Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Hallowe'en! Aren't Gender Stereotypes Fun?

Ah, Hallowe'en...that favourite holiday of cartoonists everywhere. Christmas leads to a lot of soppy, heart-warming goop, and Valentine's Day allows explorations of the human heart,* but only Hallowe'en offers a certain kind of licence: an opportunity to let loose, turn things upside down, bring out the monstrous sides of one's characters.

Some cartoonists embrace this opportunity. Some ignore it. Many completely squander it, possibly because they are phoning it in.** Jeff and Bil Keane take it and bludgeon it upside the head until it stops moving.

In the comic presented below, Billy, Jeffy, and Dolly eagerly await sunset so that they can go beg candy from their neighbours. Billy is dressed as Iron Man, probably because an Iron Man movie came out this summer. Jeffy is dressed as Batman, probably because a Batman movie came out this summer. Dolly is dressed as...

............Sarah Palin?

Gosh! I guess little boys want to be superheroes, whereas little girls want to be ultra-conservative, moose-hunting figureheads who have been shunted into positions of power not because they deserve to be but because somebody is trying to pretend he's progressive! Let's celebrate Sarah Palin as the closest a woman can come to being "super"! Excuse me while I go kick several walls in impotent fury, then throw up! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh...

The Keanes have also, of course, demonstrated that they don't know their superheroes. Iron Man and Batman are from different comic-book universes, but more importantly, they represent almost opposite superhero impulses. Iron Man, especially lately in Marvel's Civil War storyline, tends to ally himself with the U.S. government, whereas Batman is a vigilante who works outside the law and frequently comes into conflict with it.*** In between them, we have Dolly as a potential Vice President who thinks she is a "maverick" and, while happily promoting the Republican party, seems determined to undermine it at every turn and promote herself as the next-but-one President of the United States. I'm getting mixed messages on the politics here, Keanes. Or did you expect me to read the comic in an entirely brain-dead manner? Oh, probably did.

Medievalising this comic actually helps it marginally. No, there were no superheroes per se in the Middle Ages, but our "superheroes" are really just "heroes" under another name. Medieval texts, especially romances, are not afraid to present the larger-than-life hero, with his monstrous personality and his tendency to tear off heads with his bare hands;**** in fact, in a few little poems based on the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, Christ himself appears as such a hero. Significantly, other poems and stories elevate real historical figures to hero status. Several romances deal with Alexander the Great in this fashion, and one does it to Richard the Lionheart, who appears as the son of a demon princess: a man who wields a huge axe, consumes human flesh, and is frequently compared to the devil.

It could be that Dolly's Palin represents this type of national hero. The Keanes are implying that though she may seem monstrous, she will use her monstrosity to beat back the outsiders and make the States strong. Iron Man and Batman are all very well, but Sarah Palin is a real-life American hero.***** Right? Right? McCain-Palin 2008!

My name is Angry Kem. I am a Canadian. This message has not been paid for by any existing political party. I assume my politics are becoming rather clear by this point, but try not to worry about it. We Canadians tend to become rather passionate about the American presidential election because though it affects us quite a lot, there's not a damn thing we can do about it.

*Well...the part of the human heart attached to 1) the greeting card industry, 2) the heart-shaped chocolate industry, and/or 3) horrible, horrible glurge.
**What am I saying? They are obviously phoning it in. They don't care. They are forcing us to bear their unforgivable trash because they believe that the fact that they are all great-grandchildren of great early-twentieth-century cartoonists entitles them to steady paycheques. I hate them all.
***Yes, I am simplifying. I am simplifying a lot. At this point, feel free to exclaim, "Golly, she's simplifying a lot!" Then go shopping at the comic-book store to let off a bit of steam.
****Or, occasionally, his bear hands.
*****I would like to make it extremely clear that this sentence is meant to be read in a highly sarcastic tone of voice. I in no way condone a reading of this sentence that does not include either sarcasm or irony. Thank you, and good night.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I Am Not in a Good Mood, and This Comic Doesn't Help

As I have now finished frantically marking and lecturing for the day and must only spend the next several hours working feverishly to finish tomorrow's webcomic--while I'm not practising music with my band, I mean--I can finally get to the Idiotic Comic of the Day. It's just too bad for Leroy and Loretta Lockhorn that I have a headache and am still busy kicking myself after my disastrous lecture.*

The stupidity that imbues The Lockhorns becomes even more intense today as Loretta openly displays the hatefulness that characterises her marriage. My God, woman...if you loathe him that much, get a divorce and stop torturing us with your pointless griping. Backhanded griping is one thing; sticking a photo of your husband to a dark board with his left eye in the centre target seems an indication that you might be happier not married to him. Honestly...anybody want to draw these morons up some divorce papers? If I could, I'd do it myself. What the hell is the point? Loveless marriages are no longer traps for helpless women. PAY ATTENTION, CARTOONIST.

This comic only makes sense if it takes place in the Middle Ages, when Loretta would not only not have had the power to divorce Leroy but would not have been expected to love or even like him. Clearly, Loretta is a rich merchant's daughter foisted off on a landless knight (his name, after all, means "the king"; it is possible he is a sixteenth cousin of royalty with really optimistic parents) who needs her money, even as she needs his title. They can't stand each other but stay together for convenience's sake. Their children will be wealthy minor nobility; that is all they care about, though they are beginning to think that they may not ever have children. Here, Loretta gleefully flaunts her marriage's farcical nature. The cartoonist is commenting satirically on marriage as a medieval institution and cynically implying that its reality does not live up to its ideal.

It's really too bad it happens to be 2008 at the moment. It really is.

*At one point, I found myself staring at my notes and realising that I didn't understand what the hell they were saying. I fumbled around for an excruciating minute or two, then gave up, said something about how one's brain stopped working when one stayed up to four to mark, and moved on. The students were all catatonic, and I just wanted to go home.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Monstrous Races...Philosophical Musings...So Much Fun...

On Monday, Garfield was hallucinatory.

On Tuesday, Garfield was utterly bizarre.

Now it is Wednesday. Wednesday's Garfield rocks my world...albeit only in a medieval context, of course.

Four of Garfield's characters--Jon, Garfield, Odie, and Pooky*--have spent the past three days arbitrarily swapping heads. I'm assuming that on or just after Hallowe'en, Jon is going to Wake Up and Find It Was All a Dream. For the moment, however, we're getting cat-headed men, man-headed cats, cat-headed dogs, dog-headed teddy bears, and teddy-bear-headed dogs (with big doggy tongues). When Jon's head is on Garfield's body, he communicates in thought bubbles rather than speech bubbles, while when Garfield's head is on Jon's body, the opposite rule applies. You have no idea how disturbing newspaper comics can get until you take a look at this week's Garfield.**

One might posit that Jim Davis is running out of ideas*** and is thus simply drawing**** random garbage as he hums madly to himself to drown out the voices. However, one might also see today's strip as a thoughtful exploration of monstrosity via medieval dream-vision imagery. I am inclined to choose option #2.

What is humanity? St. Augustine muses on this very question and can only come up with a wishy-washy answer.***** The problem of the categorisation of the monstrous races is one that haunts the Middle Ages. If dog-headed people who bark instead of talking nonetheless demonstrate signs of human intelligence, are they not human? Yet...if we categorise them as human, do we have to view them as equal to us? If we accuse a monster of cannibalism, are we not admitting his humanity, since cannibals, by definition, consume the flesh of creatures just like them? If we maintain the monster is an animal, how can we call him a cannibal?

The debate is complex and nuanced, and today's Garfield captures it perfectly. The hybrid characters seem unsure which of them is the dreamer and which the dream; they thus symbolise, in the world of the dream vision, the subject's anxiety about his identity and even reality. The hybridity of the characters points to the monster debate, characterised by the inconclusive, uneasy conflict between human and subhuman, Self and Other, inside and outside. The dreamer--Jon, perhaps?--is lost in a sea of uncertainty, unable to reconcile his view of himself as a perpetual outsider (a monster?) with his own humanity. He has lost touch with his essence and therefore dreams himself as fragmented.

What he needs to do, of course, is get himself a spirit guide--possibly a vain, sarcastic eagle with personality issues--and set off on a journey through a paradisal landscape full of madly singing birds. He will eventually run into a highly symbolic situation that he will completely misunderstand, then muddle about until he has a revelation and tries to yank someone's head off someone's shoulders and replace it with his own. Then he'll wake up. He'll be relieved it was all a dream until he finds an eagle's feather under his pillow.

Sadly, this is Garfield we're talking about here. There will be no spirit guide. The nonsense will continue until the end of the week, then lapse again into stupidity. Jim Davis is simply not aware of the philosophical implications of his own comic. Someone really ought to keep him informed.

*Pooky is a teddy bear but also, in a sense, a character. Don't ask.
**Of course, there's also Monday's Heart of the City, which features a little boy and girl dressed up as a pimp and a ho.
***Or that Jim Davis ran out of ideas decades ago, but that's a whole other rant.
****Or, really, cut-and-pasting. Damn it, Jim. ( be fair, panels 1 and 2 have some tiny, tiny differences. At best, however, there was tracing involved. Do these "people" never change their poses?)
*****Not hugely unusual for him, but still.

An Open Letter to the Best Cartoonists Ever

Dear Creators of Crock:

I am writing to commend you on your recent series of comics dealing with the starvation policies of the French Foreign Legion. There are some, of course, who claim that there is no series and that you are simply brain-dead zombies who do not particularly care when you end up recycling a joke that you used just nineteen days before, but I have faith in you. I believe in your mission to bring this terrible, terrible situation to the attention of the world, or at least the three or four world dwellers who still follow your comic strip.

Your swift return to the subject of shoe consumption is appreciated, especially since the idea's medieval repercussions raise the spectre of cannibalism. I am also pleased by the current variation, in which Crock is dismayed by the fact that one of the legionnaires is either a cross-dresser or a woman. Obviously, it would be appalling if someone other than a badly drawn straight white man managed to enter the ranks. We denizens of the fourteenth--er, twenty-first--er, whatever--century must take arms against a sea of people not like us. We also must destroy the Internet. It is Satan. I'm sure you agree.

Your edgy humour, which does not at all steal from M*A*S*H and probably a lot of other army-related books and films I have not read or seen because I'm just not that interested, thrills me. I wish you would contact Mr. Chaucer and ask him if he would turn your wonderful story into a verse romance. I just know he would do a fantastic job of it.

Please keep up the good work. Your gripping comic is keeping me right on the edge of my seat. What will happen next? Who will eat whom? Why does your current "starvation" comic follow hard upon that "Grossie is a bad cook" comic? Is she cooking shoes? Is she? The suspense is killing me. What a good job you are doing, creators of Crock.

Yours sincerely,

Angry Kem

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Goddes Bones...A Twist!

There are some days on which I search frantically through the comics, trying to find just one with the right medieval atmosphere. On other days, way too many brilliantly idiotic strips seem to fall into my lap. Today is one of those other days. I have been hard put to it to decide on a comic. Should I, I asked myself not long ago, choose Blondie, in which Blondie and Dagwood wander so far through their neighbourhood that they actually enter the Other World? Or should I go for Crock, whose misogyny is so acute that the comic is a good candidate to be put on trial for hate crimes? What about For Better or For Worse, which features a screamy, screamy Elly who reacts to a quite ordinary situation in an utterly unreasonable way? Or Garfield, in which we see some of the monstrous races: a cat-headed man and a man-headed cat?* What to do? How to choose? Why can't this happen to me every day?

In the end, however, I gravitated towards Mark Trail. It hurt me to give up Blondie, Crock, Garfield, and Foob,** but Crock's Grossie will certainly be mocked again, Elly screams for no reason quite frequently, Garfield is Garfield, and I suspect Blondie and Dagwood will be having Hallowe'en adventures all week. Mark's encounter with Satan, however, has to be dealt with now.

The last time we checked up on Our Hero, he was rescuing a damsel from a dragon, as would any verray, parfit gentil knyght (or, in fact, saint). Now that very damsel, who is carrying a bit of a torch for her rescuer, has discovered that Mark is opposed to her dastardly plan to drain the wetlands so that she can build--as she puts it in Saturday's comic--"new homes and shopping centres." Mark has not yet realised that Sue is the person against whom he is fighting the good fight, but the revelation cannot be too far off.

Today, Sue takes Mark for a long walk on the beach so that she can recruit him to her side. In fact, she tempts him; she dangles power in front of his nose, luring him to her with the promise that if he works for her, he will be able to have his cake and eat it too.

Good Lord. Is the fair Sue, our very own damsel in distress, actually the devil? The scene is ominously reminiscent of the bit in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13) in which the Tempter encounters Christ in the wilderness and promises him all sorts of booty if Jesus will only worship him. "Susan," after all, differs from "Satan" by only two letters. Sue appeared to need rescuing from the alligator/dragon/devil, but in fact, she must have set up the encounter in order to gain Mark/Christ's trust. Now she probably thinks she has him believing she's the allegorical representation of Truth or some such thing, whereas she's actually the Father of Lies. Be wary, Mark! Do not fall for the blandishments of this seeming maiden! Keep protecting the wetlands and preaching the gospel of Environmentalism! If she tries to convince you that you would look good in a beard, stand firm!***

Will Mark fall, or will he resist temptation and go on to become a true Type of Christ? Read Mark Trail tomorrow, plus probably every day for the next three years, in order to find out.

*All these links should remain functional forever. Unlike Nancy, these four comics are hosted by the Houston Chronicle, which has a wonderful comics page offering archives that go back to something like 1998 (for some strips, at least).
**It would take an awfully long time to explain why many people call For Better or For Worse Foob. Just take it from me that it richly deserves it.
***Most of the villains of Mark Trail have facial hair. Sue doesn't. I am still deeply suspicious of her. I think she may be sprouting a little blonde moustache.

This May Be Cutting Political Commentary, Though I'm Guessing Probably Not

Ah...election fever. The Americans are in the throes of it right now. Up here in the True North, we had our moment of insanity a few weeks ago; down in that middle North American continent, people are gearing up to elect...someone...on November 4.

Also down in that middle North American continent, cartoonists nationwide are dragging their creaky, geriatric bodies to their drawing boards and churning out mountains of election-related material.* Many of these cartoonists are simply doing election comics because it's sort of expected of them. Of course, many of these cartoonists are simply doing comics, period, because it's sort of expected of them.

The Wizard of Id often uses its medieval setting to comment on American society, albeit generally American society circa 1953. Today, it attempts a topical political comic. One could actually see it as relevant to the actual American election.*** If one did, however, one would have to ignore the fact that the presidential incumbent is actually not running this year. Is George Bush the King? The comic doesn't work. Is John McCain the King? Why would John McCain be the King? Is Barack Obama the King? Now we're just being silly.

The comic only begins to make sense if viewed as medieval-style allegory, in which, as I've implied in previous entries, not every single tiny detail has to line up with reality. Perhaps "the King" equals "the Republicans"...or perhaps, as in the last Wizard comic we examined, the author is retreating into the past and making some extremely relevant comments on the policies of either Richard II or Richard III. I would wager on the latter possibility, as I doubt that whichever Parker and Hart Descendants are working on the strip now would know good American political satire from a hole in the ground. They are more comfortable making hilarious jokes about monarchs who have been dead for centuries.

*All right...technically, they did the dragging and churning weeks ago. One does rather wonder how cartoonists in the digital age feel about mandatory buffers. While staff reporters frantically write articles that go to press half an hour later and editors come to terms with all that technology by posting constantly evolving articles online, cartoonists are still expected to produce their stuff well ahead of time. The practice leads to absurdities such the the characters from Doonesbury, a political comic, spending weeks tiptoeing around election results everybody else in the country knows.**
**I am not sure why footnote #1 just turned into a rant, but oh well.

***If one squiddled one's eyes around, then took various illegal substances and completely lost touch with reality.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Repent, Sinners: The Big Dog Cometh

I am pleased to bring you the fascinating news that Marmaduke's status as an absolutely enormous dog has not changed. He is still getting up to hilarious hijinks predicated entirely on his size and dogness. Amusement at his adventures is making my sides ache. Watch me roll on the floor laughing, not simply metaphorically in reference to some quick bit of leet, but in reality. Oh, Marmaduke. You rock my world.

I shall now leave Oppositeland. There we go. It's good to be back.

Marmaduke is truly neither funny nor meaningful unless it is examined in a medieval context. Outside such a context, today's comic is simply stupid. Why is that man getting his bum washed by Marmaduke? How would it be possible even for such a huge dog to make the water do that? Does Phil, Marmaduke's owner, carry an umbrella all the time on the off-chance that his dog will attempt to drown him? Is that a bone falling out of Marmaduke's rear end? What the hell?

Yet medieval theology makes everything clear. Yet again, we have Marmaduke as the Antichrist here. The bucket is the Pail of Sin; Antichrist is drenching humankind with the horror therein. Phil is a True Believer who is wise to the ways of Marmaduke and must explain to the more gullible Everyman represented by his friend that the sin-drenching was really inevitable. In his hands, Phil carries the Umbrella of Truth; he can shield himself from the sin, but Everyman does not have the wit to duck behind the umbrella as well. He is learning, however, that sin is uncomfortable,* and it is probable that he will soon acquire a Truth Umbrella of his own, especially in light of the revelation that Marmaduke has devoured a small child (representing Virtue) and is now voiding the remains.

*And possibly concentrated on his butt?'ve got nothing.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tilting at Horrible Comics (and Losing)

A blog called Crosshatch that seems to involve random thoughts and ideas in no particular order has linked Japes for Owre Tymes in a category of its own: "Don Quixotes Crusading for a Lost Cause." I mention this irrelevant but fun fact because I am quite pleased to be compared to Don Quixote. Life is, after all, a series of windmill-tilting incidents; all we can really do is choose our own windmills and hope for the best.*

Today's windmill is Drabble, which, as I have already explained, deserves to be mulched.** Its stereotypical, unlikeable characters bounce from one stereotypical, unlikeable situation to the next, never stopping along the way to do anything interesting or, heaven forbid, original. The comic is only twenty-nine years old--a mere child in newspaper-strip terms--but it clings to the mores of a previous generation or, really, a far-distant century. This week's comics have been trotting out that legacy-strip standby: it is terrible when a woman tries to horn in on a man's manly leisure activities, and it is even more terrible when she is better at them than he is. June Drabble may not understand the purpose of a sand trap or a water hazard, gentlemen, but she doesn't fall prey to them, and--har har har--she wishes that she would! The womens! The womens! How hard to understand how their tiny brains work! And poor hapless Ralph, being ground into the green by this ignorant hausfrau!

Yet again, we have travelled all the way back to the Middle Ages and leapt headlong into an antifeminist tract. Viewed in a medieval light, the comic is both subtle and original; the cartoonist is pointing out that women are not only cheating, lying scum, but dangerously good at stuff. June's competence with that, er, club leaves Ralph's in the shade. If women are able to handle their clubs and balls and men are not, how long will it be before they start believing they are real people? How long will it be before the men have their clubs seized from them? They will be forced to watch, de-clubbed and emasculated, as women roam free across the landscape, slaying villagers and raping young princes. Our only hope, the cartoonist implies, lies in the stupidity of the ladies. The potential for power is there, but women are so dumb (har har) that they don't realise it is. The comic points out the danger but also the fact that even a woman allowed to get her hands on a man's club probably won't know what to do with it.

And I think that's probably enough innuendo for one day right there.

P.S.: The word "golf" came into the English language relatively late (the first known reference, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, is from a late-fifteenth-century Scottish text), but it probably derives from the Middle Dutch "colf" [club], which was written down in medieval England at least once (in 1296), albeit not in relation to golf itself. I have stolen it.

*This sounds pessimistic until you realise that I have spent the past two weeks teaching Alan Moore's Watchmen. Yesterday's class involved a dissection of the various characters, including the Comedian (basically a nihilist) and Rorschach (who at one point brutally kills two German shepherds, flings their bloody corpses at their child-killing owner, chains the owner in his own warehouse and sets it on fire, and comes out with the following sentiment: "Looked at sky through smoke heavy with human fat and God was not there. The cold, suffocating dark goes on forever, and we are alone"). Compared to them, I'm quite cheery.
**I am not mixing my metaphors. It is actually a windmill that deserves to be mulched. It would deserve to be mulched in any form.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Yeah...I Still Don't Get It

I stopped by the insane world of B.C. fairly recently. Today, however, it is necessary to return, as the completely bizarre reference that made the last featured strip even less comprehensible than usual has put in another appearance.

What is it with the Hart Descendants and Batman? Evidently, someone saw The Dark Knight and thought it was really, really good. Never mind that the film appeared months ago; it clearly reverberated in Little Hart's brain, setting off an uneasy creative* process that has led, in the end, to various stilted Batman jokes making their awkward, inappropriate way into B.C. The result is mind-meltingly odd: a comic strip set in the Stone Ages referencing a twentieth-century technological device used by a character created in 1939 and featured in a 2008 film. The Hartsies aren't really even bothering any more, are they?

Whereas the last Batman comic contained a joke** whose intent and purpose seemed to have been lost in the mists of time, this one is, at least, explicable via the Middle Ages. The concept of a town full of stupid people is an old one and turns up in folk tales from many lands; the basic idea is that if we can laugh of the idiocy of people who live over there, we won't look like such idiots ourselves. One can imagine Chaucer having fun with such a story, which would constitute an amusing look at the human condition.

In the twenty-first century, we do not often tell such stories. We have transferred our scorn to certain segments of society or, occasionally, certain geographical areas; we don't target "towns" but "the red States" or "Newfoundland."*** The idea of a stupid town seems quaint****...which, of course, it is. The Hard Descendants are most comfortable when they are being medieval. In fact, today's comic reads like a bad translation from the Middle English. Look at how awkward those phrases are. "Pretty dumb town" has no ring to it at all and sounds like something a five-year-old might say. "How dumb was it?" is a transparent set-up line. The reply is not clever and is delivered with terrible ennui. It all falls kind of flat.

In Middle English, however, the dialogue comes alive with utterly delicious alliteration. I'm actually not entirely certain that "A Fayre Foltish Toun" is not the title of some lighthearted medieval ditty, probably sung as a round. The punchline is also worthy of song. All the words used are rich and musical. The stupidity of this joke about stupidity is obscured by the beauty of its setting.

Frankly, the Hart Descendants should just leave their comics in Middle English. They are poor translators and are depriving their readers***** of tiny, perfect doses of pure poetry.

P.S.: "Bakke beken" does, in fact, mean "bat beacon," but to our dull ears, it probably sounds rather like "Back bacon." Ah well.

*Well...technically creative. In a sense. To a certain value of creativity. Never mind.
**Well...technically a joke. Etc.
***I do not laugh at Newfoundland. I have never been there, but I would like to go. I've heard that the people of Newfoundland have a great appreciation for the accordion. Frankly, no one else does. I should enjoy travelling to a region in which my poor accordion is not regarded with horror.
****Albeit perhaps not in my favourite medieval sense of the word.
*****All six of them.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Only Every Day, Dolly. Only Every Day.

All right...that's it. I give up. I simply can't stay away from The Family Circus. It is, quite simply, the perfect medieval comic. It has it all: archaic family dynamics, pronounced and rigid morality, allegorical characters and situations, and a complete dissociation with twenty-first-century American life. I don't think it is written by an acquaintance of the monks responsible for Apartment 3-G, Archie, and The Better Half, but I'm pretty sure the writers are intimately acquainted with the medieval Christian world-view. They have a deep, abiding, complex understanding of exactly how things worked six hundred years ago in England. It is a pity they can't go back there.*

Today, Dolly expounds upon her father's sex life and the punishment God is meting out as a result of it. Unlike Hagar, Big Daddy Keane knows exactly why he is being "punished"; so, it seems, does Dolly, who here cannily connects her father's position "in bed" with his comeuppance. Wise beyond her years, Dolly also notes the subtle distinction between "bed" as pleasure and purgatory, thus pointing out that sex, though a necessity for the continuation of the species, is also technically a Very Bad Thing, especially when not undertaken purely for reasons of procreation. Daddy, Dolly implies, is a fornicator. Daddy fornicates a lot.** He should, in fact, undergo harsh bed-related punishment.

It should be noted that Daddy's woebegone look is, while inexplicable in a twenty-first-century context, perfectly reasonable for a medieval work. Daddy is not as comfortable as he looks. That bed, my friends, is a bed of pain. It is scouring his flesh. He is writhing in agony. He is hugging the pillow because in his red-hot, throbbing world of bodily distress, it is really all he has left aside from a faint and swiftly receding hope of Heaven.

P.S.: "ben in peyne" here means "to be punished," not "to be in pain"...though the connotations are certainly similar in this particular instance.

*And leave us the hell alone.
**To be fair, Daddy also procreates a lot. He has four hideously deformed children whom medieval moralists would possibly believe have been born looking as they do as punishment for Daddy's sins.

Monday, October 20, 2008

It's the Smile That Really Gets to Me (*Shudder*)

As I have implied before,* Marvin is not a comic I particularly like. In fact, I rather wish that its entire run could somehow be erased from existence, perhaps with the assistance of a convenient time-travelling Terminator. Its protagonist's very existence makes me want to gouge out my own liver.

However, every once in a while, this lazy, idiotic strip from hell goes so beautifully medieval that I can almost grow to love it.** Today's comic is a case in point. Not only does it involve a joke about feces, it acts as a concise illustration of the seamy underbelly of the feudal system.

Imagine that Marvin is a lord and his father a commoner under his protection. Marvin's contention that he is a "generous guy" corresponds to the lord's role as protector of the peasant in return for the peasant's service (here the father's changing of the diaper). However, just as the lord's "generosity" may exist in theory only and involve copious amounts of abuse, the child's "generosity" encompasses only his bodily waste. The relationship is lopsided; the lord "gives" something the commoner does not want, whereas the commoner must undertake unpleasant and possibly dangerous tasks for the sake of the lord. Though the ideal of the feudal system may have merit, its reality is flawed and leaves the peasant holding the equivalent of a full and reeking diaper.

The callous smirk on Marvin's face is telling; he knows that his father has no choice but to bow to his every whim. Yet Marvin's status as an infant also bears meaning, as it suggests that the lord is helpless without his servants. The cartoonist is commenting subtly on this working but ultimately unworkable system and perhaps even pushing for change.

It is just too bad that his comic has appeared several hundred years too late. Then again, what else is new?***

* I have stated outright in righteous rage.
**I may be exaggerating just a smidgen.
***Not much. Not with Marvin. Never with Marvin. Helas ond weilaway.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Becoming Creepy, Stanley...Becoming Very Creepy

It was nearly a month ago that we checked up on Stanley and Harriet, the bizarrely angular bulging frog-people of The Better Half. Stanley, wearing a terrifying orange cat suit, was explaining to a bemused Harriet that he was having a midlife crisis and wanted to quit his job in order to become a cat.

You thought it was random, didn't you? You thought the cartoonist had closed his eyes and stabbed his dictionary multiple times with a hat-pin until he had selected enough words to make a sentence, then drawn the resulting bit of absurdity. No. I am sorry to say that in the sad, sad world of The Better Half, that cat cartoon exemplified continuity. The story continues today and will probably return at intervals until all the cartoonists willing to draw this...thing...are dead.*

Mercifully, the cat suit is not back. Ominously, the cat reference is. Now Stanley is plotting to steal his cat's identity so that he can spend the day sleeping. It makes absolutely no sense at all in any context, though it does vaguely count as one of those clumsy cartoonist-flavoured attempts to come to terms with the incomprehensibility of modern times. I'm afraid one of our labouring monks is responsible for this one.

This particular monk, stuck day and night in his medieval cell, has heard vague, confusing rumours about the existence of something called "identity theft." What, he wonders, could it possibly be? How can someone's very identity be stolen? Surely this is the devil's work! More worldly monks try to explain the concept to him, but his life experience is so narrow that he still doesn't really get it and somehow feels it would be utterly hilarious to portray a man as trying to steal the identity of his cat. He has, in the past, had Stanley admiring the lifestyle of cats, so this latest venture seems a natural step.

Luckily for his peace of mind, he has not heard of furry porn.**

*Or the world explodes. Whichever happens first.
**Dear People Who Googled "Furry Porn" and Accidentally Found This Site: Hi. No, there isn't any. Try the next link.

The Saga of,, Whatever...

I just can't stay away from the Hagar the Horrible Sunday funnies. They are really so beautifully archaic that it is only possible to appreciate them if you have a deep, complex understanding of medieval theological thought. Otherwise, they are incredibly stupid. I choose to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Below, we see Hagar clinging to a tiny rock as a storm rages around him and his boat (with his crew on it?) sinks in the distance. After a bit of exposition ("Here I am...after having sunk the boat you can see sinking behind me...caught in a storm that you are perfectly capable of discerning yourself, what with all the lightning bolts and all...not that they are really behaving much like actual lightning bolts, as they seem to be hitting the water, and I am in the water, and yet I am somehow not dead yet...anyway, here I am, and I shall tell you all about it, despite the fact that a picture is supposed to be worth a thousand words...but I don't trust the rather clear and obvious picture of which I happen to be a part to get across the gravity of my listen to me as I expound unnecessarily upon it!"), Hagar cries out to his maker: "What have I done to deserve all this?" Unexpectedly, his maker replies.

Hagar's conversation with a vengeful God could associate him with any number of traditions. As a Danish barbarian,* he may, in fact, be conversing with a pagan deity; it would certainly explain the fallibility.** However, it is possible that Hagar and Helga are, in fact, converts, in which case Hagar may be talking to the Big Panjandrum himself. Perhaps he is playing out a medieval version of the story of Job. Perhaps he is participating in an amazingly bold attempt by heretical cartoonists to question God's omniscience. Perhaps he is simply demonstrating that life is not fair and that God is not interested in making it so.

At any rate, the comic certainly acts as a beautiful comment on the concept of adversity during this life as a punishment for one's sins...though, simultaneously, it undermines this concept with the irony of God's "mistake." Oh, Hagar. How tangled is your allegory! How lovely is your song!

P.S.: I still can't find a good translation for "oops" I used my discretion and changed stuff around just a tad. "Ha ha" is a genuine Middle English interjection, by the way. When I use it instead of "LOL," I can claim that I have a lot of tradition behind me.

*Okay...seriously...I don't know where Hagar is from. He sometimes seems to be Norwegian and sometimes Danish. Maybe he's both. I don't know! I wash my hands of Hagar's nationality and will from here on in translate "Viking" however the hell I want.
**According to the monks, that is. They would doubtless explain that Hagar's god was actually a demon and that Hagar was damned. Then they would high-five each other and go on to write about saintly maidens being devoured by dragons and causing the dragons to explode.***
***Saint Margaret of Antioch did this. No, really.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Look at That: His Hair Is Even the Right Colour

Is Dennis the Menace* an irritating and unfunny comic about a mildly mischievous yellow-haired kid with stupid parents and a perpetually grumpy neighbour...

...or is it an accurate record of the life and times of the boy who will one day grow up to become Geoffrey Chaucer's Pardoner?

I think we all know the answer to that question.

Regard Dennis in the panel below. This small child, who has been established in at least one previous comic as too young to read, is here sharply quizzing his father on the meaning of the word "purse." Asks Dennis: is "purse" just a word? Does it have only a symbolic meaning? Or is this gentleman, in fact, in the process of winning a purse full of cold, hard cash?

Dennis can certainly be seen here as hot in pursuit of the American Dream,** but the comic becomes much more poignant when one realises that he is actually a portrait of the infant Pardoner, learning for the first time that money is really at the centre of everything. The sly look on his face belies the seeming innocence of the question. "Oh, yes," Dennis is thinking, "there had better be money in that thing. Otherwise, it is all a lie. A lie! Hmm...perhaps I can use that." As his chubby hand grasps the golf club, a plan begins to form in his mind. He knows that greed is essential to human wellbeing...but what will happen if he goes around telling people that it is the root of all evil? Why...all the money in all the purses in all the world may just be up for grabs! Dennis smirks and bides his time. Someday...somehow...all your purse are belong to him.***

The comic thus serves as a telling episode from the Pardoner's childhood. It gives us insight into the man's character while also highlighting the fact of his certain encroaching damnation. Its complexity should take your breath away.****

*Good lord...I misspelled "Dennis" as "Denace"...and I just now (about nine hours later) noticed and fixed it. I must have been awfully tired this morning.
**"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." Sob.
***Sorry. Sorry. It is not grammatical because it is a stupid Internet reference. Resistance, unfortunately, was futile.
****Plus possibly much of your sanity.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Porcupine Stove-Top Raspberry!

This morning, all over North America and possibly even in some other places,* people opened their newspapers and glanced casually at B.C. The resulting collective "Huh?" could be heard on Mars.**

On the surface, it seems that the only thing that could possibly be responsible for this strip would be utter insanity.*** If I stretch my imagination, which is vast, a great deal, I can just about see that whatever hapless Hart descendant is writing the comic now may have been trying for some sort of reference to the Joker making people laugh and Batman possibly stopping that laughter by stopping the Joker, but I still can't see how such a reference is meant to make me laugh and thus apparently keep me from succumbing to mental illness (to which, by the way, the Joker himself has already succumbed, despite the fact that he spends quite a lot of his time laughing).****

However, it is entirely possible that the miserable writer is simply drawing on the humour of a previous age. Though his medieval-style japery is lost on us, and no amount of scholarship can force it to make sense to modern sensibilities, fourteenth-century courtiers might very well have screamed with laughter upon reading the strip. The Hart descendant, loyal to the concept of this comic as firmly rooted in a past era, has simply gone back a little too far. He is to be commended for his refusal to compromise his ancient, carefully crafted joke by bringing it more in line with twenty-first-century-style humour.

In other words, though I still cannot explain today's B.C., I can appreciate its complete obsolescence. I think this Hart descendant really has the hang of the modern comics page. He will go far.

*God help them all.
**Yes, I know there is no sound in space. Even so.
***Possibly caused by lack of laughter, but who knows?
****And now my head hurts. A lot.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Okay, Now I'm Depressed

Since we checked up yesterday on the poor damned souls at the Flagston residence, we may as well spend today with little Trixie's uncle. Beetle Bailey, not content with making pointed comments about the terrible, terrible folly of World War I, now takes a deep breath and dives into the mire of a soldier's inner life.

Honestly...this comic makes me sad. In a scenario worthy of Norman Drabble, Zero ("the stupid one") has discovered that his imaginary friend--his imaginary female friend, no less--has left him for someone more interesting. Beetle ("the lazy one") expresses insincere sympathy while not even bothering to make his concerned face...but it is the expression on Zero's mug that catches at my heart. Look at him. His loneliness is almost palpable. You just want to reach into the strip, hug him tightly, and ask him what the hell he's doing sitting on what appears to be a bed made for a four-year-old. You probably don't want him to answer you, however.

The "joke"* acquires quite a bit of depth (and makes quite a bit more sense) when removed to its proper medieval context. Zero, like many current comic-strip characters, represents Everyman; his medieval name, Noght, identifies him both with the mathematical concept of "zero" and with the idea of human insignificance. His imaginary friend is clearly one of Everyman's companions. Wisdom, perhaps? Deep Thoughts? Lustful Ignorance? Moral Indifference? At any rate, Zero has reached a point in his journey through life at which this metaphorical property has deserted him. I'm laying bets on Wisdom.** The next scene will involve Beetle and Zero getting drunk and heaving an armchair through the window of a bar.

It's still not funny, though.

*It is too sad to be a "joke." Then again, most of the comics on today's funny pages are too sad to be "jokes," though you will note that I have here cleverly changed the meaning of the word "sad."
**Though I would also like to put a word in for Lustful Ignorance.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

There's Clearly Something Going on with Spoons This Week

This cannot be a coincidence.

Yesterday, we had little Jeffy Keane indulging in a philosophical lament on the loss of his spoon.* Today, we have little Trixie Flagston meditating on the comparative worth of a fork and a spoon...and ultimately choosing the spoon. The Walker and Browne descendants who keep this strip dragging along apparently belong to the same school as thought as Jeff and Bil Keane. They are not, however, so optimistic about the eventual spiritual destination of their young character.

Whereas Jeffy learns to let his spoon go and will probably be able to pull back from the void in time, Trixie yearns for the spoon. She is attracted by the neat tricks Ditto can do with his spoon and the attention it gains him from other members of the family. Trixie is, in fact, in the process of being tempted by Satan. The spoon is luring her from virtue (a pure and spoonless existence) to vice (a reliance on spoons for entertainment and apparent spiritual guidance). Her soul is in mortal danger.

The irony of the scene lies in the fact that Trixie's apparent choice is no choice at all. Both the spoon and the fork (an icon of the pitchfork-carrying devil) lead to temptation, materialism, and ultimate doom. Lois Flagston has unwittingly allowed her infant daughter physical access to these perilous implements.** The Walkers see Trixie's path littered with dangers, and they pessimistically imply that she will not be able to negotiate them.

As with yesterday's Family Circus panel, the medieval context redeems the comic, turning it from trite stupidity into complex theology. If only more people understood that today's cartoonists choose to access the cultural landscape of the fourteenth century instead of the less rewarding one of the twenty-first, we would hear fewer complaints about the funny pages.

*I.e., the material possessions that bound him to his earthly body and had the potential to drag his soul into eternal perdition. And stuff.
**If the medieval context were not so obvious, I would say something here about the idiocy of portraying a very small child holding such an extremely pointy fork.

Monday, October 13, 2008

But, of Course, There Is No Spoon

Vote, Canadians. Vote like the wind.

In the meantime:

The Family Circus is truly appearing six hundred years after its time. At its best, this one-panel cartoon acts as a fascinating window into the mores of the medieval world. Today's comic does not disappoint. Though it may appear to the twenty-first-century reader to be a trite bit of cutesy sentiment couched in utter nonsense, in reality, it is a piece of medieval philosophy so profound that it brings tears--actual tears--to my eyes. This panel, my friends, is a veritable masterpiece of obsolescence.

"Oops!" cries little Jeffy. "My spoon left me." The breathtaking simplicity of this utterance disguises its many layers of meaning. In lamenting the loss of his spoon, Jeffy is pointing out the impermanence of all material things. His spoon "leaves" him just as all his earthly trappings will one day also "leave" him. Like the eponymous hero of Everyman, Jeffy will ultimately be abandoned by all but his good deeds, which will indeed go with him to the grave; his spoon will remain behind. The moment of clarity captured in the comic panel highlights the boy's recognition of his own mortality and acceptance of the principles of mutability that govern life on earth.

Look also at the featureless void that dominates the entire right half of the panel. The artist (Jeff Keane himself!) pictures Jeffy as staring into the abyss that threatens to overwhelm him. His "spoon" has become one with this abyss, which represents the world, the flesh, and the devil. The Seven Deadlies wait for Jeffy in that blankness, lurking near the spoon that figures his temptation. In resisting the spoon, he will be resisting the sin. Jeffy, in fact, must "leave" his spoon, spurning its Satanic lure. If he is able to recoil from the void, he will be spoonless but well on the way to eventual salvation.

Jeff and Bil Keane are true philosophers. It is a pity they were born in such an inappropriate century.

That Antichrist Fellow Gets Everywhere

Happy Thanksgiving, my fellow Canadians. May you not have slept wrong on your necks and awoken minus the ability to move your heads without pain.* May your turkey be plenteous and not at all overcooked. May there be pumpkin pie in your near future.

It is truly astounding how many of out current** comics demonstrate such a breathtakingly comprehensive understanding of the medieval conception of Antichrist. Spider-Man has lately been dealing with Antichrist's deceptive resemblance to Christ. Marmaduke has shown us that Antichrist's final world conquest is near at hand. Now Blondie has got in on the action.

On the surface, the comic below may look simply like yet another inane attack on progress. Blondie uses a new "miracle" product, and it dissolves Dagwood's sleeve. Ah ha ha ha...oh, but for the olde daies, when cleaning products were concocted in huge, steaming cauldrons and didn't actually work at all! I miss permanent stains! *Sigh*...

However, a closer look at that key word, "miracle," reveals the comic's hidden depths. Christ is a purveyor of "miracles"; Antichrist claims to be performing miracles but is actually accomplishing only "marvels," or black magic. Where Christ's powers come from God, Antichrist's derive from Satan. These powers may seem to have similar results, but only Christ's lead to truth and salvation.

Blondie's "miracle spray" is a demonstration of the hideous darkness behind the seemingly miraculous nature of Antichrist, here allegorised as a household cleaning product. Though the spray seems a convenient and magical method of stain- (or sin-) removal, as well as a vast improvement on the alternative, it actually consumes the Clothing of Righteousness worn by Mankind and possibly has a go at Mankind's arm as well. Our modern trust in convenience is, in fact, leading us to eternal damnation. We must shun apparent technological improvements (read: Antichrist) and embrace the true path to Heaven (read: poor personal hygiene and an utter refusal to use anything invented after 1392).

P.S.: Today's gloss is, in fact, about Antichrist. Cursor Mundi is a 24,000-line history of the world. The Antichrist material it contains seems to be based largely on Adso of Montier-en-Der's tenth-century Letter on the Origin and Life of the Antichrist. learned something new today (unless, of course, you didn't).

*But I do not speak from experience. Oh, no. Not m--ow. Ow.
**I use the word "current" in its widest possible sense, of course.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The More Things Change, the More the Legacy Strips Lament

See...the thing is:

Many of the comics about which I am ranting were once truly good. They were products of their times, and they drew on the humour of their times to create funny jokes that would make their readers chuckle. If I had been born in the late twenties, I would probably have fond memories of Blondie and its contemporaries. I might even now be looking back wistfully on the good ol' days.

I choose to believe, however, that my nostalgia would not lead me to mistake the strips as they are now for the strips as they were then. These comics are no longer products of our times. They don't even know how to deal with our times.

Take Nancy. In 1933, an eight-year-old girl with fuzzy hair and an angular little skirt appeared in a comic, Fritzi Ritz, that had been around since 1922. Her popularity eventually propelled her to the centre of the plot, while her Aunt Fritzi was pushed to the sidelines. Nancy's creator, Ernie Bushmiller, won various awards as the comic surged in popularity.

Then, in 1982, he died.

Nancy lives on. Well...perhaps "lives" is the wrong word. The comic is a true zombie, lurching through the comics pages, shedding maggots and bits of brain matter, continually searching for young, fresh strips to destroy. If you want to experience true horror, read this last week's comics. * I didn't notice them in time to feature any of them...but damn.

Luckily, Nancy has a comfortably medieval atmosphere. Like many medieval authors, Guy and Brad Gilchrist, the comic's current hacks, are happy to draw on** older material, telling jokes that have already been told thousands of times and have thus been provided with "auctoritee." Look at today's comic. Note how much more weight the "Gosh, cell phones have become tiny!" gag has once you have considered that this is roughly the three billionth time it has appeared in a comic strip, movie, television show, or deodorant advertisement since the days when "tiny" meant "able to fit inside my huge purse, almost." An aura of auctoritee imbues the strip, turning it into an auctoritee itself.

It is also worth pointing out that people have been lamenting changing times since times started changing. The word "newfangled" is actually very old; Chaucer used it.*** Nancy is here drawing on a tradition that was already mouldy in the fourteenth century. Again, the strip is steeped in sweet, sweet auctoritee.

If the cartoonists keep on in this way, they will be discovering the printing press any decade now. Wait for it. Waaaait for it...

P.S.: No, I do not know why multiple horrifying Nancy heads are floating around in a blue void with a bunch of potatoes. They just are.

*I'm afraid this link will only work for the next three weeks. Then again, it's probably a really good thing that these particular comics will eventually not be accessible to anyone sane.
**I.e., steal.
***Well, okay: he used the word "newefangelnesse." I'm a're a pedant...we're all pedants togeeeeeeeetheeeeeeeerrrrrrrr...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Off to See the Wizard...Again and Again and Again

When Brant Parker and Johnny Hart's The Wizard of Id debuted in 1964, it was probably rather fresh and interesting: a faux-medieval satirical collaboration between the man responsible for B.C. and the man who would one day give birth to Crock.* The characters were many and various, the setting was malleable (both medieval and modern-day simultaneously, rather like B.C.), and there were plenty of opportunities for poking fun at current U.S. administrations through the character of the dwarfish, tyrannous King. The National Cartoonists Society** named the comic the "best humour strip"*** in 1971, 1976, 1980, 1982, and 1983.

Please note that 1983 was twenty-five years ago. Parker and Hart are both dead; responsibility for the strip's creation has passed to Parker's son Jeff. The comic is a zombie. It must be killed.

Like B.C. and Crock, The Wizard of Id delights in grinding through the same tired old jokes it has told since its inception. Nothing ever changes in Wiz World. The characters are static. The peasants are peasants. Some of them probably have cell phones by now, but they're still peasants. The King is a tyrant. The Wizard's wife is ugly and domineering. Blah. Blah. Blah. If the casts of B.C., Crock, and Wizard switched places, almost nothing would have to change.

There is exactly one way to restore the freshness of this comic. You guessed it.

When transported back to the Middle Ages, the strip below is transformed from a weary repetition of a pointless joke about a character who has not changed since his introduction forty-four years ago to a bit of biting political satire that might even get its creator beheaded. The portrayal of the King as an execution-hungry monarch who cannot think how to fit enough bloody death into his crowded days might be aimed at any one of a number of medieval English rulers. The presence of the guillotine might at first seem problematic, but evil, cursed Wikipedia**** tells us that the Halifax Gibbet, an early guillotine from England, may have been around as early as 1280 and was certainly used after 1541, while similar devices appeared in Ireland, Scotland, and various European countries in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The King may, in fact, be a libelous version of Richard III; the short stature of the King could be a reference to the (erroneous) tradition of Richard's deformity. On the other hand, perhaps the King is really Richard II, and the dwarfishness is a sideways swipe at the "smallness" (read: youth) of the monarch at the time he assumed the throne.

At any rate, the comic clearly mocks the King's policies and implies that his rule is on the verge of descending into bloody anarchy. The strip is a barely disguised call to action (perhaps, if this is Richard II, an incitement of the Peasants' Revolt?), designed to be replicated by revolutionary monks and passed covertly from hand to hand.

The tragedy of the situation is, of course, that this relevant, cutting-edge comic has appeared five or six hundred years too late.

*Neither of which are actually recommendations at all, but ah well.
**No, there is no apostrophe after "Cartoonists." This disturbs me.
***Probably spelled without the "u," but hey: watch me not caring. Here I go. I am not caring very, very hard.
****May it be cast forever into a screaming pit of horror.

Friday, October 10, 2008

All Women Are Like That (Apparently)

Where The Better Half explores the utter hilarity of marriage between two angular people with starey eyes,* The Lockhorns explores the utter nastiness, futility, and idiocy of marriage between two short morons who between them embody every single WASPish stereotype of the 1950s...which is astonishing, as the comic has only been around since 1968. I hated it the first time I laid eyes upon it, and I have continued in my hatred ever since.

Leroy and Loretta Lockhorn despise each other. The only reason they have not got a divorce is that they can't afford one. They can, however, afford to spend their days steeped in poisonous loathing and making horrible quips about each other in public. Leroy's drinking and womanising drive Loretta to heights of sarcastic eloquence; Loretta's excessive shopping, terrible driving, and wagging tongue cause Leroy to bemoan his situation to passing strangers. Neither character has any redeeming qualities. Neither is remotely likeable in any way. The two together are doubtless meant as a satire of marriage, but it's hard to believe that any situation involving two such miserable excuses for human beings could offer anything but an opportunity for ridicule.

Today's comic involves an attack on Loretta for her stereotypical fondness for taking two much luggage with her on vacation (and won't that be a fun little trip?). Loretta, of course, is shown carrying only her purse and leaving the big strong men to do the heavy lifting as she smiles in odious smugness; Leroy is sweating copiously, though he appears to be carrying only three rather small bags. Perhaps these bags are implied to contain his possessions, though it is hard to see how he could fit more than a couple of changes of underwear** into them. This strip marks the 3,546,728th time any cartoonist has made fun of a woman for taking too much luggage with her on vacation. I offer my congratulations to the creators.

The fact that Leroy references the Noah story makes the joke even older. In the Middle Ages, there was a rich tradition, associated especially with the Corpus Christi dramatic cycles, of portraying Noah's wife as a scold who richly deserved to be left off the damn ark but just made it on in the end. Chaucer references this tradition in his Miller's Tale; he has a character suggest that for the "new flood" that is coming, a certain carpenter and his wife may want to get themselves into separate boats. Leroy is here comparing Loretta to Noah himself, not Noah's, wife, but the connection to the medieval tradition is clear. I would not be hugely surprised if someone turned up a lost manuscript in which Noah lamented his wife's predilection for dragging along "two of everything...never mind that it was God's commandment!"

Leroy also quite reminds me of John the Carpenter in the Miller's Tale here. Like John, Leroy has vaguely heard of the story of Noah but seems unaware of its actual content and import. Where John has apparently missed out on the bit where God promises never to destroy humankind with a flood again, Leroy seems to have no idea that if he accepts Biblical history as truth, he should believe that everyone on earth is descended from Noah. As it is, he is either extremely ignorant, uttering a heresy, or just plain dumb.

My theory is that the prize is behind door #3.

P.S.: "Trauayle" can mean both "work" and "travel." It may imply that "travel" is "work." I "agree."

*Yes, that's "starey," not "starry." Those bulging orbs occasionally haunt my nightmares.
**Please, let him have a couple of changes of underwear. Please.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Good Ol' Days, When Men Were Starving

The last time we visited the world of Crock, the central character (and, via him, the cartoonist) was busy lamenting the terrible ways in which the world had changed in the past century and longing for life without the Internet. Today's comic takes a different approach. Rather than mourn the lost and distant past, the strip creates a present that contains--as repeatedly mentioned in earlier comics--the Internet but apparently lacks airplanes, helicopters, jeeps, and other means by which to transport food quickly from one location to another. The legionnaires are, in fact, experiencing a distinctly medieval dilemma, ripped from the pages of chronicles of the First Crusade: is there enough seasoning in the camp to make their boots taste like chicken?

The joke here is incredibly stupid, but don't dismiss it out of hand. There are hints of darkness in this comic. At the First Crusade's siege of Marra, some of the Franks, starving and running out of horse meat, dined on the putrefying corpses of their enemies. In his Historia Hierosolymitana, Fulcher of Chartres observes that "itaque plus obsessores quam obsessi angebantur" [in this way the besiegers were harmed more than the besieged] (1.25.2); Raymond d'Aguilers, in Historia Francorum Qui Ceperunt Iherusalem, speaks of the horror of the enemy soldiers at this behaviour and the fear of the Franks it instilled in them (271).*

Today's Crock may discourse on the consumption of mere leather, but the spectre of cannibalism, which has been haunting the French since the eleventh century, looms ominously behind the inane chatter about "sandals" and "boots." The characters know what is coming. You can see it in their wide, frightened eyes. Soon, everyone will be barefoot...and looking with longing at those bare feet. After that, it will be only a matter of time.

The French never lived down the shame of their cannibalistic First Crusade. Even today, they relive it again and again in the funny pages.

*I knew I wrote that thesis for a reason. I did not know the reason was that I would one day need to look up details on cannibalistic Franks for a blog entry about Crock.