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Well, uh, hmm...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The sorry state of comics

No, I don't mean standup comics, though they are in a sorry state these days, having been unable to elicit a laugh without the words "sex," drunk," and "republicans are dumb" for the past 10 years. No, I mean the kind of comics you and I read in the newspaper, or on our particular newspaper's website. What kind of comics eat up 90% of the page? Why, utter crap of course. Let's look at some of them, shall we?

Fred Bassett: There is no excuse for this comic to be on the page. Not only is it dull and repetitive, but the man who created it died 15 years ago. No, it hasn't been taken over by new artists and made less funny, like what happened to Pogo or Nancy so many years ago, or Shoe more recently. The strip has always been terrible. I understand rerunning old Peanuts strips, or the Katzenjammer Kids, but Fred Bassett? Is he really such a cultural icon that we need his unwelcome presence?
Now, I own three dogs, so the charm of reading a dog's mind could interest me. The problem with Fred is, he has the same kind of thoughts as that one weird, unfunny person we kinda know, but don't like to talk to for very long. (For those of you who kinda know me, it's not you, so don't worry about it.) In other words, the thoughts of Fred Bassett are the kind of thing that someone with no sense of humor would say in a group setting, causing all the "nice" people to chuckle nervously, and the ones who aren't nice to say something like, "What does that even mean? Dude, just quit talking."
I keep thinking that Fred Bassett is missing panels, and that somewhere there is an editing room floor with unused punchlines, ones that would make us laugh, and shed light on why what strips we did see tended to go nowhere. But, considering that the creator is dead, he probably asked for them to be burned so that no one could go fix the strips later.
This also got made into a television show in England. We haven't even gotten a television show for Get Fuzzy yet. Scary.

Drabble: If you've read this strip, you probably don't know it. Ok, imagine a comic with writing that doesn't have the wit and pinache of Family Circus, the artistic vision of Hagar the Horrible, or the insightful wisdom of Zippy the Pinhead.

Ok, still don't know? Well, ok. It's about a college age guy who's rather dimwitted, but not charmingly so. He lives with his parents who are also dimwitted, and, in a truly shocking reversal, he has two kid siblings that are intelligent and "with it." This brings a side point I feel compelled to make. I would like to stop seeing comics that make the kids out to be the smart ones and the parents/adults the morons. Who exactly pays the rent and has life experience, here? That's what I thought.
Now, Drabble isn't the ordinary dumb that we find in people who smoke and play the lottery but are afraid to fly, he's not the kind of dumb that leads to shoplifting in front of a security camera, no, he's the cartoon kind of dumb. That "aw shucks" kind of dumb. He's the guy that would walk out of the room with one of your chairs because you said, "Take a seat." Yes, he's the completely unrealistic, that-would-never-happen-in-a-million-years kind of dumb. Now, this kind of idiocy can be made funny if it has a foil, such as reality. This kind of dumb works well when it is pointed out in a fourth wall breaking type of situation, where the dumbness is called out and shown for what it is, making fun of the conventional "cartoon dumb" stereotype. For example, if someone did literally "take a seat," another person in the room could begin mocking the tired cliche, thus making it self-referential, as if the viewer wasn't intended to find the joke itself funny, but the fact that anyone else ever found that joke funny. However, Drabble has none of that. It presents jokes you found unfunny before a time when seatbelts were mandatory in cars and people knew smoking was unhealthy, and it expects you to laugh at them. Well, no thanks.

Funky Winkerbean: Good heavens I don't want to write this one. You see, I used to love Funky Winkerbean. It used to be hilarious. The characters were interesting and it had them in funny situations, a win-win scenario for character driven people vs. plot driven people. Then it happened. One day, my father read to me a newspaper article that featured an interview with Funky Winkerbean's creator, Tom Batiuk. He talked about how he wanted to take the strip in a new direction. That direction?

Unfunnysville.

He turned it into a soap opera, and it started with Les Moore's wife getting cancer. See, that's representative of a twofold problem. First, the strip went from clever and entertaining to cheap drama. Second, it still retained part of what made it clever: the names of the characters. I'm sorry, but I just can't take a strip seriously when there's a crisis in the life of a man named Les Moore. And Funky Winkerbean became an alcoholic. I can just imagine this AA meeting. "Hello, my name is Funky Winkerbean, and I'm an alcoholic." The moderator would look sternly over his horn-rim glasses and say, "Now if you aren't going to take this seriously, we won't get anywhere. What's your real name?" The old Funky would have said something witty, something suitable for the third and final panel. Something that would make us chuckle and feel satisfied, like a feature on the funny pages should. The new Funky would look pensive and disheartened. He would utter in a depressed tone, "That is my name. I have felt disdain from most of the world my entire life due to the unfortunate moniker my parents saddled me with. They could have chosed any name. Steven, James, Alan. But, instead, they gave me the name 'Funky.' They were alcoholics, too, and they thought it would be funny to watch me go through life in pain and misery." At this point the new Funky would shed a single tear, his lip would quiver and everyone around him would shift nervously in their seats. Isn't that hilarious?

Sally Forth: Has anyone ever actually read this strip?

Opus: I also don't want to write this one. You see, as much as I disagree with Berke Breathed on his politics, I did always enjoy Bloom County. I liked the characters. Even when he was bashing televangelists (I don't like a lot of televangelists either, but when someone on the left does it, they take every shot at Christianity as a whole they possibly can), and making fun of Republicans, I still loved seeing the interaction of Oliver with his father, Opus and Steve Dallas discussing Deathtongue, and Hodge Podge and Portney playing Star Trek. Every character was great. Then he stopped doing Bloom County and did Outland, which I also enjoyed. He wasn't as political then because Clinton was president, and he didn't want to make fun of a Democrat. But then came the strip, "Opus." You see, Berke has jumped on the extreme liberal bandwagon. I can't say I was surprised, but it's poisoning his otherwise great cartoon characters. I'm getting tired of the same crap that Israel is just as bad as Hezbollah, George Bush is an idiot (the man has an MBA from Harvard. What's your degree in, again, Berke?), and war is evil. It's not that he's trying to make a point, or that any of the liberal strips are making a point. They aren't trying to better the world by pointing out evils and inconsistancies. They just say these things because it will get easy laughs from people who think like kids. You see, children think the world is easy to figure out:
Be nice and get along with everyone. Can't we just talk it out and be friends?
Everyone who disagrees with me is dumb.
I won't believe something firmly, so I'll just say I don't know. That makes it easier when I'm wrong.
We all should be ourselves and think what we want to. And people who don't think that should be made to think that, just like the rest of us.
People should give me things just because I'm me. Why should I have to work for things?
Evil people are just misunderstood. They need a hug.
The government should take care of me and feed me and pamper me and clothe me and...

And I'm really sick and tired of seeing all this on the dang comics page of all places! The great Walt Kelly used to make two different versions of his Pogo strip, one that was political, and one that wasn't. That way, the paper could decide if they wanted to run the political one or not. He didn't believe in subjecting the readers to his political views if they didn't want him to. And yes, he was a liberal. A liberal I happen to respect for this very reason.

Now, this is quite different from a strictly political toon like Doonesbury or Mallard Fillmore. They are about politics. If Breathed wants to go that way, fine. Let him. I just want him to make up his dang mind about what Opus is. Is it just funny? Is it political? If it's just a funny strip, leave the political crap out!

I would write one on The Boondocks, but that would be too easy, and I would get too aggravated thinking about it.

Rose is Rose: I believe this is the most hated comic strip ever.

For Better or For Worse: Same as Funky Winkerbean. Used to be funny. Became a soap opera. I liked it better when the Pattersons were an actual family. Now, Mike and Elizabeth are grown up and have their own lives. Their dog, Farley, the icon of the strip, died. April is in High School now, and will be off to college soon. I don't mind strips that have the characters age, but that doesn't mean the strip has to get serious! Some cynics will say, "Was it ever actually that funny?" My answer would be, "Not on the level of a Dilbert or Calvin and Hobbes, but yes." It rose above the average, maybe in the B+ range. I liked it. But, as the kids grew up, no longer did we have the interplay of the parents with precocious kids or hormone laden teenagers, like in Zits. We suddenly had a bunch of... people. And just watching people live out their lives is none too entertaining. Mike and Elizabeth suddenly had to deal with real life. So it was a bit like being thrust back into reality, myself. When the strip featured the kids as kids, the reader felt like a kid. We could just enjoy ourselves and the jokes, sans responsibility. Hey, the kids got into trouble, they said funny things, they went on family vacations and things went haywire, but then they grew up. We watched Mike have a kid and deal with being a dad. Elizabeth got attacked by a guy at college. It suddenly became stark and serious. I looked at it and the smile shrank from my face as I realized that this life stuff is what we all have to deal with as we grow up. I like growing up, but I don't dwell on it. I certainly don't want to dwell on it when I'm reading a dang comic strip.



Well, I don't feel like writing anymore. My hands hurt and it's almost midnight. It felt good to write that, though.

Thanks for reading!

1 Comments:

Blogger Lee said...

Unfortunately I know I read Drabble. Can you believe that strip has been going since 1979? Bill Watterson quit after ten years…there is just something fundamentally wrong with that.

11:39 PM  

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