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 You can see the beginning of this joke here.* Essentially, the members of Marvin's family have all been replaced by super-nice stick figures, and Marvin is wandering around being freaked out.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.


The Prettiest said...

Marvin also steals from Gaiman's work in that it is interminable and makes you hate everyone in it.

Skullturf Q. Beavispants said...

Etymological question: it looks like our word "daughter" might come from an older word "doughter" that was not gender-specific?

Angry Kem said...

Hmm...I'm not sure I can see any evidence of that. What's your rationalisation?

"Grandbuddy" was not an easy word to translate. There is no direct equivalent to "grandson" in Middle English; people would use "son's son" or "daughter's son" (basically, "sone sone" or "doughter sone"). A nephew could be called a "sister son," etc. Further exploration over at the Online Etymological Dictionary reveals that another name for "grandson" was--wait for it--"nephew" (and "niece" could mean "granddaughter"). Eventually, the definitions narrowed.

"Grandfather" was recorded as long ago as 1424 and "grand dame" (grandmother) as early as 1225 (but in Anglo-Norman, not English). "Grandchild" didn't come along until the 1600s. Again, I'm getting all this from the Online Etymological Dictionary.

CrackerLilo said...

Oh, ick! I feel bad that the New York Times doesn't have comics, and then I see comics like that. Truly, it is so horrid that any and all changes made, including your translations, can do nothing but improve it. Good to see you back.

@ The Prettiest: Thank you! I thought I was the only one who felt that way about Gaiman!

Skullturf Q. Beavispants said...

Ooopsy, I totally misread it. I saw the word "doughter" but totally missed the "sone".