Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Goofiness of the Beast

Marmaduke (the comic strip) was first published in 1954.

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.

But wait.

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.


Skullturf Q. Beavispants said...

Is the "ne ... neuer" construction another example of negative concord, analogous to contemporary French "ne ... jamais"?

Also, I imagine the expression "strong suit" comes from card games. I wonder at what point in the history of English did such expressions become part of everyday speech.

jackd said...

If you're going for allegory, go all the way! If the ice cream represents souls, then the kid with the cone is, Faith? And the girl with the leash is Apostasy?

Damn, I don't know. Maybe you could get the Holy Roman Emperor or an Antipope involved.

Angry Kem said...

Skullturf: That "ne" often appeared in negative expressions in front of auxiliary verbs. I think "ne...nat" was more usual, but I expect "ne...neuer" is all right too (or I'm going to claim it is, at least).

Jackd: I think there should be more Antipopes in twenty-first century comics. I expect there may be room for one in the current Spider-Man plotline.

I was thinking of the girl with the ice cream as Mankind. I expect the girl with the leash is one of Antichrist's prophets (or perhaps a "little Antichrist"). It is possibly a little too easy to make a big deal about the fact that her name is actually Barbara (maybe she represents the Unclean Nations of Gog and Magog?). I am disappointed that there is no room in the comic for the New World Emperor, but we can't have everything.

Omri said...

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