Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Comic-Strip Christmas Carol: Stave Three

Jim Davis collapsed onto his bed and fell immediately into a deep, dreamless sleep. He awoke only when the clock was once more striking midnight. Remembering the words of Johnny Hart, Davis looked wildly about for the second Spirit.

At first, he saw nothing...but various stealthy sounds soon alerted him to the fact that someone was crouched at the foot of his bed. Davis leaned over as far as he could and beheld an emaciated young woman in threadbare clothing, a pen clutched in her right fist. She was running her fingers up and down the cracks in Davis's floorboards.

She noticed him watching her. "Oh, sorry," she said, leaping to her feet. "You'd be surprised at how much change sometimes gets stuck in those things. I am the Ghost of Comics Present."

"Why are you looking for change in the floorboards?" said Davis, who had rarely encountered anyone imbued with an air of such quiet desperation.

"Come and see," said the Ghost. The bedroom vanished, giving way to a much smaller, shabbier room: a bachelor apartment, cramped and falling to pieces. A man in his early twenties was working at a cheap IKEA kitchen table. Davis peered over the man's shoulder and saw several half-finished comic strips.

"Hey," said Davis, "this guy's very good. The art is simple but effective, and the words complement it well. And look at this punchline. It''s...I don't know...right on the tip of my tongue..."

"Funny?" suggested the Ghost.

Davis snapped his fingers. "That's it! So which syndicate has picked him up?"

"None," said the Ghost. "He has tried them all, but he is rejected again and again. All the rejections begin with praise. 'You are a warm, intelligent writer, but...' 'Your comic captures the humour in an unusual scenario, but...' 'We were impressed by your astute use of visual storytelling, but...'"

David bit, cautiously. "But what?"

The Ghost shook her head. "But his comics encompass an ongoing storyline, not simply a gag-a-day world frozen in time. But he is not writing about office workers, suburban families, or high-school sports, and the syndicates therefore aver that his comic lacks wide appeal. But there is no room for him in newspapers choked with legacy strips and long-running features that have long since ceased to be funny."

Davis became aware that he was beginning to experience an unfamiliar sensation. It took him a moment to realise that it was guilt. In an attempt to stifle it, he said, "Okay, sure, if he ignores convention--"

The Ghost said, "How much good art has sprung from a slavish devotion to convention?" And Davis, despite his rather indignant feeling that he was being thumped over the head with an Odious Moral Lesson, had no reply.

She went on: "Do you think this cartoonist is alone? All over the continent, young cartoonists are struggling to break into a business dominated by a few lazy people who are already rich enough to retire permanently. By clinging to fame without putting any work into it, they are both depriving new artists of the opportunity to shine and ensuring that newspaper comics will not grow and change. The more out-of-date the strips become, the less interest the public will demonstrate in them."

Davis was only half-listening. The plight of cartoonists in general was just an abstract concept to him...but the young man he could see working hard at a comic no one was going to read was quite real. "What's going to happen to him if he can't sell his comic?" he asked.

"Who cares?" asked the Ghost. "He may as well give up his dream and start working in an office. Less competition for you, yes?"

Once again, Davis found himself falling to his knees in supplication. He clutched at the Ghost's rags and found them coming away in his hands. Beneath them, clinging to the Ghost's flesh, were what looked like two wasted children, bestial and sharp-featured. Davis recoiled from them in horror.

"Ah, yes," said the Ghost, "them. The boy is Tradition; the girl is Lowest Common Denominator. No matter how I try, I cannot escape them."

"But that's horrible," said Davis.

The Ghost said, "Why? They have been clinging to you too for many a year."

Dreading what he would see, Davis glanced down...and two little faces peered up at him as he felt phantom fingers dig into his flesh.

Jim Davis fainted.

P.S.: Today's Garfield isn't the best possible candidate for medievalisation, but I do seem to be committed, via my current Dickensian format,* to medievalising five Garfield comics in a row. I have thus sucked it up and translated the word "blink." Believe it or not, "Twynklen" really does mean "to blink" or "to wink"; it can refer to the human eye or to a shining star (thus the song). I aver that it works just as well for that tiny little Christmas light, though frankly, I'm not sure that even such a wonderful word as "twynkle" can save this strip.

I propose that the mice in Garfield hook up with the mice in Overboard, build a spaceship, and blast the hell off the funny pages. They will have plenty of adventures, and we won't have to read about them any more.

*Yes, I do realise that Charles Dickens was not writing in the Middle Ages. I could access my academic training and trot out a convoluted, evidence-clogged justification of my attempts to parody him, but instead, I think I'll just direct your attention towards a shiny object and run swiftly away.


dmontag said...

Don't apologize for a temporary departure from medievalization. I'm really enjoying your Dickens riff. You can get back to strips more appropriate for Middle English next week.

Marq said...

I must also say I am quite enjoying this current storyline. Very creative.

girlbandgeek said...

Kem, this is brilliant. I begin to understand your indignation at the utter pointlessness of most of the comics page. Japes for Owre Tymes is my new secret pleasure.

Michael said...

I agree with the others that the Christmas Carol parody is apt and well done.

There are many webcomics which show intelligence, verve and humor. Sinfest, Schlock Mercenary, Ctrl+Alt+Del, and many others are much more entertaining than most of what's found in the newspaper. Unfortunately, while Penny Arcade is profitable, most webcomics aren't. Damn shame, too.

Dave said...

This is great.
But I shudder at what the future will hold- An all Legacy and Stupic Comic page in the papers- Oh sorry- that's the current LA Times.