic has inspired dozens, if not hundreds, of other comics, and the basic situation of a suburban family with two to four kids, a dog, and humorous neighbours has taken over the comics page to such an extent that any strip not involving some sort of family is seen as dangerously different. Sure, we get variants now--single mothers, single fathers, and so on--but the base story is the same. There's usually a sullen teenager and at least one bratty and/or precocious elementary-school kid. If there are two parents and the mother works, she does something suitably feminine (Lois Flagston is a real-estate agent; that's about as high-powered as a woman stuck in the 1950s is ever allowed to be). The wife is rather more clever than her husband, who is a bit of a goof and has to be told almost constantly what to do.
Dear Syndicates: Could we have some new situations? Please? I know not everyone can identify with, say, the story of an air-traffic controller who talks to dead people,* but frankly, I can't identify with the hideous suburban nightmare in which Hi, Lois, and their eternally unaging children seem to be trapped forever. Do we always have to identify exactly with the situations in comics? Some people like reading about new things. Give us air-traffic-controlling psychics or give us death!
This particular comic is such a soul-deadening take on a creaky, ancient joke, played out by two people too bored by their own lives to move at all between panel one and panel two,** that I like to imagine it taking place in Purgatory. Repent, sinners.
P.S.: I may have cheated a bit on the grammar in panel 2, but I did check, and "doth" is a legitimate imperative. So there. And yes, I added a comma. It looks damn stupid without that comma. Maybe I have ruined the joke, but really: what joke?
*Yes, I made this situation up just now. You can probably tell.
**And using speech bubbles of completely inappropriate size. The laziness makes me cringe. I mean, seriously: I couldn't find a bigger version of this comic anywhere, and yet I got away with using 11-point font, even though my Middle English sentences are much longer than the brief, enervated originals. In that second panel, the letterer hasn't even bothered to centre Hi's text. Good. Lord.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Now we just have to liberate Geoffrey Chaucer from Newgate, and we'll be all set.
Beetle Bailey started up in 1950. It was actually originally a strip about university students, but six months after it began, the protagonist enlisted in the army, and the university characters and setting were dropped forever. Ever since, Sarge has been beating Beetle up, Killer has been seducing women, and Brigadier General Halftrack has been lusting after his busty secretary while cringing away from his large, unhappy wife. As with many strips created billions of years ago and still going today, Beetle Bailey is somewhat resistant to change. The residents of Camp Swampy haven't, oddly, even acknowledged that anything is going on in Afghanistan or Iraq; they seem content to train perpetually (sometimes, apparently, with real land mines).
This strip contains several horrors, the chief of which is not the man-wolf Sarge but the sight of Killer in his boxers, which seem to be covered with tiny black hearts. However, the whole thing really does have the feel of a medieval allegory. What does it signify that Beetle sees himself as a hybrid sheep/man? Why are there two of him? Is he morally or emotionally split? What happens if the Sarge-wolf catches only one of the Beetle-sheep? Which half of Beetle is Sarge out to kill? Sarge himself is singular. Is his wolfish exterior meant to identify him with the devil? Is Beetle losing his faith? What will we do if Beetle loses his faith?
So many questions. So...many...
P.S.: That's Wycliffe's translation of the Bible verse. What a contemptible Lollard ich am...
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
You hear that? Shall I repeat it again? Blondie has been around since September of 1930.
This seventy-eight-year-old strip just keeps on going. It goes...and goes...and goes...and nothing in it ever really changes. Oh, sure, Dagwood has graduated from an early morning dash for the bus to an early morning dash to the carpool. Blondie has actually (gasp) started working, albeit in a suitably womanly job.* Generally, however, Blondie's world just...exists.
In this particular strip, Dagwood and his clone son Alexander indulge in what may be the most pointless conversation ever. The results are actually marginally funnier than is usual in Blondie strips, probably not intentionally. The way Dagwood parrots everything Alexander says and then has no idea why his son is being mildly wry at him is almost Chaucerian. Thus:
*I have an oddly vivid memory of the 1991 strip in which Blondie informed her husband that she was going to get a job. Dagwood hopped up and down, screaming that no wife of his would ever work...until he realised that Blondie's catering equalled more giant sandwiches for Dagwood. He's been okay with the situation ever since. What an enlightened man he is. You go, Dagwood.
Infuriatingly, Johnston has since been retconning her whole universe, not merely telling different bits of the original story but changing key aspects of that story. Connie, once "divorced and on the make" (as she herself put it in the early '80s), has now simply had a fling with some mysterious person named "Pablo" and accidentally produced a child. Annie has had her second baby a couple of years ahead of schedule (in the comic below, we see older brother Christopher, who should actually be an infant at this point). I am bracing myself for the inevitable entry of the universally despised Anthony Caine, future husband of major character Elizabeth Patterson; I expect Johnston is going to manipulate the story so that the two of them meet in preschool.
In other words: thank you, Ms. Johnston, for giving me the perfect excuse to transport your characters back to the Middle Ages. You did it to yourself, really. I mean...why stop at 1979? What's wrong with 1379? You would have liked it. Morality was a big deal, and puns were encouraged. I should introduce you to the word "queynt." You could work it into a punchline.
The comics have turned out rather small (curse you, Blogger), so click away.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
This particular strip gets the medieval treatment because it is, in subject and theme, rather too similar to the Family Circus comic I attacked a few days ago. What's with these one-panel thingies and their smug attitudes towards mothers and grandmothers (not) playing football? The ladies don't chuck around the ol' pigskin, but they're still okay! Har! Har! Har!
Get medieval, Dennis:
*Random Trivia of the Day: Three days later, another strip named Dennis the Menace debuted in Britain. It is still running. It has absolutely nothing to do with the American Dennis the Menace. Some fun character names: Gnasher, Rasher, Dasher, Nipper, Curly, Pie Face, Walter the Softy, Spotty Perkins, Bertie Blenkinsop, Sgt. Slipper, and Foo Foo. I am deriving all this information from Wikipedia. Kids, don't try this at home.
Monday, September 15, 2008
In this strip, we see what happens when a writer who grew up aeons ago suddenly wakes up to realise that it is 2008. He does not want it to be 2008. He looks back longingly on an era where men were men, boys were men, and women did not take compromising photos of men and post them online. He wants, in short, it to be 1928, which was probably the year he was born.
By transporting his Legionnaires all the way back to the fourteenth century, I have done him a favour.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
In other words, Hagar and co. have managed to keep the same thin joke going every day for the past thirty-five years. Nobody seems to be particularly sure how.
Today's comic is so bizarre that it's got to be some sort of moral allegory. Back (or forward?) to the late Middle Ages with you, Hagar.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Apartment 3-G is written by one of these people.
P.S.: Thanks to everyone who helped me sort out my many Photoshop issues. I think I've got everything working more or less efficiently now.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Hey, Jeffy: that's not a proper football! That's an anachronism! You're an anachronism! I hate you so much!
Thursday, September 11, 2008
I have figured out how to paste actual words into an actual comic! The font I have chosen is different from bats' (because bats' actually costs money), but it is still pseudo-medieval, so that's all right.
Fowele: Whafore hast tho spectacules?
Tortuse: Ich spente halfe an howre yestereven raviching an helm.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Why not accomplish such a stirring up not by shoving these poor comics forward into the future they all seem to fear but by propelling them deep into the past? It makes sense to me.*
I propose that every day, I shall find a comic--any comic--and post it here...followed by a Middle English translation. I don't claim that the Middle English will be absolutely perfect, so please, Middle English Grammar Scholars, don't crucify me. I do claim that the Middle English will make the comics better. It would, after all, be hard for it to make them worse.
The first entry is from the extremely long-running comic Mary Worth (currently written and drawn by Joe Giella and Karen Moy), which has been dragging through an infuriatingly naive story about phishing and credit-card fraud for something like a month now. This comic appeared on Wednesday, September 10, 2008, and is here reproduced in a critical-commentary sort of capacity.**
One of my fellow Comics Curmudgeon snarkers, a very witty and talented person who goes by the moniker of "bats," has used my translation to create a lovely Middle English version of the comic (I especially like Mary's tiny thought balloon). I'll leave the text translation in below, but now you've got the comic as well. Behold the two versions (click on the images to see readable copies):
Toby: Ich colde not tellen hym, Mary.
Mary: Tho moste, Toby. He wille knowen eftsones, ond he has a ryghte to knowen, as thy hosbonde. Yow moste bothe worken thys owt!
Toby: Alas, myn Ian is nowe yn the compaigne of moste lerned folke, whereas ich haue let myself be ablynt. Ich schalle tellen hym when he retorneth.******
Thank you, and good night.
*I am slightly mad, of course.
**So please don't sue me.