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 pedant...you're a pedant...we're all pedants togeeeeeeeetheeeeeeeerrrrrrrr...

12 comments:

Gold-Digging Nanny said...

I love the new header for your blog!

Angry Kem said...

Thank you. I drew it while I should have been marking. I do a lot of things while I should be marking. I should be marking right now.

'Whalehead' King said...

Those potatoes are the 'three rocks' that Gilchrist has been including in this strip for quite some time. I am sure it has something to do with the original but I have no idea what. Like most of this strip, they are a queer motif that are easy for him to draw.

To get Gilchrist at his freshest, check out "Late Nights and Pillowfights" or somesuch title. He is from Connecticut and it appears in the Hartford Courant, and I assume it blights other newspapers as well. He really pulls out all the stops, illustrating his 'poetry' with fairies and including examples from his Guy Gilchrist Cartooning School students. As he says: "Remember, you've got to practice!"

mikemathew said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Angry Kem said...

Er...mikematthew...you're going to have to give some kind of indication you're not a spambot. Otherwise: bizarre post relating vaguely to comics in some way...link to utterly unrelated site...complete lack of explanation for comment: I call shenanigans on you, sir.

Deletion commences in...five...four...three...

Erich said...

I think mikemathew meant to post that message to Gold-Digging Nanny's "I Found All Six" blog, where it would make perfect sense.

Regarding the "Three Rocks": Whenever Ernie Bushmiller drew a scene in a park or similar outdoor setting, there would be three rocks on the ground. A lot of comics historians have written on the significance of this, such as this excerpt from Scott McCloud's Five-Card Nancy:

"Art Spiegelman explains how a drawing of three rocks in a background scene was Ernie's way of showing us there were some rocks in the background. It was always three. Why? Because two rocks wouldn't be "some rocks." Two rocks would be a pair of rocks. And four rocks was unacceptable because four rocks would indicate "some rocks" BUT IT WOULD BE ONE ROCK MORE THAN WAS NECESSARY TO CONVEY THE IDEA OF "SOME ROCKS."

Angry Kem said...

Oh, okay. Mikematthew, you are officially not spam. I do understand how one can read too many blogs on more or less the same subject and get a little confused.

Re. "Whalehead" King and Erich on the three rocks: Interesting stuff. I especially like Spiegelman's explanation. It is, however, kind of too bad that Gilchrist has taken Bushmiller's fun little quirk and reduced it to bizarre, abstract nonsense.

Gold-Digging Nanny said...

Actually, Angry Kem, now that I've returned to this post and seen mikematthew's comment, I can inform you that, rather than attempt to post a suggestion to my blog, he has quoted a portion of one of my posts verbatim. (From the one titled "And then GoldiMonster tried the third bowl....") I have absolutely no idea why mikematthew would do this. His post may still be spam. I haven't clicked on the link he includes, but my guess is it's not something you want to click on.

Angry Kem said...

Thanks, GDN. That does seem rather spam-tastic. I'll give him another hour or so to explain himself, then delete his comment. In the meantime, everybody else should avoid that link.

Andrew said...

Truly, that week of saccharine-poem strips was an abomination unto God. Wow. I'm not sure whether to thank you or curse you for pointing them out.

Brian said...

What is that word that you've substituted for hello? "alheil" is it? Meaning "all hail"?

I recall reading somewhere that "hello" didn't become a common greeting until the invention of the telephone (as presumably the other forms of address didn't take into account the problem of not yet knowing who you were talking to), but the article didn't explain what "hello" was used for before that.

Angry Kem said...

Brian: "Alheil" is a medieval equivalent of "Hello"; I believe it more or less means "Your health." The adjective "heil" (or "hail") means "healthy" and is the ancestor of our word "hale" (as in "hale and hearty").

I too remember learning that "hello" became a common greeting only with the invention of the telephone.