Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Happy Man Wore No Shirt

American cartoonists have lately been freaking out quite a lot about the economy; they seem to believe that it is their duty to comment wryly upon a problem that affects their dwindling and apathetic readership, even if the jokes they manage to churn out tend to be weak.* Most of the comics that appear on this blog have been created by people who probably aren't going to be all that affected by the economic downturn, seeing as even if all they do to earn a living is create Crock, they are apparently set for life. Their "Oh gosh, we're in a recession!" jokes thus ring a little false. They also tend to be behind the times, albeit through no real fault of their own; the syndicates' requirement that cartoonists finish their work weeks, if not months, ahead of time leads even the cleverest of cartoonists into the kind of unfortunate error made yesterday by one of my favourite comic creators, Stephan Pastis.

At any rate, every time I read a comic strip revolving around the economy, I cringe and want to burn things. The only redeeming quality in today's Momma** is its profound medieval philosophical background; otherwise, it is just another stupid comic about how hilarious poverty is when it happens to people who aren't the cartoonist.

Francis, Momma's ne'er-do-well son, is here portrayed haunting Momma's dreams as a scruffy panhandler whose plea to the general public revolves around the fact that he was poor first. This argument may seem to be somewhat along the lines of, "What do you mean you're going to eat your last peanut butter sandwich? I was hungry first!", but hey, whatever works for dream-Francis works for me. What makes the comic interesting is Francis's little smile. It can be seen as smug ("Ha! I've found the perfect argument for why you should give me money! It sucks to be you!"), but I prefer to view it as a simple indication that Francis really isn't bothered by anything much and will be quite as happy if everyone ignores him as he will if everyone showers him with dollar bills.

In fact, Momma is having a profoundly significant dream that she is probably going to misunderstand completely. Her son Francis is actually following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ; he is cheerfully poor and entirely willing to live mostly on handouts.*** Unlike Momma herself, who is eternally discontented with her lot and spends much of her time whining, Francis rolls with the punches while emulating his Saviour. His message on the wall can be read as a plea for cash, but it can also be read as a statement of contentment: "Yes, you people are all broke, but I've been broke forever, and I'm doing all right. Would you like to become my disciples?"

Francis also illustrates the story of the Happy Man. Very briefly: a king whose son seems to be pining away through sheer unhappiness goes to a wise man for a remedy and is told to find his son "the happy man's shirt." The king searches far and wide, but everyone he meets is anxious or sad or plagued with worries in some way or another. He is about to give up in despair when he comes across a ragged fellow in a patched coat and breeches who is wandering through the forest, whistling. The king questions him and realises that he has, in fact, found a perfectly happy man. He demands the man's shirt...whereupon the man unbuttons his coat and shows the king that he has no shirt. The moral, of course, is supposed to be that one should be content with one's lot in life and not always be longing for more. You think Francis is a waste of space, Momma? Wrong! He's a born philosopher...a shirtless happy man who embodies Christian morals much more completely than you do. Ha ha HA!

Not everyone is able to appreciate the multiple layers of Momma. It's really too bad that it isn't studied by more academics. I think there's a dissertation in there somewhere.

*Just like all the other jokes they manage to churn out on any subject at all, admittedly.
**Betcha never thought you'd ever hear anyone utter the phrase "redeeming quality in today's Momma."
***Plus perhaps a miraculous multiplying fish or two.


Anonymous said...

Just "Francis"? Nah.

"Saint Francis" more likely. I guess it'd be irreverent to speak of reincarnation in this context, but...

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