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.


Lea said...

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.

...which would make it technically fair game for my dissertation!

I think I have to go throw up on my shoes now.

Jana C.H. said...

I see no need for an apostrophe after "Cartoonists." It's not a society belonging to many cartoonists (possessive plural); it's a society made up of many cartoonists (simple plural).

I once edited a newsletter for an organization of square dance callers known as the Gay Caller's Association. That's right: an association belonging to one caller. I wrote an editorial pointing out this error and correcting it, but I was really too late. The Wandering Apostrophe was right there in the legal papers that established the group. That didn't stop me from writing it correctly all the way through the run of my newsletter, of course.

Jana C.H.
Saith Floss Forbes: If you don't know the tune, sing tenor.

Angry Kem said...

Well, I do kind of see it as a society belonging to many if you leave the apostrophe out, it looks as if it's a society made up of national cartoonists. Then again, I could just be almost unbearably pedantic. Yeah...that must be it.

I do very much sympathise with your "Gay Caller's Association" dilemma. That would have driven me absolutely mad.