Friday, December 5, 2008

A Comic-Strip Christmas Carol: Stave Four

Some time later, Davis opened his eyes.

He had expected--or, at least, hoped--to be back in his bedroom once more. No such luck. Mist roiled about him as he struggled to his feet. He seemed to be on a plane of some sort, though he couldn't see far enough through the fog and darkness to tell how vast it might be.

"Hello?" he quavered. "Spirit? Anyone?"

There was no reply...but he became aware, then, of a presence at his back, and he turned.

A dark, silent figure stood there, cloaked and hooded in black. In one skeletal hand it carried what looked like a rotting newspaper; the other it extended before it, pointing through the mist.

"Ah," said Davis. "I take it you're the Ghost of Comics Yet to Come?"

The Ghost said nothing, but inclined its head slightly.

"Lead on, then," said Davis, feeling--perhaps not unreasonably--that whatever was Yet to Come in the world of comics, he himself would have influenced it immeasurably.

The Ghost, still pointing, slid through the mist, and Davis followed. After only a few steps, he found himself stumbling through into...

...What was this? A dingy bus station late at night...five or six men and women sitting, exhausted, on benches, or leaning against the wall. Three of them, saw Davis, were reading newspapers, and he moved eagerly to peer over the shoulder of the first.

The man flipped the paper closed before Davis could catch more than a glimpse of the interior, then turned to the woman next to him, whom he seemed to know. "Been reading this all day," he said. "Anything good in yours?"

"Well," she said sardonically, "Mary Worth is fixing someone's life again. And Dagwood is late for his carpool."

They both laughed. "God," said the man, "I wish the syndicates would just let those damn things die. Who do they think reads them, anyway?"

A bus pulled into the station, and the couple boarded, leaving their newspapers on the bench. Davis tried to pick one up, but his fingers slipped through it as if it, or he, was insubstantial. "Spirit," he cried, "help me!"

The Ghost pointed at the paper, and the pages riffled as if in a high wind, finally stopping at the comics page.

Or was it the comics page? Before him, Davis could see only three tiny strips: Mary Worth, Blondie, and The Family Circus. The rest of the page was given over to advertising and the detailed discussion of a hand of celebrity poker.

Davis stared at the page in horror. "It can't be," he said. "Where's Cathy? Where's Hagar the Horrible? Where..." He paused. "Where is Garfield?"

The Ghost pointed. Davis rose and followed it back into the mist, emerging finally in a brightly lit office. Before him, Davis saw a man...surely the same young man he had witnessed not long before, crouching in his dingy room as he sketched out comics. The man was older now, and he sat toiling at a desk job in one cubicle among many.

"Is he a cartoonist now?" asked Davis, but the Ghost merely pointed. Davis, following its finger, moved closer to the man.

A woman stopped beside his cubicle. "Got that report done yet?"

"Hardly." The man sighed. "My head hurts."

"Jim won't care," said the woman, shrugging. "You'd better get to work."

"I'm always at work," said the man. "I shouldn't be here, you know. I was going to be--"

"Yeah, yeah, rich and famous, whatever," said the woman. "When are you going to shut up about that, Steve? Newspaper comics have been dying a slow death for years. No one wants to read them; there's certainly no audience for yours. Finish the report."

She moved away. Steve stared hopelessly after her for a moment, then reluctantly returned to his report.

Davis looked anxiously at the Ghost. "Tell me it's not so," he said. "Tell me he still has a chance. Tell me it's not too late!"

The finger pointed. Davis followed it back into the mist.

He emerged in a second-hand bookstore. The proprietor, a creaky old man, moved slowly amongst the shelves, dusting; otherwise, the place was deserted. Davis walked forward. A sense of foreboding was growing in him, but he couldn't seem to stop himself from following that pointing finger, now directed towards a table near the back of the store. Closer he moved...and closer...

Garfield. The table was full of Garfield collections, all of them tattered and worn, none of them under ten years old. He had been remaindered.

For the third time, Davis fell to his knees. "No, Spirit," he cried. "I am not the man I was. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!"

The Ghost stood, still pointing at the table.

"I will honour comics in my heart all my life. I will live in the Past, Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the incredibly low prices on these covers!"

He caught at the Ghost's hand...but the Ghost was no longer there.

P.S.: I don't even understand how today's Garfield is meant to encompass any sort of joke. Why would Santa Claus care if a cat put on a false moustache? Are we meant to accept that Garfield really thinks Santa is that naive? Are we meant to care? I can only conclude that Jim-Davis-as-Dessicated-Monk is at work grinding out nonsensical idiocies yet again.

By the way...the word "Santa" existed in Middle English, but it referred to a female saint. The name "Santa Claus" probably would have made medieval people point and laugh.


Michael said...

"Santa Claus is watching you."

Which brings up the question: "Santa Claus, jolly old elf or pedophile stalker?"

He knows if you've been sleeping,
He knows if you're awake,
He knows if you've been bad or good....

Jana C.H. said...

Michael-- I still remember a bit on the old "Laugh-In" show in which Artie Johnson, dressed as a sterotypical bad-guy spy in trench coat, fedora, and shades, recited "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" in an evil, threatening voice.

Jana C.H.
Saith Arthur Pinero: Where there is tea there is hope.