Saturday, November 29, 2008

Slightly Behind

Due to marking beyond my control, Japes for Owre Tymes will be taking a short break this weekend. You may already have noticed the beginning of this break happening yesterday. That portion of the break occurred accidentally. The rest will be occurring on purpose.

I apologise for any inconvenience, though if you are truly inconvenienced by the lack of Middle English comics, our funny pages are in an even worse state than I keep implying.

With luck, I shall get enough work done tomorrow that I won't feel guilty about resuming my daily Japes on Monday. Until then, happy weekend. May your piles of marking not be as hideously enormous as mine.

Yours in the midst of another headache,

Angry Kem.
P.S.: To tide you over, here is a picture I drew for my class. You probably recognise Harry Potter...but the guy on the left is Sam Vimes from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. We were discussing the Pratchett/Rowling clash that took place after Rowling announced that she didn't particularly like fantasy and hadn't thought of her books as belonging to the fantasy genre until after she had finished the first one. There is really no reason for me to post this picture, but I was feeling all empty and wrong about publishing a post that did not contain any images. I think I may have issues.*

*Oh, all right...I know I do have issues.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Banality of Evil

It really is a week for medieval puns. Today, Love Is..., which deserves to be mulched, burned, and flung into an abyss of everlasting darkness, makes a pun that works better in Middle English than it does in the modern variant of the language. Oh, sure, we still tell a man who hasn't shaven for a while that he "looks a bit rough"...but why do we? Because "rough" means not simply "rugged" or "not smooth" but also "hairy"...that's why. The male Loveshmoo is hairy...and thus "rough" to the touch. Ha ha ha ha ha!*

I sincerely advise you not to think about the following facts:

1) The Loveshmoos are naked.
2) The Loveshmoos appear to be prepubescent.
3) The Loveshmoos have no identifiable sex organs, though the female Loveshmoo does have tiny nipples, whereas the male Loveshmoo does not.
4) Nonetheless, the male Loveshmoo can grow facial hair.

I really, really hate these little guys.

*I never said it was a good medieval pun.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Oh, My Sainted Aunt...I Must Scrub My Brain Out with Soap

Sometimes, when I'm reading The Family Circus, I find myself thinking, "Good grief, this is appalling. Oh least I know it can't possibly get worse."

And then it does.

Today's Family Circus may be one of the most horrifying single-panel comics I have ever seen. At first, it looks innocuous. Billy is taking Dolly's measurements as PJ looks on. How precious! How cute that the widdle childwen are acting just like adults...

...and fixating...over Dolly's...bust size...*

Heavens to Murgatroid, Keanes. What the hell is wrong with you?

The humour here is probably supposed to be inherent in the fact that Billy innocently calls Dolly's funny pear-shaped measurements "perfect." Perhaps the Keanes think they are being progressive in describing Dolly's lumpy body as "perfect." However, what we actually have here is a tiny little girl buying into the myth that women should have "perfect" measurements. How old is Dolly? Five? Six? Isn't it nice that she's already learning to obsess over her body? Look at that coy, self-satisfied smirk on her face. Any minute now, she's going to strike a Paris Hilton pose and go around modelling bathing suits.

The Keanes are clearly trapped in the past. Their outmoded portraits of women make me want to punch brick walls for fun. Go back to the Middle Ages, Keanes. You wouldn't be considered progressive there either, but at least you'd be out of my hair.

*It is entirely possible that my head has just exploded.

Proof! We Have Proof! Vindicated! Vindicated!

Though I dealt with Apartment 3G just three days ago, I need to return to it again now because today's strip contains fairly definitive proof that Brother Lawrence exists. I am happy to say that this comic really is created by a medieval monk who must strenuously exercise his imagination when dealing with just about anything.

My evidence:

On Saturday, Tommie made a beautiful pun on the word "male," which, in the Middle Ages, could mean both "masculine" and "evil." This pun does not exist in modern English. Without it, the strip made no sense at all; with it, it became quite clever. Brother Lawrence is not a stupid man, my friends. He may be naive about the outside world, but he knows his wordplay.

Today, Margo comments that her boyfriend has "fallen off the edge of the earth."

The edge of the earth? Really? Isn't it now more usual to say, "He's dropped off the face of the planet"? The latter expression acknowledges Earth's spherical nature; the former assumes that it is flat. Margo is here speaking in a medieval or pre-medieval idiom. She does not know that the earth is round because as far as her creator is concerned, it isn't.**

Brother Lawrence, show yourself. We know you're out there. Don't be ashamed. You may not know much about much, but we appreciate your attempts to imagine the world outside your monastery, and we support you on your mental journey of discovery.* Good on you, holy Brother. Keep up the strange but inadvertently entertaining work.

*Just be careful not to fall off the metaphorical edge of the metaphorical earth.
**Okay, okay, okay. As voxindeserto has pointed out, I am buying into unwarranted stereotypes of medieval ignorance. Brother Lawrence would have known the earth was round. However, it is possible that his characters, as silly women, would have known no such thing. Thank you, voxindeserto, for presenting a better solution. I shall try to be fairer to my trio of monks in future.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Anniversary...and Now I Shall Mock You

I suppose it is actually quite cruel of me to medievalise Gasoline Alley for the first time on the occasion of its ninetieth anniversary. Luckily, I am well on the way to building a reputation as someone who is quite cruel all the time. Congratulations, Gasoline Alley and its bevy of intergenerational creators. I respect your accomplishment. I also think it may be time for you to change or die.

In a way, Gasoline Alley is an anomaly among legacy strips. The demon Wikipedia tells us that Frank King began the strip as a Chicago Tribune Sunday feature involving a bunch of guys standing around talking about cars; it was popular enough that it spawned a daily comic. Through the years, the characters of Gasoline Alley have, unlike other creaky comic-strip characters such as Nancy or Hi and Lois, grown and changed. A baby who appeared on the protagonist's doorstep in 1921 is now in his late eighties; older characters have died, giving way to the younger generations. In fact, the comic has a great many characters. Unlike Blondie, a mere whippersnapper of seventy-eight, Gasoline Alley has the potential to have remained fresh throughout its run, as, for the most part, has Doonesbury, which has adopted a similar multi-character technique.

The problem is that Gasoline Alley has become so incredibly stupid that it has to be read to be believed. A relatively recent storyline involved the unbearable character Slim plotting to buy an asteroid and drop it on a basketball court that was bothering him because it was attracting perfectly polite basketball-playing teenagers who assaulted him with their NOISE, NOISE, NOISE, NOISE.* The fact that the perfectly polite basketball-playing teenagers were all black was pretty damned cringe-inducing, though admittedly, Slim is probably not meant to be a particularly sympathetic character. Lately, he has been displaying open greed, breathtaking arrogance, and utter self-centredness, not to mention hypocrisy, as he attempts to steal back a painting he had been given but thrown away because he thought it was worthless. A few months ago, there was a long, soul-deadening plot revolving around a cat-food commercial. It was probably meant to be whimsical. It wasn't.

In other words, though this strip was, in its time, innovative and amusing, it has dwindled to a shadow of its former self. The current creator can certainly draw, but his plots are rarely worth reading. It's really too bad.

As today's strip looks wistfully back into the past, it makes a good candidate for medievalisation. Gasoline Alley is, like other legacy strips, essentially past-focussed. It recognises that the twenty-first century is happening, but it kind of wishes it weren't.

Happy Birthday, Gasoline Alley. Maybe there is hope for you; it would be nice if there were. It would be nice, in fact, if a legacy strip would show the ability to move with the times...if the characters did not simply grow older but also grew up. Though you have become stupid, Gasoline Alley, perhaps there is hope for you yet. Do not go gentle into that good night.

P.S.: My translation of "Gasoline" is weird, but I stand by it.

*At this point, you should be imagining the Grinch grimacing as those little wee animated drumsticks pound at his ears.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Better to Wash Dogs in Hell Than...Well, I'm Not Sure

Back in what reader Voxindeserto has competently identified as the centre ring of the Seventh Circle of Hell (the place of punishment for suicides and spendthrifts), Louie the Demon Dog and the condemned pirate souls continue their eternal struggle. Our last visit to the pirates acted as a demonstration of forced soul-on-soul torment, though there was perhaps a hint of rebellion in Charley's sculpting of a topiary squirrel with which he meant to agitate Louie. In today's strip, we see the dead-eyed, emotionless pirates demonstrating somewhat more autonomy by attempting to fool the demon into leaping into a bucket of what I suspect may actually be holy water. The demon, however, is not fooled; the tell-tale bursting bubbles (representing the hopes of the souls) send him scrabbling under his Fiery Bed of Despair. The pirates may attempt to rebel, but the demon will always be one step ahead of them. He is playing with them, really. Every once in a while, he lengthens the leash, letting them believe they are nearly free...and then he yanks it back again.* The illusion of potential escape is, of course, part of the punishment. The pirates will never get free.

Unfortunately, neither will we.

*Oh, the terrible, terrible irony. The dog has the pirates on a leash! Snork!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

All...Men...are Like That?

It was difficult for me to resist today's Family Circus, wherein little Billy says in what is apparently complete innocence, "Daddy, my pen is stuck in your pencil sharpener." However, 1) I did a FC cartoon quite recently, and 2) that particular comic would make much better fodder for Utterly Filthy Filth for Our Times.* If Chaucer had known what a pencil sharpener was, he probably would have had a field day with this comic.

Luckily, fun stuff is also happening elsewhere on the funny pages. The Apartment 3G monk, identified by me a few days ago as the silent, contemplative Brother Lawrence, is gamely having a go at guessing what women talk about when they are alone together at their secret female bourbon parties. So far, the subjects of discussion have been Alan (a dead man) and Gary (a living man). It seems that once the ladies have drawn the mystic circle and chanted the runes of power, they tend to settle down to good long chats

Brother Lawrence interacts with women only very rarely. There are a few nuns who turn up at the monastery every once in a while, but he tends to avoid them. Nonetheless, he has a vivid imagination and has often thought about women, whom he regards in the same light as the dog-headed cannibals he has read about in books full of Isidore quotations.** The good Brother does, however, find himself frequently having to fall back on writing about what he knows, and what he knows is the world of men. Of course these women would discuss men. Doesn't everybody? Yet since they are women and thus completely alien, their conversations must necessarily be alien as well; they therefore talk about how frustrating men are, just as men in the same position might talk about how frustrating women were.

A major clue that this comic is the brainchild of a medieval monk lies in Tommie's final statement, which contains a Middle English pun. The word "male" means "male," but it can also mean "evil." Tommie is, in fact, coming out with an antimasculist rant: the very opposite of Brother Lawrence's natural inclination. He really does enjoy getting into the brains of creatures so completely inscrutable. If he knew about novels, he would be thinking about writing one.

*A site that doesn't exist but should.
**The dog-headed cannibals are actually only the tip of the iceberg. Just don't ask about the people with ears so huge they are able to use them as sunshades.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Life is a Playground...but Don't Tell the Ladies

Hagar the Horrible, ever the progressive comic, today returns to the fifth of its six themes: "women are repressive nags designed to keep men from having any sort of fun at all, and we should hate and fear them." Here, Hagar teaches his son Hamlet that if a real man wants to experience happiness, he first needs to learn to keep his activities secret from the women in his life. Those women will be naturally inclined to stop him enjoying himself by indulging in the exclusively male activities of fighting, raiding, drinking beer, partying, and playing games.*

Here we are...right back with the medieval antifeminist movement again. Note how the very clouds in the sky mimic Hagar's words of foreboding, looming over father and son as if representing the forbidding presence of Helga herself. The pathetic fallacy merely underlines the seriousness of the whole issue. Why, men, are women such killjoys? Why do they choke all interest and satisfaction out of life? Do they exist solely to do so? Their lives revolve around men, right? It isn't remotely possible that they sometimes like to have fun themselves, is it? Nah. They probably don't exist when men aren't in the room. That's really the only explanation for all the nagging.

Hagar is set in the Middle Ages. I shall pretend that this fact explains its consistently medieval treatment of women. Har. Har. Har.

*I forget: is Hagar a Viking warrior, or does he live in a frat house?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Great Minds Think Alike, Albeit Not Always at the Same Time

I shall celebrate the fact that I am not going to starve next term* by whaling on poor old Ziggy for attempting to comment on the Harry Potter books, which I happen to be teaching at the moment. Woo-hoo. I have a job.** Moving on:

Tom Wilson started syndicating Ziggy, based around a character he had first invented*** for a book published by a greeting-card company, as a newspaper comic in 1971. In 1987, Tom Wilson II took over.**** The comic is not about anything. Ziggy is no one, and he has no interests. Nonetheless, he appears in newspapers every single day.

Ziggy is one of those comics that desperately try to keep up with modern times that their creators do not understand. Tom Wilson II has clearly heard of cell phones and That Other Crazy Stuff Those Kids Have These Days, but he is able to write and draw about them only in the vaguest of terms. Ziggy seems particularly prone to receiving weird answering-machine messages from seashells. That is the only truly interesting thing I can think to say about him.

Today, Mr. Wilson II makes a hilarious joke about a series of books that ended in the summer of 2007. It is a joke you have probably seen before, for the simple reason that every living, breathing cartoonist made it in, yes, the summer of 2007, if not before. Hell, some of them made it as early as 2000. Mr. Wilson II demonstrates his natural inclination towards the Middle Ages by leaping eagerly and with Ent-like speed upon the phenomenon of the Harry Potter books. One can almost sense him triumphantly punching the air and crying, "Yes! Yes! I am being Topical! No one has ever done anything like this before!"

Mr. Wilson II is longing after the fourteenth century; I just know he is. Daily, he must hold himself back from creating comics about Ziggy's miserable life as a peasant in fourteenth-century England. His comic seems to be about nothing only because, tragically, he cannot gain his heart's desire and write about a world that has been dead and gone for six hundred years.

Mr. Wilson II, take a look at my translation. Today, I fulfil your dream.

*Don't you just love this whole "I am a sessional, and thus I have to reapply for my job every three months" thing? I know I do.
**For now.
***Perhaps "invented" is too strong a word. According to the demon Wikipedia, he stole the idea from an anonymous college student.
****I am not making this up.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Another Ancient Pun and Some Gratuitous Fleshy Bits

Next in its series of Puns So Old Not Even Chaucer Would Have Touched Them is The Family Circus's take on the word "draw." Admittedly, it probably would have been more likely for English people in the Middle Ages to make a bath, but if we follow the idiom back into the Mists of Time, we will likely find that the original sense of "draw" here derives from a meaning that was around in texts by 1400 and probably earlier in speech: to draw water from a well (and then use it to make a bath). I thus claim that the Keanes are once again dredging up jokes designed not just to make extremely old people titter and cry, "What are they teaching them in these schools?", but to make the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-etc.-grandparents of these extremely old people do the same thing.*

It is also worth noting that the Keanes have been drawing** their sweet little doppelgangers half-naked a lot lately. Jeff and Bil Keane rarely miss an opportunity to strip the kiddies--especially little Jeffy, interestingly enough--down to their skivvies. All that pale, doughy flesh on display is really beginning to make me feel physically ill. For pity's sake, Jeff Keane: cover up the munchkins. Don't punish the rest of us for your need to draw*** yourself unclothed. Get a hobby. Rediscover the joys of life. Fling down your pens and dance away, happy and free, no longer obliged to draw**** this pestilential comic.

Eh...I knew that last one was too much to ask.

*Technically speaking, obviously.
**I here use "draw" in only one sense of the word. I thought you would like to know.
****Yeah, yeah.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Wisdom of Noght Returns

Our friend Zero is at it again. While technically the least intelligent of the denizens of Camp Swampy, Zero tends to demonstrate a certain foolish wisdom. Last week, he used this wisdom to teach us about the Bible. Today, he uses it to draw our attention to the fact that War Is Wrong. His wistful question, emerging from so childlike a brain, comes at us with the same visceral impact as "Is there a Santa Claus?", "Don't you love me any more?", or "Why would they discontinue my favourite chocolate bar?"* O Zero, accept me as a disciple. Teach me the path of truth.

Looking at the comic outside a medieval context simply does not work. When one does, one has to take into account the fact that Beetle's comment in panel one is the comment of a soldier. It is, in fact, the comment of a soldier whose country is at war. Zero's reply is the reply of another soldier. The whole comic dissolves in a big steaming vat of silly nonsense.

No...I shall stick with the medieval interpretation. I have faith. I shall cling to the following thought:

Angry Kem, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Angry Kem, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Angry Kem, there is an intelligent Beetle Bailey. It exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no wisdom in this comic! It would be as dreary as if there were no Angry Kems. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which comics fill the world would be extinguished.**

'Nuff said.

*Why? Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?
**Yes, you have seen these two paragraphs before...or something like them, at any rate.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Monk #3 Tells It Like It Isn't

I think it's probably time to name our monks.

If you remember, we have discovered three lonely medieval monks toiling away at newspaper comics. They all belong to the same monastery, but they rarely speak to one another; they are wrapped up in their own imaginative pursuits.

Monk #1, the creator of Apartment 3-G, is called Brother Lawrence. He has taken a vow of silence and spends much of each day sunk in contemplation. His comic-strip specialties are realistic dialogue and human interactions.

Monk #2, the creator of Archie, is called Brother Francis. He was dropped off at the monastery by his young, unmarried mother when he was five days old, and he has lived there every since, never venturing outside the walls. His comic-strip specialties are nubile young girls and their...attributes.

Monk #3, the creator of The Better Half, is called Brother Cuthbert. He is an extremely holy monk who remains always within his cell, only ever emerging to pray with his fellow monks. His comic-strip specialties are marital disputes and references to current events.

Today, Brother Cuthbert is in fine form. Almost exactly a month ago,* he drew a comic dealing with Stanley perpetuating identity theft on his cat; now what has gone around has come around, and Stanley himself is the victim. Brother Cuthbert still has absolutely no idea what identity theft is. He is worried by it--he is sure that it is the work of the devil--but he wouldn't know it if he passed it in the street.** He was, however, a little uneasy about his cat interpretation, and he is taking this opportunity to have another go at a definition. Since he is rather worried by his own deteriorating physical condition, he is projecting his anxieties onto his comic-strip characters.

It's also worth noting that Brother Cuthbert is so modest that he can't bear to draw Stanley with his shirt off. He has thus given Stanley's stomach angular folds that make it look a little bit like a shirt. He has forgotten to leave out the belly button, but let's cut him some slack; he's obviously trying his best.

*I seem to be returning to Brother Cuthbert's work roughly once a month. My theory is that he's actually creating an extremely widely spaced series of thematically related comics, probably because he's bored.
**Especially since he wouldn't be caught dead in the street.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Write About What You (Already) Know

A very long time ago, a tribe of early human was trembling on the verge of an intellectual breakthrough. These people had, for generations, been using simple sounds to signify certain concepts: for instance, "cold," "hot," "danger," "follow," "jerkface."* However, some young and clever members of the tribe had lately been discovering that they could make more sounds, which would then mean more things. A rudimentary grammar was beginning to form.

One day, as the sun rose over the veldt, one of these intelligent young people turned to the other and made the very same joke that Marvin makes today. In that instant, language was born.

I think perhaps what I'm trying to say is that today's Marvin does not tell a new joke. Technically, of course, it doesn't really tell a joke at all...but the attempted joke in this comic is so creaky that poking it with a stick would probably cause it to collapse into a pile of dust. Throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, other cartoonists have created comics featuring this exact same joke. I really hate this joke. I have read it so many times in so many different (albeit ominously similar) forms that I am even now resisting an urge to beat it with a baseball bat until it stops moving.

It works well in Middle English because it was old even in 1350. If Tom Armstrong had been writing then, he probably would have attributed the joke to Isidore of Seville.** Geoffrey Chaucer likely rolled his eyes when he heard this joke. What I think I'm driving at is that it's old. It's old, Tom Armstrong. You are telling an old joke. You are always telling old jokes. Either stop it now or get in your handy time machine and go back to school early humans in the art of non-humour. You are, after all, the past master of that.

P.S.: "Marvin knoueth a flie in milk" is a medieval way of saying, "Marvin can see the obvious." Yes...yes, he can.

*There has been a word for "jerkface" since humans became capable of rational thought, plus possibly for some time before that.
**Cardinal rule for medieval writers: if in doubt, attribute it to Isidore of Seville.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Middle Ages Go On and On...

Look, boys and girls: we are laughing at Irma Thurston again today! Isn't this fun? Irma is a downtrodden hausfrau with a self-centred ass for a husband, and we snicker at her plight because only an incredibly stupid woman (the womens...the brainless are they) could have got herself into such a situation. Today, we laugh harder than usual at Irma because it appears Thirsty actually indicated in their prenuptial agreement that he was going to be a sexist bastard...and she married him anyway. Why laugh at Thirsty? A man has a right to be a jerk. It's the woman idiotic enough to marry him who is deserving of our ridicule.

Oh, Hi and out-medieval the Middle Ages. You don't do it by being side-splittingly hilarious, a la Chaucer, or by meshing complex and layered theological implications with secular frames, a la my good friend Anonymous, or by contracting the plague, a la far too large a percentage of the population of Europe. You do it by pretending to be progressive--Lois Flagston has an actual job, after all--while actually putting the uppity women in their place. Your pretence at mocking Thirsty while you have a go at Irma would identify you as satire if you were not too moronic to be satirical. Instead, you're simply mean-spirited and petty. Way to go, Hi and Lois. Propel those women all the way back to the late thirteen hundreds...where they belong.

Someday...somehow...someone will publish a comic strip featuring a female protagonist who does not spend ninety percent of her time kowtowing to men, never complains about her weight or attempts to purchase a bikini, and is neither impossibly hot and thus created to be drooled over nor impossibly ugly and thus created to be laughed at. She will not be The Condescendingly Wise Girlfriend. She will not be The Unattainable Bombshell. She will not provoke knee-slapping guffaws as she slaves for her delightfully lazy husband. She will be a real person with real feelings and motivations. I am expecting her to turn up whenever the Middle Ages are over.

That should be any century now, really.*

*I live in hope.

Friday, November 14, 2008

And I Thought I Was Cynical...

The ferocious headache that I have gained by spending eight solid hours updating my teaching dossier in order to reapply for the job I have right now--not that there are any guarantees I'll get it again, so it's possible that next term I shall be living under a bridge in the Don Valley--and actually finishing everything a whole hour before the deadline*, then taking another hour and a half to get my damn computer to send the damn relevant files to the right damn address without freezing, crashing, developing an alternate personality, and trying to expel me into space...** any rate, the ferocious headache that I have gained doing all that is as nothing compared to the throbbing horror that invades my brain when I glance at today's Momma. I really don't understand why this comic is allowed to live. Who reads it? Who thinks it is funny? Who doesn't see Momma herself and go, "Aaargh! The bugs! The bugs are back!", then try to stomp on her before she scuttles beneath the sink?***

The harsh cruelty of Freda's proclamation that she can't tell the difference between a living husband and a dead one**** reveals her as a medieval antifeminist stereotype. You see, gentlemen, all women think of you as mere furniture. They are ugly, cold-hearted shrews who may have been quite pretty right up to the point they shrank three feet, gained forty pounds, started wearing ugly hats, and decided that husbands were unnecessary appendages. While a first glance tells us that the cartoonist is laughing at Freda's husband, the second confirms that he is, in fact, laughing at Freda. Scorn her, readers. Shake your heads sagely at her womanly callousness. That's what medieval antifeminist stereotypes are for.

Some day, I am going to lock Mell Lazarus in a room with sixteen older women and a number of chainsaws. He should consider this blog entry fair warning.

*Extremely unusual for me. I never get applications in more than five minute before they are due. I do not like this state of affairs, but it exists nonetheless.
**That's more like it.
***This "joke" was not intentionally stolen from Ces Marciuliano's Medium Large, but once I'd written it down, I started having the sneaking feeling that I may have been unintentionally plagiarising, and when I went to check, I found that Mr. Marciuliano had, indeed, portrayed Momma as a dust mite. To be fair, I think of her as more of a cockroach. I'm pretty sure that she's hatching her young in that coffin.
****Well, maybe he wasn't her husband. Maybe he was her brother. I think I just squicked myself out.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

When Allegories Kill

Shoe is a comic strip about a bunch of birds who live in trees, wear clothes, fly to work (briefcases and all), and seem to be bird-sized and people-sized simultaneously. It is possible that it has been around since 1977, though it's hard to tell; the demon Wikipedia doesn't say, and other sources are kind of ambiguous. I do know that its original creator is dead. It is now churned out by a team.

A problem frequently encountered by cartoonists who 1) work with anthropomorphic animals and 2) care even remotely is that their characters are virtually human and thus can't seem to stifle the urge to make jokes about devouring animal flesh and taking pets for walks. Watching a dog Plugger walking his dog is an almost hallucinatory experience. Melissa DeJesus and Ed Power, the young, hungry creators of My Cage, get around the pet problem, at least, by giving their platypus protagonist a pet amoeba. Most cartoonists don't bother to think about the issue this deeply. They thus end up mindlessly producing comics quite like today's Shoe.

My friends...only a medieval context saves this comic from being utterly horrifying. I don't know what the hell kind of bird the Perfesser is supposed to be, but he has always reminded me rather of a other words, a chicken. Why is he so calm when the waiter mentions that frogs' legs (NOTE THE APOSTROPHE, ZOMBIE-LIKE SHOE DRONES*) taste like chicken? Why does he only stare in wide-eyed horror after the waiter has made his egregious and unfunny "Kentucky Fried Frog" joke? Why does he seem to be okay with the idea of restaurant-goers devouring his flesh? Why am I thinking this deeply about bloody Shoe?

When the comic is transported back to the Middle Ages, however, its meaning becomes relatively clear. The conversation is a veiled reference by two birds (read: patriotic Englishmen) to the despised frogs (read: French). When the waiter posits that frogs' legs taste like chicken, he is implying that the French seem, on the surface, like the English (chickens), though deep down, they're terrible French cowards, known mainly for their love of running away** (and thus frog legs are very different from chicken legs). The question about popularity rubs salt in the "French people are snivelling traitors who shake with fear when swords are forced into their unwilling hands"-type wound, and the waiter's reply is a sniggering dismissal of the French: even their name sounds stupid when it replaces the good old English "chicken."*** The Perfesser is horrified because he is realising for the first time that Frogs really aren't like Chickens; the waiter's phrase has driven the terrible truth home.

The fact that this allegory is absolutely full of holes is irrelevant; medieval allegories usually are. At any rate, anything is better than the alternative.

*It is, of course, entirely possible that whoever is writing Shoe right now subconsciously recognises its medieval leanings and is leaving out this patently non-medieval punctuation mark as a subtle acknowledgement of this fact.
**This was a real medieval stereotype. I am not applying it in any way to modern France. I would not give George W. Bush the satisfaction.
***I have "Morlond" for "Kentucky" because it is possible that "Kentucky" means "meadow." Don't ask.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

And He Will Come, and He Will Give Thee a Goofy Look, and the World Will Erupt in Flames

If not for the Antichrist allegory that lends profundity to every Marmaduke comic, I would despair for the future of newspaper comics. Strip away the allegory, and what is left? A really big dog, that's what. Surely no one would spend fifty-four years laughing at that.

In today's strip, a young sinner learns that when the Antichrist's disciple promises that you will ride on the back of the Beast, you are actually going to end up with your belt clamped in his slavering jaws as he drags you cheerfully off to torture and, eventually, Hell. Note the golden-haired innocence of the disciple here. He seems all virtue, whereas he is actually scheming to snare more credulous urchins for his Master and is right now thinking simply, "Horrible death to all. Horrible death to all!" From the number and size of the coins on the milk crate,* the disciple has made forty-five cents, an indication that 1) Antichrist has now devoured two children, 2) one of them cheated the disciple of a nickel, and 3) the disciple hasn't noticed because he can't add up change. Beware the evils of not paying attention in math class, my children! Beware! You may end up working for the Destroyer of All...and liking it!

*Okay. Excuse me...but who gets wooden milk crates now? I was born in the 1970s, and I only ever remember the plastic ones. How do all these comic-strip characters turn up with miraculous wooden milk crates? Perhaps Antichrist has created this one with his infernal powers, but why? WAKE UP, CARTOONIST! IT'S 2008! THERE ARE NO WOODEN MILK CRATES ANY MORE!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bible Stories for Our Friend Noght

Is it just me, or does Zero strike everybody as the most refreshingly imaginative character in Beetle Bailey? Unlike Sarge, Beetle, Killer, and the rest, Zero tends to think outside the box. Sure, he can be seen as sticking within his stereotype--Beetle is Lazy, Sarge is Violent, Killer is Lustful, Zero is Stupid--but in Zero's naive approach to the world is a child's boundless creativity. Why, he asks today, do we complain of days without sunshine? Are there nights without darkness? If day and night are utterly opposed, how can we possibly have days without the sun? Wouldn't such days be nights? Would nights without darkness be days? When the sun hides behind clouds, can it actually be said to be "gone"? If it were, wouldn't it be night? Isn't "day" more than the mere apparent absence of sun? If there is no sun, why is there light?*

Ah, Zero...sweet Zero. Your words clearly constitute a medieval-style leading question designed by the "lerned" to teach the "lewed" about the Bible. Look how perfectly Zero's query sets up a discussion about Genesis 1:4-5, in which God separates the light from the darkness, calling the former "day" and the latter "night." God doesn't separate the sunshine from the darkness...oh, no. Day is light; night is dark. We can't have a whole night without darkness because the darkness is night! And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Zero's question may seem foolish, but it contains more potential for wisdom than Beetle's griping. Silly Beetle: there are no days without sunshine. The sun is always there, lurking just on the other side of the clouds. Follow the Philosophy of Zero, Beetle. It will teach you how to survive the unchanging, stereotype-clogged landscape that constitutes your world.

**Yes, I have had this footnote before. I shall have this footnote again. Get used to this footnote.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Majesty, Can You Spare a Halfpenny?

I love it when The Wizard of Id tries to get topical. As always, this comic is on the cutting edge when it comes to criticism of English monarchs of the fourteenth or fifteenth century; only when one attempts to apply it to twenty-first-century America does everything fall apart. The cartoonist clearly does not understand how government bailouts work. He has heard the phrase "government bailout" repeated ad nauseam, and he has decided that since he has a character who represents the "government" (the King) and a multitude of characters who might enjoy being "bailed out" (the peasants), he can stick 'em all together in two badly drawn panels and cause gusts of hilarity to arise from the masses. The gusts will be stronger than usual because this particular comic is Topical. Hyuck! Hyuck! Har...

My alternate theory is that the cartoonist is once again having a go at Richard II. That "out-of-work" peasant will not be sitting against the wall for long; his monarch's contemptuous gesture will goad him to rebellion, and a certain Revolt will get started. Odds are that before long, this particular peasant will be calling himself Jack Straw* and wielding a pitchfork with murderous intent. The cartoonist is thus commenting on a dangerous situation brewing in England six hundred and twenty-seven years ago rather than an unfortunate situation occurring in the United States three weeks ago. Since in both cases the comment is out of date, we can probably just point and laugh,** then forget this comic ever existed.***

*Thanks to the demon Wikipedia, to which I just resorted out of a sort of anal curiosity, even though I bloody knew who Jack Straw was and didn't actually need to look him up at all, there is currently a Right Honourable Jack Straw, MP, Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice, in the British government. The irony is killing me.
**At the cartoonist, not at the comic. Heaven forbid we should laugh at the comic.
***Yes, I know that comics have to be submitted to the syndicates weeks ahead of time. It still amuses me when a cartoonist tries to make a topical comment about a weeks- or months-old happening. B.C.'s weak gestures towards the popularity of The Dark Knight are especially painful to watch.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

And a Great Light Shone About Her, and the People Were Amazed

Mary Worth--the character, not the unforgivable comic in which she appears--is many things: a friend, a neighbour, a lover, a mother figure, a condo owner, a meddling old biddy. Today, however, we learn that all these roles are mere disguises for her real identity as an out-and-out medieval-style type of Christ. When Mary dispenses her wisdom,* she is not simply nattering uselessly at people who would probably be better off without her; she is relaying the Word of God to the clueless masses.**

Look at that last panel. In it, Mary shines with an unearthly light as she thunders her condemnation of skating dad Frank, who is relentlessly squashing his daughter Lynn beneath the urgency of his own need for glory.*** Mary is clearly possessed by a force greater than herself. If Frank doesn't listen to her, he is going to end up struck by lightning or, worse, working in retail for the rest of his natural life.

Some may, of course, argue that Mary here represents her namesake, the mother of Christ. However, I am not sure she is passive enough to be the Virgin.**** Saint Mary seems more the type to smile sadly and drop miraculous tears on Lynn's head and less the type to unload the Wrath of God on a cowering Frank.

It is also worth****** noting that Frank's name identifies him as, well, French. A medieval Frenchman would certainly be capable of behaving so moronically that a representative of God might be forced to interfere. ******* Everybody knows that the French are cowardly traitors, after all.******** Down with St. Denis! Up with St. George! We don't care that Richard the Lionheart probably didn't know a word of English! The Maple Leaf forever!**********

I shall watch with interest as Mary rises into the air, glowing with sacred fire, and smites Frank into a little pile of sinful, whimpering dust on the pavement. If all this does indeed happen, we may just get to witness the least stultifying Mary Worth ever.***********

*Don't drink and drive. Don't date two girls at once and expect both of them to be happy. Don't lie to your husband about your own idiocy, you evil, evil woman. Unclean! Unclean! May God forgive you.
**I.e., everyone who is not Mary.
***I honestly didn't mean for that sentence to turn out as icky as it did.
****The matter of the virginity itself is still an open question. Mary does seem to have some sort of relationship with Jeff, but it is unclear as to whether it involves more than chaste dinner outings to the Bum Boat***** and the occasional creaky lovers' tiff.
*****Yes, Bum Boat. No, I am not making that up. No, I swear.
******No pun intended, though pun, alas, committed nonetheless.
*******According, at least, to a medieval Englishman.
********And everyone knows the English have tails, but that's a different story.*********
*********It is entirely possible that I haven't been using as many footnotes lately and am beginning to miss them.
***********A medievalist can dream, can't she?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Not Even Chaucer Was This Raunchy on Purpose

The medieval monk who writes the daily Archie strip has been at it again. This time, however, he does not attempt to draw teenage girls and the startlingly huge breasts that are constantly causing him to undergo quite a lot of penance. The monk has attempted, this week, to take a bit of a break from breasts. I am not entirely convinced that he realises how blatantly he is demonstrating exactly what, despite all the praying, is constantly on his mind.

Why fixate on breasts when you've got allegorical dog sex? In this comic, Jughead's dog attempts to rape what Jughead seems to regard as a sexy young poodle. Hot Dog has, rather disturbingly, always reminded me of a man in a dog suit; the furry implications make my bowels shiver. It doesn't help that his tail is so very...erect. As well, the fact that the little dog on TV is apparently laughing and flinging her ears back in the fashion of Paris Hilton causes me to lose all faith in humanity.

Our Archie-creating monk has no idea there is anything odd about this comic. He sees nothing wrong with the phrase "comes on,"* and he is not squicked out by the illustration of the randy dog ravaging an electronic device, perhaps partly because he has never encountered an electronic device in his life. As far as he's concerned, Hot Dog's lust is perfectly understandable. Who wouldn't drool over such a lovely bi--er...female creature? Trapped in the confines of his cell as he is, the monk can only shake his head sagely over the dog's sin and completely miss the innuendos he has sprinkled throughout the comic.** He can remain smugly secure in his purity of spirit while demonstrating to the world that he is actually thinking: SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX!

*The pun on "comes" would have worked in the Middle Ages. Monks may not have understood it, but I'm kind of betting that many of them would have.
**Up to and including "Bonk!"

Friday, November 7, 2008

Punnily We Pun Along

I sometimes contemplate the possibility of a world without puns. Such a world would, in many ways, be much poorer. Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare would both have found their humour sadly constrained by the lack of a punning option; it is possible they would even have given up in despair and taken to writing depressing plays about two characters waiting at a crossroads for a man who never came.* Without puns, our innuendos would be less spicy. Without puns, we would have a lesser understanding of the power of word-play. Without puns, there would be no Family Circus.

That last point is the one that really does sometimes have me longing for a punless universe.

Today's Adventures of Idiotic Melonheads has Dolly making an atrocious pun about Moses' tablets. There are many places Dolly can take this pun and stuff it; it makes my brain cringe. However, while still trying to control both the dry heaves and the rage, I started wondering whether this comic were really a candidate for medievalisation. Surely "tablet" wasn't a pun in the fourteenth century. Surely today's melonheaded chuckle couldn't be that old.

Surely it can. "Tablet," according to a certain eminently useful online Middle English dictionary, is from the Old French and can mean both "one of the tablets of stone upon which God wrote the Ten Commandments" and "a small, flattish or compressed cake of a medical substance, a troche, lozenge." The Family Circus is drawing on a pun that has been possible since 1394.

The Keanes are thus missing something from their comic. If they want the true medieval feel, they're going to have to cite an authority in order to prove their pun's antiquity; if they can't find an authority, they need to make one up. I have thoughtfully glossed their comment with the immortal words of Isidore of Seville. I'm sure the Keanes would have done so themselves if they hadn't been running entirely on autopilot since the end of the Vietnam War.

*Metaphorically, of course, this more or less describes the plot of Hamlet.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Nausea Is...

I'm all late again and stuff, but with luck, I'll be back on schedule tomorrow. This has truly been the Week from Hell.

In 1970, according to the dreaded and terrible beast that is Wikipedia, New Zealander Kim Grove (soon to be Kim Casali) decided it would be a good idea to take the love notes she had written her husband and syndicate them. She called the comic Love Is.... Ever since, we have been plagued by these putrid little "comics," which all begin with the words "Love is..." and sort of go from there. Casali, who died in 1997, has now been succeeded by her son Stefano, who continues to churn out this absolute dreck and will probably do so until the end of time.

The comic has been adroitly summarised by Homer Simpson as being "about two naked eight-year-olds who are married." That's about it, really. The two main characters, who usually appear starkers and seem, horrifyingly enough, to have no toes, are apparently deeply in love. Despite their apparent lack of secondary sexual characteristics, they have spawned at least two even smaller children, also naked. It is incomprehensible to me that anybody publishes this comic when the space it takes up could be used to advertise cold cream or feature a small editorial about how terrible comics are nowadays.

Today's vomit-inducing piece of utter dreck portrays the female Shmoo* showing off her bling,** which has presumably been given to her by the male Shmoo. In other words, this comic is informing us that if one really loves one's significant other, one will provide her with shiny objects that cost a lot of money and still don't manage to hide the fact that she never wears any clothing. I am glad to see that Casali Junior is upholding his mother's devotion to all things pre-feminist. He should draw the female Shmoo holding a little broom and leaking hearts as she merrily sweeps the kitchen floor.***

As usual, the comic is right at home in the Middle Ages, though it has a less positive connotation there. We are once again dealing with an antifeminist text. The author is clearly depicting the prelapsarian lives of Adam and Eve. Adam, as we can see from the smile on his face, is content living as a naive small child in a perfect paradise, but Eve is naturally vain, as are all women. Even in her innocence, she demands pretty presents from her husband. The serpent will be along in a moment (do we see a hint of him in Stefano/Kim's scrawled signature?), and he will play upon Eve's vanity and selfishness in order to convince her to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. She will fall because she is female and weak. Alas for the presence of women on earth! Alas for their shame! Alas for the fact that they do not all have huge breasts and no ability to speak!

We should give Love Is...the recognition it deserves as a source of Christian allegory and reverently remove it to an obscure religious newsletter composed in a small town in the American South. Who's with me?

*Well...she reminds me of a Shmoo. She has just as few toes.
**Oddly enough, there is no medieval equivalent of the word "bling." Who knew?
***In high heels...unless those count as clothes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

You Think You're Tired? I'll Show You Tired

Sorry for the extreme lateness, everyone. It has been a very busy day. I am still not finished tomorrow's lecture and not sure when I am going to finish, as I can barely stay awake at all. My comment here may therefore be rather short and incoherent.*

I have given up trying to figure out which For Better or For Worse comics are new and which are old.** All that seems to matter is that Lynn Johnston will use every single strip to mock her ex-husband. Yes, I am being a bad English student and reading intent into the comic; no, I don't freaking care. Almost every strip constitutes a poke at John/Rod. It's beginning to get downright embarrassing.

Witness today's comic. Elly actually breaks the fourth wall in the interest of sniping at John...and FBOFW is not a breaking-the-fourth-wall sort of comic. We see perpetually grumpy Elly glowering out at us as if to say: "The men! The terrible, terrible men! They understand not the value of human life! They love puppies more than they love children! How could you leave me, Rod? The terrible men!"

Seeing as the great majority of cartoonists are forever lamenting about the terrible, terrible women, the change is almost refreshing, albeit in a brain-destroying way. Is Johnston painting the lion? In medieval terms, is she simply turning the tables, giving the wise young wife a voice for once?

Or is she going to pursue this vendetta to the grave and beyond? I'm guessing the latter, for some bizarre reason.

**Lynn Johnston has started her strip again from the beginning. Some of the comics are reruns; some are freshly made; none are less than maddening.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


At long last, the interminable Mary Worth plot involving Toby's epic battle with phishers is over, and a new storyline has reared its ugly head. Mary is visiting her old friend Frank, whom we have never seen before and who has presumably been created specifically so that Mary can meddle in the life of an old friend, even though until this point, we didn't think she had any. Frank used to be a skater, but he has retired and passed on the mantle to his daughter Lynn. As has been apparent for a couple of weeks now, Frank spends much of his time yelling at Lynn and telling her that she needs to work harder if she wants to win whatever competition she happens to be preparing for at the moment. It has been clear since something like the second day of the storyline that Mary is going to have to open a can of whoopass on Frank.

What strikes me about this strip is that everything is absolutely soaked in drama all the freaking time. Every word and action may as well have a full orchestra swelling madly behind it; every character is either choked with anger or trembling on the verge of tears; every situation holds the potential for Terrible Tragedy to Strike.* The utter seriousness of every single aspect of the comic tends to obscure the fact that these people live small, mean little lives and don't have the brains God gave a pot of rhododendrons. Good Lord, Lynn. Is that a tear on your cheek? Why don't you just rise up in fury and clock your dad in his smug little face? It would save the rest of us about four and a half months of whining.

Another problem is that all the female characters except Mary look exactly the same. Lynn is the doppelganger of both Vera and Toby; she could also be Dawn with a bad dye-job. For crying out loud! There is more than one type of female face! The characters in Peanuts are easier to tell apart, and they have dots for eyes and squiggles for noses!**

Unlike in the last storyline, Father does certainly not know best here.*** However, the medieval angle is still present: Father may not know best, but he does seem to have complete control over his daughter's life. This comic is radical for the Middle Ages: a work that delves into the heartbreak of a girl forced into a situation over which she has no control. "Skating" is clearly a stand-in for "marriage"; the author is cleverly disguising a critique of marriage as an inane tale of a skating competition. Lynn's dilemma is moving and eloquently expressed in the context of the fourteenth century; only when removed to the twenty-first, when a father with complete control over his daughter would probably be put on display in a museum, does it become jarring.

This comic is wasted on our century. How I long to find a time machine and send it back to where it belongs.

P.S.: A friend has given me a neglected old bike, so I am once again provided with a means of transportation. I think I shall now go and buy a truly expensive lock.

*And every sperm is sacred, or so one would suppose.
**I am angry at the world and want to use a lot of exclamation marks everywhere!
***Oh, okay...Ian isn't Toby's father...but he damned well acts like it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

With Cops Like These, Who Needs Supervillains?

After my lovely day yesterday--a day that featured a brisk afternoon chase of screaming fury after the guy who had just made off with my bike in broad daylight in a public thoroughfare as the teeming masses stood around and stared*--I am in no mood to tolerate comic-strip stupidity. I'm afraid today's Spider-Man is about to be crucified...pun most definitely intended.

This strip is incredibly stupid. A lot of writing for superhero comics is, very unfortunately, incredibly stupid..."very unfortunately" because as certain writers have proven over the years, it really doesn't have to be. The Golden and Silver Age stuff is especially prone to the following sort of dialogue: "Great Scott! The Dominator has just climbed into his supersonic Punishomobile and is escaping through the time tunnel! I must activate my mind powers and stop him!" For the most part, comic-book dialogue is not quite like this any more. It is sometimes stupid in different ways, but it does not do as much explaining of what you can see right in front of you.

Stan Lee, or whoever is now writing this strip under Stan Lee's name, is still stuck back in the Silver Age. He does not seem to understand that visuals can actually stand in for dialogue. He is also addicted to incredibly moronic plot machinations that have nothing to do with how real people behave. To wit: if you were a cop, and you for some reason decided to enter an antique clock exhibit in the middle of the night, and while you were there, you found that all the clocks were gone and someone had put a man in high-tech handcuffs and left him lying unconscious in the middle of the floor, would you blame the unconscious, handcuffed man for the theft? You would in Stan Lee's world. Why? Who the hell knows?

Only returning to the Antichrist narrative we discussed earlier in relation to Spidey is going to help us here. The cops are clearly under the influence of the Beast; they may think they are simply hauling in a perp, but in truth, they are believing the terrible lies of the False Spidey, the henchman of Satan, and thus rejecting the True Spidey, the human incarnation of God. Never mind that the timelines have been folded back upon themselves to allow Spidey and the Antispidey to exist simultaneously; it's all an allegory anyway. Next up, we will undoubtedly have some sort of crucifixion scene during which Mr. Lee will come up with all sorts of excuses for no one to think of reaching down and removing Spider-Man's mask.**

It's possible, of course, that Spider-Man is merely an incredibly idiotic comic that is taking up precious newspaper space and should be put out of its misery before it starts foaming at the mouth and biting other strips, but I prefer to look at it as medieval allegory. That way, I spend a slightly shorter time each day weeping copiously into my pillow.

*Did I catch him? No. What would I have done if I had caught him? I'm not sure. He was a big burly guy, and I have arms like strands of overcooked spaghetti. However, I did have quite a lot of adrenaline on my side. There could very well have been some semi-successful flailing involved. At any rate, I might have had a bike at this point instead of suddenly and unexpectedly being utterly without transportation. I really love Toronto sometimes.
**The last excuse in this vein belonged to Big Time / Satan, who apparently simply didn't have enough time to pull off the mask while he was stealing an entire clock exhibit and framing his nemesis for it.