Saturday, October 4, 2008

Evidently, Chaucer Had Psychic Powers

Brian Basset's Adam@Home first appeared in 1984 as just plain Adam. My main recollection of the '80s version of the strip is that it was the story of a "house husband" (hyuck...hyuck...hyuck) who had embraced the feminist revolution and stayed home to look after the kids while his wife went out and got a real job. The comic liked to point out how progressive it was by having minor characters marvel at the strangeness of Adam's situation.

It did not take all that long for Mr. Progressive to become Mr. I Have A Job But Work From Home, So Please Don't Challenge My Masculinity. After a few hilarious years cooking and cleaning, Adam started a rather vague private business (I believe it may originally have involved some sort of advice-provision service, but it seems to have evolved into an anonymous and non-specific office job), and the idea of him waging war against terrible, terrible stereotypes was dropped forever.

In other words, Adam@Home is now an office comic in which the main character is the only employee. We see the guy interacting with his family--especially perpetual baby Nick, who seems to spend most of his time being ignored by his father--but mostly, we see Adam goofing off, buying coffee, photocopying blank sheets of paper, and goofing off some more. His wife Laura is hardly a character. Frankly, Adam is hardly a character either. He's so damn boring that though it would be a distinct pleasure to drop-kick him off a tall building, you wouldn't be able to remember his name five minutes later.

Geoffrey Chaucer knew him personally. I have proof.

Take a look at "Chaucer's Wordes unto Adam, His Owne Scriveyn" (reproduced in the comic below). In this poem, Chaucer laments that his idiot scribe, Adam,* keeps screwing up his manuscripts. Chaucer continually has to correct Adam's copies, and he is not pleased...not pleased at all. The poem seems to encompass a barely contained rage at this careless fool who thinks he knows better than Chaucer what makes good literature. Adam Scriveyn, in other words, is very much the equivalent of a modern-day freelance office worker: self-promoting, incompetent, and probably not worth the money.**

In the comic below, Adam Newman is reading a fairy tale to his daughter Katie. However, he seems to have modified it, turning the exciting "Jack and the Beanstalk" into the soul-destroyingly stupid "Jack and the Bean Bag Chair." Adam Newman and Adam Pinkhurst are clearly akin. Though Katie, like Chaucer, realises that something is amiss and tries to protest, Adam has a firm grip on the book and will doubtless go on to tell the story in his own moronic way.

The comic is thus a portrait of what happens when control over a piece of art is wrested from the artist. Chaucer understood the consequences, and so does Basset, who is drawing on a frustrating situation from many centuries ago to make his point.

*Identified by at least one obsessed and intelligent person as one Adam Pinkhurst.
**This is not to say that all modern-day freelance office workers are bad people. There are many good ones out there. There are also huge numbers of mediocre ones. The two Adams both fit the bill.

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