Friday, May 29, 2009

Tomorrow, We All Crawl Back into the Swamp

From this day forward, when I am weeping my way through the comics page and trying to decide whether Crock or Hagar the Horrible is a greater affront to my gender, I shall have a standard against which to compare them. I shall simply turn to today's Mary Worth and attempt to discover whether these comics are as condescendingly, arrogantly, nauseatingly sexist as the two panels below. If they aren't, I may be able to forgive them.* If they are, Armageddon may be just around the corner.

For the last three hundred years,** Jeff's daughter Adrian has been head-over-heels in love with a con man named Ted. Adrian, please note, is a doctor and therefore not a stupid woman; her brains did not stop her from advancing Ted a wad of cash and helplessly bewailing her fate when he subsequently tried to skip town. Luckily, big strong Detective Scott Hewlett came to her rescue. She was wary about trusting him at first, but now that her father has spent seven freaking strips in a row*** gushing about how he knew and adored Scott's father, Adrian seems to have decided that it's okay to fall for the guy. Today, she time-travels back to the 1950s, or possibly the 1350s, as Scott gallantly pays for her meal and sweeps her off her feet with his manly refusal to let her think for herself.

The medieval aspects of the comic are pretty clear. The first, of course, is the fact that a bloody goddamned doctor is apparently incapable of doing anything for herself without her father's approval or the help of her current lover. The only bit of the strip that doesn't fit is the fact that Adrian is a doctor.**** Otherwise, we may as well be back in the days when men were men and women were treated like right idiots.

My latest theory is that newspaper comics are, in fact, a time machine for our brains. Slowly, irrevocably, they are dragging us back into the past, simply by attempting to convince us that nothing has changed since the late fourteenth century. When everybody stops using forks and bathing, we'll know what's going on.

P.S.: "Madrian" is ginger treated with lye, as well as possibly an amusing name for Saint Adrian. I have appropriated it.

*Well, no, but I could possibly refrain from stabbing them for a minute or two.
**Or, in Mary Worth time, ten minutes.
***Or, in Mary Worth time, ten seconds.
****I am sure, however, that when she marries Scott, she will give up odious work and start doing what women do best: nagging, putting on weight, popping out babies, and ending up bitter and emotionally isolated.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Alle Yow Nede Ys Lufe

The hideous Loveshmoos* of the (for lack of a better word) comic Love Is... have always been terrifying creatures who pretty clearly represent somebody's Issues in a bloody big way, but today they also really show off their medieval roots. The female Loveshmoo here poses nude for the male, which would be more shocking if these two shapeless, sexless things weren't always posing naked for each other. What highlights the medievalness*** in the panel is the position of the female (despite the somewhat ironic caption) as an object of the male gaze. She is even on a pedestal of sorts. I think we may have a metaphor for courtly love on our hands.

It does make a great deal of sense. The female Loveshmoo has been elevated to a point that lies beyond the temptations of the flesh, a fact signified by her lack of secondary sexual characteristics; the similarly non-sexual male Loveshmoo represents the purity of the knight's devotion to the lady. The glances they are giving one another, however, are references to the dark underbelly of courtly love: the idea that beneath all the chaste worship is a vast pit of roiling lust. Check out Malory's Lancelot for a good example.**** The Loveshmoos could probably give Lancelot and Guinevere a run for their money. Five seconds after the moment captured in this comic, they'll be going at it like bunnies.******

I do often wish that the Loveshmoos would just go the hell back to the Middle Ages, but since we're stuck with them here, we may as well just ferret out their medieval characteristics and try not to gag as we do so.

*Or, in fact, Loveshmoon.**
**I have been spelling "shmoo" incorrectly for months, but I have discovered the error of my ways and gone back to change all the shmoo references. I think I need to get out more.
***Interesting factoid: Firefox believes that "medievalness" is a word (or it did for a bit. It has stopped now. Damn you, Firefox...stop playing with me!). I think I shall try to use it in Scrabble. I mean, if someone else plays "medieval" and I add "ness" and hit a triple-word score, I shall be rolling in points. Of course, that would necessitate someone else first playing the eight-letter word "medieval," which would gain the player a bingo for using up all seven letters and earn him or her an extra fifty points, but hey: I would get to play an ultra-cool word that Firefox claims exists (sometimes). I shall shut up about Scrabble now.
****"I haven't done anything wrong, Arthur. I'm completely devoted to you. I'm absolutely your most loyal supporter in every possible way. Mordred, Agravaine, and a bunch of other guys caught me sleeping with Guinevere, and I initiated a bloody slaughter that ended with everyone but Mordred dead, then fled for my life and later abducted Guinevere just as you were about to burn her at the stake for adultery? I know, and honestly, I haven't done anything wrong. As God is my witness, I am entirely virtuous in every way." And on and on and on. It just makes me want to freaking slap him.*****
*****Of course, Arthur isn't any better. "But what should I do, Gawain? Lancelot is my truest knight! It doesn't matter that he's slept with my wife; I can always get another one. I'd like to forgive him. You don't want me to? Okay."
******Bunnies without sex organs. Ah well.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dagwood the Philosopher

It has actually been seven months since Japes has paid Blondie a visit, possibly because Blondie often contains a wall of text in every panel, and I am somewhat lazy. At any rate, today's strip has proven impossible for me to resist, as it fits beautifully into the medieval tradition and actually reads better in Middle English than it does in modern English. Here we see Dagwood truly coming into his own as a medieval-style philosopher. Watch his method; it's quite beautiful.

In the first two panels, Mr. Dithers asks his employee a question so hackneyed that it is probable that Geoffrey Chaucer rolled his eyes at it. How many comics have trotted out the whole glass-half-empty chestnut?* There is nothing new here or, in fact, in Dagwood's response, but it's the expression of calm innocence on Dagwood's face as he questions the contents of the metaphorical glass that really highlights the brilliance of the comic. Dagwood is actually challenging the entire framework of Mr. Dithers's approach to the world. Dithers posits a universe that can only accommodate two types of people; Dagwood points out, succinctly, that such simplistic categorisation is unfair in light of the myriad of different possible situations that can make up the contents of the "glass." He is poised to examine the purpose of existence: a key concern of medieval thinkers.****** The comics may seem to be about a fool giving an idiotic response to a moronic question, but we know better.

Another intriguing fact is that the translation has forced me to change the syntax of Dagwood's reply. As far as I can tell, there is no stand-alone Middle English verb that means "to depend"; there are several words that can be used with prepositions, but they wouldn't make sense on their own. The revised sentence deprives Dagwood of his maddening answer-a-question-with-a-question technique but adds a certain zing to his words.

Blondie may be as old as the hills and contain characters who haven't changed their clothes since 1930, but its medieval content and techniques are virtually flawless.

P.S.: There are no Middle English words for "optimist" and "pessimist." I had to go to the Online Etymological Dictionary for help in cobbling together my translations.

*A lot.**
**9 Chickweed Lane did a week-long series on it. No, really.***
***Admittedly, it was infinitely more amusing than the recent months-long series on young lust.****
****You wouldn't think it would be, but trust me: the glass-half-full strips made me much less eager to find Brooke McEldowney and throw rotten fruit at him until he went away.*****
*****I wouldn't particularly care where.
******And Douglas Adams, obviously.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Francis Among the Virgins

We've seen today's Archie coming for a while now. As you know, its creator, the randy monk Brother Francis, is unable to stop himself from drawing nubile young girls, even when they have nothing to do with the content of his gag. Betty and Veronica are expressions of his fantasies, but of late, he seems to have been growing tired of them; they have faded into the background, replaced by a parade of mute, busty beauties. Almost every comic Brother Francis draws is a desperate cry for help.

Today, he comes out of the cell* and blatantly inserts himself into the strip. The girl in the foreground of the first panel is basically right up against the picture plane, almost within reach of the reader but much further away from Dilton and Archie. She has the usual impossibly gigantic breasts and just a hint of a bare thigh beneath a tiny skirt. Notice that in panel 2, it is Dilton who expresses aloud his opinion that the girl is "very pretty," though he immediately returns to his book. He here represents one of Francis's companion monks; Francis sees him as rapt in his contemplation of marine biology (i.e., the study of life moving over the face of the waters, i.e., the Bible in disguise);** he can appreciate beauty but not be distracted by it. Archie/Francis, on the other hand, has his pupils turn into little hearts just from seeing a perfect stranger pass by. Francis's lust is beginning to overwhelm him; he is unable to keep it from taking over his work entirely.***

There is also evidence here that Francis may be cracking up. That comic book with Jughead on the cover has been making the rounds lately, here in company with a profoundly creepy Archie marionette. Francis is becoming awfully meta; he is acknowledging the fictional properties of his comic within the comic itself. In addition, today's comic actually places Dilton in front of a tilted and skewed picture plane in the second panel, as if he is falling right out of the strip. It is really only a matter of time before Francis loses it completely and has a mysterious new character show up to reveal to Archie that he is the One, destined to liberate the residents of Riverdale from the comic-strip world and show them the gritty reality beyond the panels.****

Someone needs to get that boy a secret girlfriend. At this rate, he'll be having mystical visions in the desert before he turns thirty.

*As it were.
**I'm not sure who that makes the guy on the back cover, but since Francis is busy tumbling headfirst into sin anyway, I'm suspecting God.
***I think somebody needs an intervention. Break out the holy water and the hair shirts, Brothers!

****Or was that The Matrix? I forget.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Richard II, All Grown Up

Back at The Wizard of Id, that clever tribute to the reign of Richard II, we get a wistful strip that comments metaphorically on the tragic youth of the child king. Due to the comic's frequent references to the Peasants' Revolt, we know that it is set around 1381, when Richard was a fourteen-year-old puppet. He is represented in the comic by a "short" (read: young) king who is frequently ineffective and reacts childishly to the world around him.

Today's strip is extremely telling. Here we see the little king longing to be taller: i.e., to grow up. Behind his words is a veiled wish for more power, which is being kept from him by his advisers. The wizard here represents John of Gaunt, the most controlling of these advisers. Note that the comic is actually named after him; it may often seem to be about the king, but the true power behind the throne is revealed in the title of the work. The manipulation of the mirror is a reference to the subtle politics involved in controlling a puppet king; the wizard/Gaunt must make it seem as if the king has "grown up" and seized power, and he must do so without actually relinquishing his own position.

The Wizard of Id is one of the cleverest comics out there today.* It is not laugh-out-loud funny, but it mimics editorial cartoons in its succinct, multi-layered comments on an important political situation. Though it's true that it hasn't been 1381 for a while, it's fair to say that the Parker Descendants** are extremely good at writing about what they know. If what they know just happens to be late medieval England, who are we to judge?

P.S.: Happy Towel Day. I trust you all know where your towels are.

*If you are taking me seriously here, I shall smite you. I mean that.
**Or whoever is responsible for the comic at the moment. Seriously...these guys eventually sort of fade into the woodwork.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

More Filler, Extremely Pointlessly

As I have remarked before, modern cartoonists are just as addicted to filler as medieval poets, albeit with much less justification. Sunday's Hagar the Horrible acts as an excellent demonstration of this practice. Mr. Browne has a three-panel joke but is working with a nine-panel grid. The first panel goes to the title of the strip; the next two establish that Hagar and Lucky Eddie do not know the gentleman with the moustache,* a fact that is completely irrelevant to the gag at hand.** The next two panels involve the gentleman asking for a dry martini and the bartender promising to get him one. We then get two cut-and-paste panels in which Hagar, Lucky Eddie, and Moustache Man sit perfectly still in silence. In the final two panels, the bartender gives Moustache Man his dry martini, and Lucky Eddie remarks that the drink looks wet.

Leaving aside the fact that the joke here is one that I first made when I was about eight years old,*** what we seem to have is a very, very sparse situation stretched out over far too many panels. Hell...this gag could fit into one panel.**** It is a terrible joke, but even so, it would be funnier if it were shorter. As it is, I had a hard time discerning the point of the comic. The filler panels are especially egregious, as they have absolutely no reason to be there.

This Hagar comic is therefore drawing on the medieval tradition of the really bad verse romance. Not only is it far too long, it inserts its filler so clumsily that the cartoonist may as well be waving vigorously and screaming, "Hey, look! Filler!" Its plot is clumsy and nonsensical, and it ends with a line that is meant to be clever but would not know cleverness if it met some in the street. The effect is very much that of the anonymous romance churned out by an unrepentant hack.

Someone needs to take Mr. Browne's Ctrl-V function away from him before somebody gets hurt.

*I have made him French because Lucky Eddie calls him "fancy-looking," and he is not drinking beer. It is amazing how anti-French stereotypes have lasted for hundreds upon hundreds of years.
**To be fair, a lot of Sunday strips involve two throwaway panels that certain newspapers don't use; cartoonists need to ensure that their jokes will work without them. To be less fair, there is absolutely no reason that the throwaway panels can't actually be funny.
***I mean, who hasn't? When your parents are drinking "dry" wine, of course you're going to make a crack about it being wet. You're eight. That's just the way your brain works.
****Bartender: Here's your dry martini, sir. Lucky Eddie: Gosh, I don't know; it looks awfully wet.*****
*****Or even just...Lucky Eddie: Barkeep! I asked for a dry martini. This one's wet!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Kids These Days and Their Crazy Newfangled Technology

Today, the odd and disturbing beast-allegory and/or examination of the monstrous races that is Shoe strikes off in a slightly different direction.* The current strip is marvelling at how crazy it is that the world does not remain forever the same. Like many another cartoonist who yearns for the relative simplicity of the Middle Ages,** the hack who creates Shoe is shaking his head at the terrible fact that Things Change. All, he feels, is mutability; the wheel turns, and the entropic dance goes on.

Typically, however, he is disregarding the fact that when things change, they change. Shoe's words to the Perfesser may constitute a wry criticism of our need to stay uber-connected via many different forms of technology, but it is also rather grating because it ignores the fact that the only type of communication that the Perfesser is actually going to need to "hold" for Shoe is, well, the first one. The rest will sort of "hold" themselves by definition. The joke*** is marred by the cartoonist's sacrifice of common sense on the altar of technophobia.

It is possible that the cartoonist actually has no idea what "cell photos" and "tweets" are and is simply repeating exciting words that he has heard his grandchildren using, but I like to believe that he has dabbled in these frightening things called "texts" and "blogs" himself and has come away from the experience scarred. Take heart, creator of Shoe. Someday, when you are gone and your grandson is working on the comic,**** he will find himself looking back wistfully on the days when there were only six or seven ways to keep in touch with his acquaintances. Mutability rules, but what goes around comes around. Those kids with their texts and their tweets will someday bloody well get theirs.

P.S.: I would like to thank Shoe for the opportunity to translate the word "tweets."

*Albeit not, alas, a new one.
**People who yearn for the relative simplicity of the Middle Ages are usually forgetting about the waste-disposal problem, among other things.
***Such as it is.
****You just know this is inevitable.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

That's the (Medieval) Spirit, Ziggy

Those of you who have tried to click on the images in the last few posts and failed should try again. It seems that when I use Blogger in Explorer, the images I upload are not clickable. I have re-uploaded them all in Firefox. I really, really do not understand why this was necessary, but oh well.

At any rate, only people with eyes even less useful than mine will need to click on today's comic in order to see it properly.* Tom Wilson II does love his huge, huge text. See, look at that: even Blogger's largest font setting doesn't make my text as big as TWII's. I think it's possible that possession of a Sharpie makes him go mad with power.

Today's Ziggy constitutes the next logical progression in TWII's yearning for the past. I have already covered this comic's cutting-edge lampooning of a book series completed a full year previously and its timely exploration of how ten-year-old computers are plotting to kill us all. As you can see, TWII is gradually taking Ziggy farther and farther into the past as he reaches back towards the Middle Ages, where he really wants his strip to take place. Today, he actually kind of gets there.

The comic contains a great deal of medieval content: the presence of the waiter/innkeeper figure, the word "sir," the reference to the bloodthirsty nature of businessmen/merchants, and the concept of the diner actually preparing his own meal from absolute scratch. At first glance, it seems as if TWII is mixing his social classes in a particularly egregious way. The innkeeper calls Ziggy "sir" but implies in the same breath that he is a merchant, then suggests he slaughter his meal like a peasant. "Sir" is a word most usually applied, in the Middle Ages, to the nobility; to call a merchant "sir" would be to commit a ridiculous social gaffe, and to treat a merchant like a peasant would probably make the merchant quite squiffy. However, there is another common usage of the word "sir." It can be uttered contemptuously** and thus carry the implication that the person to whom it is spoken is the opposite of noble. Either the innkeeper is awfully confused about Ziggy's social status, or he is mocking him openly.

The presence of the bird makes me inclined to go with the latter interpretation. The innkeeper is, in fact, making even more vicious fun of merchants than one might assume. A "businessman"--or, in Middle English parlance, a "sonne of marchaundye" (in other words, a successful businessman)--is someone on his way up in the world: a working man who regards himself as above a peasant in stature, though nobles look down on him for having money but no distinguished ancestry. The innkeeper is drawing attention to Ziggy's lack of blue blood, first by using the word "sir" contemptuously and then by offering to let him slaughter his own lunch and thus implying that Ziggy's money does not materially remove him from the servantless peasant class. Understanding the medieval context of this comic really highlights its meaning.***

Congratulations, Tom Wilson II. You have managed to take your comic all the way back to the Middle Ages. Be careful, however; if you keep this up, you'll be drawing comics about Alexander the Great by next Christmas.

*Plus it won't work. The clicked version will be the same size as the version here. Neener neener.
**For a good, albeit non-medieval, example of this sort of usage, read any scene from any play by William Shakespeare.
***And makes me slightly less eager to punch it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Poor Unfortunate Souls

Back in the central ring of the Seventh Circle of Hell, the realm of suicides and spendthrifts, Chip Dunham's condemned pirates drag out their weary existence. In today's strip, we see Captain Crow and a nameless Green Ship pirate indulging in one of the most common activities of the damned: the attempt to complete a task designed to continue for all eternity. The two pirates are ostensibly setting up for a duel, but they have apparently neglected to specify how many steps they must take before they begin. As they are trapped in a fiery underworld, it is probable that the instructions issued to them at the beginning of the duel were, "Take infinity paces, then turn."*

There are several clues--besides the unusually large number of paces involved--that this duel is not an ordinary one. The combatants are not, as is more common, progressing in opposite directions, but are instead wandering along the shoreline, each at a ninety-degree angle to the other. One might posit that they are attempting to remain close to potential drinking water as they take their infinity steps, though the fact that the water is probably salt kind of destroys that theory. However, it is worth noting that the body of water in question is so badly drawn that it actually looks a bit like the maw of a ravening monster. Might we, in fact, be seeing an example of the Hellmouth here? The pirates are unable to tear themselves away from it because they know that it will eventually swallow their tormented souls forever.**

It is also worth noting that the pirates have clearly not taken nearly eight hundred steps each. Are they trying to cheat their way to infinity?*** I can hardly blame them, but I can't help but feel it's a good thing the demon Louie is not here to witness the duel. If he were, there would likely be blood and mangled limbs.****

Overboard is a courageous comic that graphically depicts the author's personal view of Hell. May it long continue.*****

*Interestingly, my marking instructions are generally, "Mark infinity essays, then go mad." Coincidence? I think not.


***And beyond?

****Mangled soul limbs.

*****I am drearily certain that it will.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Tendre Cattes and the Yonge Sonne

Jim Davis really does have it made. While other cartoonists are certainly free to phone it in, Davis is free to hire an assistant to hire another assistant to phone it in. It is entirely possible that he can produce Garfield comics without thinking about his comic strip at all.

If whoever is currently drawing* the strip is not, in fact, rejoicing in the power of Photoshop's cut-and-paste function--and the tiny variation in the hindmost clump of grass in panels one and three of today's strip argues that this person is not so rejoicing--then there is still some awfully lazy cartooning going on here. Why do the characters in this strip so very rarely move? Jon and Garfield are currently outside,** and there's still nothing happening. My theory remains that Garfield and co. are residing eternally in Hell.

The impression is accentuated by the frighteningly gigantic and incredibly badly drawn sun looming behind Garfield. Honestly...what the bleeding Hades is that thing? It looks like something created by an eight-year-old with a compass. It is also about twelve times the size of the actual sun. Either Garfield is trapped in the Inferno and is squinting up at an allegorical representation of the sin of Sloth, or he has been transported to another solar system.***

There is absolutely no way to make this comic funny, but a medieval context does give it some meaning. If the sun represents Sloth, Garfield's desire to "dim" it may serve as an indication that he is beginning to repent of his sins. His awareness of himself as a sinner is expressing itself via denial, but it is only a matter of time**** before he begins weeping and crying out to be saved. Alas, it is also possible that the sun represents redemption (due to being associated with the brightness that is Our Lord), and Garfield's desire to make it less bright is a reflection of his lack of repentance and his rightful position in Hell.

It would be nice if Garfield became even slightly funny at some point in the near future, but in the meantime, we've got the richness of its allegory to tide us over.

*Did I say "drawing" when I meant "tracing"? Now, why would I do that?
**Very, very, very, very unusual for Garfield. Why, on Monday, a poor Paws, Inc. lackey had to draw Jon's entire body. Oh, the humanity.
***Or possibly to Mercury, in which case his blood will start boiling at any minute. Hurrah!
****If there is, in fact, time in Hell.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Roman de la Crock*

It has never been entirely possible to discern much intelligence behind Crock, but every once in a while, the fact that the comic is probably created by a thousand monkeys with access to drawing materials** is obscured by its use of medieval allegory. On the surface, today's strip makes absolutely no sense and may just deserve to be encased in concrete and thrown into an active volcano. It does, however, take on a limited amount of meaning when one applies an allegorical framework to it.

Like Roman de la Rose, already briefly discussed here, this strip could be seen as symbolic of sexual penetration. The...little green man is pointing out that the fortress (read: the maiden) he has been besieging (read: wooing) has left its gate open (read: gone a-Maying in the fair meadow just as the sun reaches over the hill...a hey nonny hey nonny ho), and its guardian (read: the maiden's father) is helpless to stop the little green man from invading it (read: ravishing her). The "SPLAT" sound effect is meant to signal the intervention of the wind (read: God), which accidentally (read: via divine intervention) prevents the fall (read: the rape) of the stout fortress (read: the virgin). Note that the little green man's clothing is dishevelled in the final panel. Clearly, the "wind" has interrupted him in the throes of passion...I mean battle frenzy.

There is still no real reason for this strip to exist, especially since the type of allegory at evidence here has been out of vogue for at least five hundred years, but at least it's not such an utter waste of space as it at first seems.***

*"Crock" has Germanic roots. I have not the faintest idea whether it is, in essence, masculine or feminine. Let us just assume I am making a glib, silly reference and leave it at that.
**They were originally tried on typewriters, but they kept flinging their poo and jamming up the keys.
***If all else fails, we can use it to clean up the monkey poo.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Further Adventures of the Bear's Son

As I have previously mentioned, PJ Keane, as a third son with bestial characteristics, is an excellent candidate for heroism: specifically, heroism of the half-human variety, as he takes on the role of the figure sometimes called the Bear's Son. This type of hero is often imbued with monstrous qualities that give him an affinity with the creatures he is born to destroy. Frequently, he will possess special knowledge that the fully human members of his community will fail to understand.*

In today's Family Circus, we see PJ demonstrating his inborn ability to see the truth behind mundane appearances. Where the oldest son,** (presumably) the middle son,*** and the daughter**** see a cute little puppy dog, PJ sees a ravening beast with a Marmaduke/Antichrist-like tendency to swallow small children whole. The older siblings think they are steering their baby brother gently away from his delusions, but they are actually disrupting his heroic focus. PJ needs to be able to see the hell-beast for what it is so that he can slay it, tear out its beating heart, and devour it in a fetishistic ritual designed to augment his wilderness power and increase his efficacy against the monsters he will fight during his later career.

The Bear's Son is not only a medieval figure. However, we can see the specifically medieval content here in the intertextual Antichrist reference; Bil and Jeff Keane clearly know their Marmaduke. Christian texts make use of the Bear's Son, generally turning him into a type of Christ. PJ's vision here foreshadows the End of Days and the coming of the Beast. His family would be wise to heed his warning.

Of course, the comic could simply be incredibly stupid, but then why would anybody ever publish it?

*He occasionally expresses such knowledge by smashing most of his family's belongings and attempting to rape a woman, but I'm not sure PJ is quite at that stage yet.
**Destined to insult a little old lady and be eaten by a giant.
***Destined to insult a little old man and be ground into powder by a large eagle.
****Destined to be abducted by a troll, sleep with him, turn on PJ, and attempt to have him boiled to death in a crystal cauldron at the heart of a mountain frequented by the Fiend.*****
*****I am not making any of this up. I may be embroidering the details, but the motifs in question are sound.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Oh, This Is So Not a Good Idea

This week, Tom Armstrong's reprehensible Marvin has, not atypically, been milking a single joke right the hell to death. You can see the beginning of this joke here.* Essentially, the members of Marvin's family have all been replaced by super-nice stick figures, and Marvin is wandering around being freaked out. As Josh Fruhlinger has pointed out, Grandpa doesn't actually look like a stick figure at all, but I suppose we're supposed to take it on faith that beneath that bulgy clothing, there are, well, sticks. It is, of course, unclear why the clothing is bulgy, but this is Marvin, after all. If it made sense, it would be Pearls Before Swine.**

What really disturbs me about this series of comics is something quite different. Like this Wednesday's B.C., today's Marvin is intertextual in a medieval sort of way...but where B.C. actually comes close to doing it right, Marvin's attempt is so wrong that I am currently weeping violently for the future of humanity. B.C., you see, steals from a comic that is just about as stupid as B.C.*** Medieval-style content thievery works best when the thieves take material equal to or less than their own work in value. Reversing the process leaves the thieves looking even more hack-like than they already are, as they have gone and butchered greatness.****

The Marvin comics seem to constitute an extremely vague and tenuous reference to the recent film Coraline, wherein the title character crawls through a door into another dimension where her parents are super-nice and have black buttons for eyes. It is the kind of reference that might be made by someone who hasn't seen the film but has heard that that is what the kids are watching these days.***** Hyuck hyuck! Marvin can have extra-dimensional adventures too! Too bad he's going to wake up tomorrow and find it was all a dream!

The problem is that the film Coraline is based on the novel Coraline, and the novel Coraline was written by Neil Freaking Gaiman, and absolutely anything written by Neil Freaking Gaiman****** is so much better than the very best Marvin strip ever produced******* that even including "Marvin" and "Neil Freaking Gaiman" in the same sentence hurts me profoundly. Tom Armstrong, what the bleeding Hades were you thinking? I know you create Marvin, but even you must have at least a few dangling vestiges of common sense. You are not allowed to steal from Gaiman. By doing so, you have 1) turned Coraline into a vaguely cute-ish maelstrom of unfortunate punning and 2) inadvertently upped the creep factor in your strip to the point at which you are going to have young readers screaming and attempting to brush off the invisible rats they are imagining erupting out of the page into their sweet little faces. You make me want to bite out my own eyes.********

Tom Armstrong, please stick to stupid cut-and-paste jokes about how infant girls are trying to snag husbands. It is just as medieval as intertextuality, and it doesn't drag the Prince of Stories into the mix.*********

*The link will probably eventually stop working. That may not be a bad thing.

**Which makes sense in the most insane way possible, obviously.
***I here refer to Garfield and not Garfield Minus Garfield, which greatly exceeds B.C. in quality. B.C. references the latter but technically cannot steal from it, as Garfield Minus Garfield actually does not contain a character named Garfield at all.
****Relatively speaking.
*****For "these days," read, "however many weeks ago the syndicate forced Mr. Armstrong to draw this week's strips." It is possible that Armstrong created these particular comics not long after Coraline opened in theatres.
******Up to and including his grocery lists, I expect.
*******Theoretically, such a beastie must exist.
********Which would, incidentally, be a fairly Gaimanesque thing to do.
*********Okay, okay...technically, the "Prince of Stories" is Dream, Gaiman's creation, and not Gaiman himself. However, it sounded better that way.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

And They Will Behold Him, and They Will Know Him Not

Brad Anderson, the 85-year-old creator of Marmaduke, and the mysterious "Paul," presumably some kind of Anderson Spawn,* are becoming less and less careful about their references--originally at least slightly veiled--to the rise of the Antichrist and the hideous death and pain that will accompany his appearance. In today's comic, Marmaduke, a.k.a. the Damned Child of Eternal Perdition, is demonstrating, in full daylight, his command of the Satanic powers of magic.

The funny-looking people peering at him over the fence can be interpreted in two ways. They may simply be in denial; they refuse to believe that they are living in the Last Days and are about to see a possessed Great Dane levitate on a rug. However, they may actually be discussing the more subtle implications of Marmaduke's coming flight. The woman could easily be remarking that the carpet is not, in fact, magical; it is instead miraculous. Marmaduke is here playing out the bit of the Antichrist's story where he convinces the people that he is truly the Saviour and can use the powers of God to perform miracles. You wait: in tomorrow's panel, Marmaduke is going to pretend to raise a neighbourhood urchin from the dead.**

Flee, funny-looking people. The Big Dog is coming. He is coming for you. He will devour you and cast you into eternal fire. That is not a baseball in the yard; it is a symbolic representation of the planet, and Marmaduke is about to bury it. Run away now. You cannot escape your eventual fate, but you can be elsewhere when the excrement hits the whirly-blades.

*Conspiracy theories are fun. Do you know that though every Marmaduke panel is now signed "Paul & Brad Anderson," it is nigh on impossible to find any information about Paul online? The demon Wikipedia insists that Brad is still the sole creator of the strip. Even the official United Features Syndicate Marmaduke blurb neglects to mention Paul. I think it is possible that Paul is the devil. It would certainly explain where Brad gets his inspiration.
**Actually, though, he is going to feast on the souls of the damned.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

B.C. Wyth Sperefeld

I'm back!

I'm back late. I apologise for that. This last week, I have mostly been sleeping and whimpering into my pillow. I marked myself into a state where I could no longer see out of my eyes. The result was that I went to visit an eye doctor today.* He told me that everything was too fuzzy because my prescription was too strong. It seems my eyes have deteriorated so much that I can see better than I could before. No, I don't understand it either.

Because of those damned drops that open up your damned pupils so that when you go out into the sunlight, it feels as if someone is sticking red-hot pokers into your eye sockets and twisting them, I am currently hiding in a darkened office, shrinking away from the terrible, terrible light. It seems like a good time to get back to the Middle Ages and massacre me a few comics. Perhaps the exercise will help me to forget the two petty, vindictive students who are attempting to ruin my life.

In today's B.C., we see a fantastic example of medieval-style intertextuality. Writers and artists in this day and age tend to be afraid of "borrowing" material from other writers and artists, presumably because writers and artists in this day and age are not afraid of hiring lawyers and suing the pants off thieves. The Hart Descendants, however, care not for copyright protection. They metaphorically spit in the metaphorical face of twenty-first-century law. They need to use Garfield in their comic? They'll swiving bloody well use Garfield in their comic. If Garfield Minus Garfield can get away with stealing a whole comic strip (minus its protagonist), why shouldn't B.C. be able to appropriate an unwanted character and have him kick a tortoise and a bird off a...a...a prehistoric counter? What would Chaucer do? Chaucer would insert Garfield right the hell into his comic strip!

Y'know...I think there needs to be a "What would Chaucer do?" T-shirt. I would suggest it to the King of Chaucer T-shirts, the Chaucer Blogger, but he seems to be M.I.A., and--wait a minute! Wait a minute! The Chaucer Blogger is back! He's back! I just went to check his site, and he has posted things on it! If you have no idea what I'm talking about, stop wasting your time here and go read Chaucer's blog, for crying out loud!**

However, I still may make the shirt myself someday.

*I actually discussed Chaucer with him. He was doing the usual doctor thing of asking me what my job was, though I think he was kind of not wanting me to explain that I taught medieval English literature. He had to read the Canterbury Tales in grade eleven, and the experience scarred him for life, though it probably scarred his teacher, a nun, more.
***"I hereof appeale myn erstwhile freende and companioun Johanness Gowere that he ys a wanker." I mean, come on, this not medieval comedy gold? Oh, Chaucer, how we have missed you.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Francis, Francis, FRANCIS...

I am drowning in marking, but it's late Friday night, so I shall pause for a moment to impart some medieval observations regarding our good friend, Brother Francis, Creator of Archie and Lover of the Female Form.

One of the qualities about Brother Francis that I find truly endearing is his adoration of breasts at the expense of absolutely everything else about his comic. Brother Francis, who does not know any women personally, nonetheless is so fascinated by the curvy bits on their fronts that he tends to draw random girls who have absolutely nothing to do with his strips in the foreground while the actual named characters fade into the background. So intent on the breasts is he that he does utterly silly things such as making Betty's and Veronica's silhouettes into deformed Rorschach blots, drawing a little Kool-Aid face on Betty's purse,* inserting a mannequin head wearing a coonskin cap into the background, and giving Veronica a "credit card" that is half the size of her head.** What does it matter? None of these things are boobies. No one is looking at them, anyway.

Eventually, Brother Francis is going to give up on the background altogether. Archie strips will become an endless parade of bosoms, each more swollen than the last. After that, it will only be a matter of time before the other monks enter his cell one day to find him huddled in a corner, giggling madly and trying to make love to his mattress.

*Or is that a truly terrible attempt at creating the Watchmen happy face? If so, Brother Francis is falling into a sad little trap that often ensnares his fellow cartoonist-monks as well; he thinks he is being edgy and up-to-date, whereas he is actually just demonstrating his extraordinary ignorance.

**Yes, Josh Fruhlinger made a similar observation earlier today. I am late. And slow. And wanting not to mark any more. Damn it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

So Simple, and Yet So Very Not Profound

Fred Basset is like raisins: relatively inoffensive but disappointing to find in a cookie you thought contained chocolate.* The strip's humour ranges from mild to completely nonexistent, and while it's hard to see why it has survived for so long, it's even harder to work up a good loathing against it. I don't like it in my cookies, but I'll force it down if there's nothing else to eat.

Every once in a while, however, you get a raisin that has fermented and acts as a hallucinogen.** Today's Fred Basset is such a raisin, though it is perhaps less "hallucinogenic" than it is "completely bloody insane."

The comic reminds me, disturbingly, of a cross between Nancy and Love Is.... Fred is smiling just like either Nancy or a Loveshmoo while making a cryptic statement that means nothing but would fit nicely on a Hallmark card. One imagines that just before he drew this strip, the cartoonist 1) ran out of ideas for good and 2) bought a new compass. He played with the latter while attempting to deal with the former, thus producing the...thing...we see below.

The strip does make more sense in Middle English. Fred's conversion of his world from square to round would make a great allegory for the achievement of spiritual enlightenment. Fred has taken the unnatural corners of his universe and converted them into circles...a circle, of course, being a symbol of the completeness of the Almighty. The dog's obvious bliss in the final round panel is understandable, as Fred is now encompassed within the circle and has become one with his Creator. It's all very beautiful, really.

Moving spiritual allegory or absolute freaking lunacy? You decide.

*Actually, I can't stand raisins, but I wanted to make a simile.
**This is not true at all. I'm still doing the thing with the simile, except now it has become a metaphor. Oops.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Suddenly, It All Becomes Clear

Nice as it is to be on a week-long "vacation,"* it is a sad fact that my Tuesday evening class doesn't observe Reading Break (it's an adult-ed class). I therefore spent yesterday writing a lecture and not, in fact, doing comics. Today, however, I have something special for you: possibly the most horrifying Shoe comic ever published. It very much makes up for the fact that Shoe offered no Valentine's Day fodder.

On the surface, the joke in the comic below is fairly conventional. I'm sure I've seen it elsewhere at least half a dozen times; cartoonists enjoy making fun of their overweight characters by implying that they are only skinny on the (absolute) inside. The joke is a relatively safe one. We're meant to go "Hyuck! Hyuck!" over the "skinny" skeleton and move on, still hyucking to ourselves, to find out how Cathy is doing on her endless quest to find a bathing suit that makes her look as if she has just been X-rayed.

However, examine the comic more closely. Check out the skeleton in the X-ray.

That is not a bird skeleton. Okay, granted, the head has a weird beak-like protuberance, but otherwise, we're dealing with a human frame, complete with hands and feet. Inside the big fat Perfesser is a skinny human trying to get out.

Do you realise the implications this revelation has for the universe of Shoe? This goes beyond the usual medieval-style beast fable; it even goes beyond allegory. The characters in Shoe are hybrid creatures, unnatural combinations of humans and birds. They are, in short, monsters. Shoe is not an allegory after all; it is a detailed look at the members of a particularly bizarre monstrous race.

In the Middle Ages, many writers provided descriptions of such races; some invented long accounts of their adventures among the monsters. The Travels of Sir John Mandeville is one such account; Mandeville himself is likely an invention, and his "travels" consist of bits and pieces 1) cobbled together from older sources and 2) made up, but the work is still a fascinating look at the way medieval people thought of the lands "over there." Medieval world maps frequently group the monsters around the edges, off on the rim of Africa, and monsters prance through the marginalia of medieval manuscripts (some examples can be found in this blog, which is actually already linked in my own margins). The question as to whether or not monsters count as human is one that--as I've mentioned before--not even St. Augustine can answer definitively.

Shoe courageously tackles this problem by blatantly revealing the human frame beneath the monstrous exterior. It is a memento mori, yes, but it is also a reminder that a monstrous body may very well hide a (potentially) Christian soul. Shoe's writer may actually be advocating that we send missionaries to convert the hideous bird-people in this comic. If Saint Christopher could be saved,** surely the deformed frequenters of Roz's treetop bar have a chance at salvation as well.

At the same time, the Perfesser's oddly human skeleton raises the possibility that our insides may be monstrous. If the inside doesn't have to match the outside, what hideous beast could lurk inside me? That one panel is nightmare fodder. A Perfesser with human insides? *Shudder*. A teenaged girl with a slavering, bestial soul? Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh...

I do not think I shall sleep tonight. Thank you, Shoe. Thank you so very much.

*"Vacation" in the sense of "temporarily not teaching three of four classes," not "vacation" in the sense of "relaxing and not having to mark anything."
**Christopher is frequently portrayed as a giant and occasionally as a dog-headed, cannibalistic giant. He may just be my favourite saint.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Allegorical Dessert Foods, Inc.

The hack who currently produces Marmaduke is really getting into this whole Antichrist thing. Today's comic is an excellent illustration of the rich meaning inherent in the view of Marmaduke as the Devourer of Worlds, Harbinger of the End, Child (Metaphorical or Otherwise) of the Devil, Et Cetera, Et Cetera. Run from the Beast, Marmaduke-flavoured Munchkins. That Antichrist is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. And it absolutely will not stop--ever--until you are dead.*

Below, we see two small, perspiring children hiding behind an ominous black bush as Marmaduke slavers above them, his focus apparently on the doughnuts they hold. Many would claim that Marmaduke is actually aiming to consume their tender young flesh; I, however, believe that he really is yearning after those doughnuts, which clearly represent the souls of the boys clutching them. The golden-haired youngster, generally portrayed as one of Antichrist's disciples, seems to be coming slowly to the realisation that the Beast does not mean him well; he demonstrates his new wisdom by coming out with a cliche that would be annoying if it were not, in this context, so very, very true. Cower, tiny mortals, for the End of Days is at hand, and the Great Big Dog will--after a few amusing adventures resulting from his size--bring down everlasting night. Doom. Doom. Doom.**

*Or, you know, wracked with eternal torment in the fiery bowels of Hell. The Terminator really has nothing on the Antichrist.
**In other news, it was a beautiful day today. How are you?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Most Wonderful Thing About Crockers...Is There Is Only One

I spent today having fun in such wildly disparate ways (after a dim sum lunch, my friends and I played mahjong for several hours, then grabbed some sushi and went to see Coraline) that I almost feel that I really may not be hallucinating today's Crock. If I had, say, marked for twelve hours--as I probably should have done--I would have been more willing to dismiss the comic below as a delusion brought on by too many misspellings of the word "writing."* The juxtaposition of several earnest discussions regarding the most efficient way to stack mahjong tiles and the viewing of a 3D film involving characters with big black buttons for eyes has left me quite willing to accept that Crock's insanity is nothing out of the ordinary.

As you can see, Mssrs. Rechin and Wilder have absolutely no idea how sugar works. They seem to think that it makes everyone who consumes it, including legionnaires who are generally portrayed as being on the verge of starvation, grin madly and bounce around like Tigger. Never mind that the sugar is not replacing the actual nutrients that generally keep the soldiers lethargic and despairing; it is apparently capable of energising them to a miraculous degree.

In fact, what we are witnessing here is clearly either a miracle or a demonic possession. As Crock has proven itself to be consistently medieval, I am going to have to go with the latter. Medieval people certainly enjoyed a good miracle tale, but possession was much more fun. Crock is wrong to admonish Orville; he is not feeding the men sugar but attempting to save their souls by forcing them to fast for their sins. Alas, the devil has entered into them, and all the cook's hard work has been undone.

Tune in next Sunday as Figowitz speaks in tongues for six panels, then belches flame and leaps off a cliff. It should be quite a good time.

*As usual, I'm truly not making this up. I've lost count of all the times my students have discussed "the writting of Stephan King's The Shinning." Sometimes, my brain really hurts a lot.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

His "Hat" is "Wiggling"...Yeah, Uh-Huh

Reading Week has begun, my friends, and therefore, I am back.

Reading Week (for those unacquainted with the oddness of university life) is the week-long "study break" students tend to be given in February. They are not given such a break in the fall term. Go figure, really.

As usual, I shall be spending Reading Week marking midterms. However, as I shall also be spending it not teaching almost every morning, I am going to be able to get back to the comics...and what better day to return to the wonderful world of medieval comics blogging than "Seynt Valentynes day, / Whan every foul cometh there to chese his make" (as our friend Geoffrey Chaucer puts it)? I rather wish that Shoe had been love-themed today; I would have been able to make all sorts of sarcastic comments. Alas, today's Shoe seems to be about reducing the carbon footprint with chocolate. No, it doesn't make sense to me either.*

Now, I hate Valentine's Day. As far as I'm concerned, its only redeeming quality is the fact that it gave rise to Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls; otherwise, it can simply go hang. It does, however, produce some absolutely appalling comic strips. Today, we pay a visit to one of those strips.

The Beetle Bailey comic below is not really about Valentine's Day, but I doubt it is a coincidence that it features Killer, the Beetle Bailey character whose purpose in life seems to be to sleep with everything that moves. The necessity of getting 1) Killer to interact with a girl who is 2) not in the army while 3) Killer and his friends are engaged in Killer's second-favourite activity, beer-drinking, has led the cartoonist to set this strip in what appears to be a bar-slash-grocery-store. It is possible that we have here a very subtle Chaucer tribute;*** the jumbled setting may indicate that some sort of dream vision is occurring. I think it more likely that the cartoonist is a lazy ass, but you never do know.

The real medieval content appears with the mention of the word "chivalry" and the almost immediate undercutting of that word by Plato. Killer's "chivalrous" action, which he claims to undertake out of "duty and honor," is, as Plato notes, hollow; his seemingly courteous behaviour is simply a mask for the sexual impulses that are, in this strip, generally represented by the "wiggle" lines around Killer's hat. The hat's motion can almost always be read as indicating that Killer is in a state of physical arousal. Judging by the soldier's self-satisfied expression as he ushers the scantily-clad shopper out the door,**** this strip is no exception.

Today's Beetle Bailey thus encapsulates a common late medieval approach to chivalry, acknowledging the concept's surface ideal while revealing the darker motives that drive it. Actually, Chaucer takes this very same approach in The Parliament of Fowls. Nicely done, Beetle Bailey legacy hacks.

As an apology for my frequent absences this term, I here present to you, for the first (and most likely the last) time ever, a second comic. I include it mostly because though it has nothing to do with the be-cursed concept of be-cursed Valentine's Day, it continues the lovely Family Circus philosophical tradition with a thoughtful question***** that indicates how close the young Keanes are to achieving enlightenment.****** Billy has meditated on why guitar strings are not really strings; Jeffy has described the tragedy of earthly impermanence through the image of a lost spoon; now, Billy inquires as to how one spells "spell" (oh, the irony! The irony!). I am truly surprised that no enterprising blogger has yet produced The Zen Family Circus or The Philosophical Family Circus or something along those lines. There's a need, people.

P.S.: If you are enjoying Valentine's Day, good for you. If not, remember: tomorrow is Half-Price Chocolate Day. Hurrah indeed.

*In fact, it simply doesn't make sense. I advise you not to read it. By the time the Perfesser sticks the light bulb into his ice-cream cone,** your head will already have exploded.
**I am absolutely not making this up.
***Very, very subtle.
****Who shops in a tube dress and high heels? I mean, honestly.
*****Albeit one that has been appearing in comics and bad comedy routines since the dawn of freaking time.
******Or, at least, decent marks in spelling.

Friday, January 30, 2009

On the Rocks (Quite Literally, It Seems)

There is something eminently pleasing about today's Hagar the Horrible. Sure, it's an antifeminist nightmare of epic proportions--sure, it is reusing the most prevalent of the comic's six jokes--but really, who isn't secretly amused by the image of Helga carefully sliding rocks beneath the sheets on her husband's side of the bed? Even more morally satisfying is that it takes Hagar a while to figure out what's going on, and then he's simply so tired that he just closes his eyes and begins to drift back into highly uncomfortable sleep.

The medieval context makes everything slightly more ominous. Why are Hagar and Helga wearing their helmets to bed? We already know that Hagar, who wears the horns proudly, is a cuckold...but Helga? Is she mocking her husband? Is she implying that she is, er, horny? Did she just forget to take the damn helmet off? Or is she lying there thinking, "I wear a helmet to bed, and you don't care! I put rocks in your bed, and you hardly notice! Maybe tomorrow I should hide my lusty young lover under the sheets. You'll get a real surprise then.*

Helga is the Wife of Bath, my friends. Soon--very soon--she will reveal her true colours. Perhaps she will even introduce a seventh joke to the comic. I can hardly wait.

*A cake! No, wait...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I Always Knew the Titchy One Wasn't Human

I could probably come up with an unconvincing excuse for every single day I've missed abusing legacy strips this week,* but instead, I figure I'll just jump straight in and abuse a legacy strip. It is a very medieval legacy strip, mind. I am eminently pleased with its medievalness.***

Today, you see, we finally receive proof positive that PJ, the Littlest Keane, is destined to be a hero. He already meets at least one folkloric criterion: he is the youngest of three sons. As any ardent admirer of fairy tales will tell you, it's always the third son who gets the booty; the other two are generally rude to little old ladies in the forest and end up inadvertently chopping off their own limbs.**** As a third son, PJ is probably inclined to sit on top of the oven all day, eating his own lice and pretending to be an idiot.*****

However, Dolly, in pointing out that he possesses paws instead of feet, is also identifying him with a folkloric motif that was quite popular in the Middle Ages: that of the hero with only one human parent. PJ is clearly descended from some sort of beast or demon, and he has a half-bestial form. The little tyke may seem sweet when he squinches his eyes shut and beams a sunny smile at the world, but believe me: hidden beneath PJ's PJs are hairy, deformed feet and the beginnings of a tail. It is probably only a matter of time before the kid starts breaking magical swords, riding untamed man-eating horses, and storming the Holy Land for fun.****** Eventually, someone will betray him; the traitor will be hanged by the neck until he is almost dead, then forced to watch himself be disemboweled and castrated and his entrails and genitalia burned in front of his eyes before he is beheaded and carved into four pieces that will be displayed in public.******* It's not easy being a half-human hero; it's even less easy being the person who stabs him in the back.

This latest revelation should give us new insight into the Keane family. We really need to stop mocking PJ. He's going to have a hard enough life, poor thing.

*For instance, my unconvincing excuse for yesterday is that I spent the evening in pain because while I was returning from the grocery story with my dinner, I slipped on the new-fallen snow in the middle of an intersection and smashed my knees on the pavement so hard that I first nearly threw up and then nearly fainted. The excuse is a stupid one, since my knees are not connected to my brain,** but I foolishly stand by it.
**Except that they clearly kind of are, since there's no other reason sore knees should make me want to throw up and faint.

***Medievality? Medievalitude?
****I am absolutely not making any of this up. I like fairy tales, so I know.
*****I'm not making this up either.
******We are talking about the Keanes here. Richard the Lionheart has nothing on the Keanes.
*******This punishment for high treason was on the books in England until 1814. After 1814, the punishment remained the same, but the traitor was dead for most of it. Everything but the hanging was abolished by 1870. Incidentally, the punishment was for men only; women were burned at the stake. I Am Not Making This Up.