« Comrades! | Main | Expendable Children »

Comic Stripping

We've been quite busy around here, hence the light posting. Yesterday was a blur of garage sales (where Justin picked up a light box for ten dollars!), lawn care, plumbing problems, bulk shopping (no chicken broth this time), cell phone shopping for the kids, dinner, clean up and finally, a relaxing end to the day by falling asleep while playing my favorite 2D video game.

Today being Sunday and, ideally, a day of rest, I thought I'd get our day started right by getting bagels (to go with the five pounds of cream cheese we bought yesterday) and the newspaper. I opted for Newsday, knowing I'd just skip over the opinion pieces and go right to the Sunday comics.

Honestly, one of the reasons I bought the paper (which I very rarely do) is because I noticed a lot of hits the past few days - and quite a few emails regarding - this piece I did on newspaper comics last year.

You smell a repeat coming on, don't you? Well, you're right, but in a minute.

Some of the emails I got on the subject asked the same question: Do I still believe that newspaper comics suck?

Why, yes, I do.

The main problem with newspaper strips is that so many of them rely on jokes that have been told time and time again. Bigwig brough this up last month, specifically dealing with Andy Capp.

Below I posted the entry I wrote last November about comic strips. There's a few questions at the end for you.

[This is what's known as lazy Sunday blogging a/k/a Keep Away From Politics Sunday]

the demise of newspaper comics, or Dagwood beats the crap out of Billy

I haven't bought a newspaper since September of 2001, and then it was only to clip articles about someone I knew. I read the paper online now; I get all the news I need that way and I don't have to wade through ads or ridiculous filler articles about stars getting married/divorced/pregnant/arrested.

I had a method of reading the paper back when I actually had it (Newsday) delivered to my home. I would read the entire sports section, flip the paper over, skim through the news, head for the editorials and then sit back and relish the real treat. Ah, the comics section.

Remember when the comics section brought daily delights? At its heyday, you could get Calvin and Hobbes, Far Side and Bloom County in one sitting. Everything else was just extraneous. [note: I refuse to date myself here and write about anything else before then. I did that already, anyhow]

You really don't have to pick up a paper today to know what's happening on the comics page. In fact, I will boldly predict what today's full-paneled, full-colored strips will bring: Cathy goes on a diet! Garfield eats Lasagna! Jeffy says something precious! Dagwood makes a sandwich and/or takes a nap!

Where's the fresh jokes? Where is the satirical commentary on modern life? Is life in comic strips really that predictable? I long for the days of Spaceman Spiff, talking cows and my favorite penguin. Yes, I know the penguin is back. It's just not the same anymore.

I imagine a world where all current comic strip characters live. Their daily lives are much like the lives they play out in the newspaper each day. Here comes Billy, running zig-zag through the neighborhood just to fetch his dad the paper, which was right on his front step all along! Ah, but next door neighbor Dagwood has had quite enough of this nonsense and runs after Billy, knocks him down and beats him with a Subway 12 incher. Cathy comes running out of her house to see what's going on and as Dagwood is mercilessly rubbing Billy's face in the dirt, Cathy gives in to her cravings and eats the Subway sandwich that Dagwood dropped. Uh, oh! Here comes the mom from For Better or Worse And they would all be entertained with a fantastic donut eating contest between Garfield and Cathy, and later on Momma will find Cathy puking her guts out and she'll realize what the rest of the world figured out long ago; Cathy has an eating disorder, most likely brought on by stress from dealing with both her overbearing mother and her passive aggressive boyfriend.

Of course, if I drew that comic land one day, it would end badly. I suppose some giant, drooling alien who goes by the name of Calvin and looks somewhat like a dinosaur would eventually stomp through town, crushing every last cliched character to death. Free at last. Ding Dong, Ziggy and his animals are dead.

I long for the days when comics weren't so treacly and warm and fuzzy. I don't want to see Grandpa's spirit hanging over Jeffy's shoulder, making sure he doesn't get hurt. If I wanted something like that, I would just start a Precious Moments collection. I want to see more strips where moms tell their sons to go play chicken with a train. I want to see more surreal silliness.

One can only live so long on a steady diet of shopping and lasagna before they give up and close the paper. Sure, there are still a few comics I find interesting, but I can just click and read and not have to open the paper funny page to find Dick Tracy still staring up at me as if he was still relevant.

In my comic world, Dick Tracy would be retired by now, living in a one bedroom apartment where he spends his day cursing at Matlock on the television while resting another can of Miller Lite on his beer belly. Every once in a while, Brenda Starr would stop over for a visit, but things would always turn ugly when Dick reminds Brenda that she hasn't aged well at all.

Not many of them have aged well, actually. And the ones that did packed up and left the neighborhood a long time ago. Guess you gotta know when to fold 'em.

_____

The questions:

Do you read newspaper comic strips on a daily basis? Which ones are your favorites? Are there strips you just stopped reading because either the storyline was going nowhere or they became repetitive? Are newspaper strips a dying commodity?

Feel free to add whatever to the debate. Or nothing.

TrackBack

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Comic Stripping:

» One Is Enough from O'DonnellWeb
Holy Shit. This mom in NYC aborted two of her triplets (annoying registration required - but worth it. Use mefi1/mefi1)... [Read More]

Comments

I read For Better or Worse because it's contantly evolving with the characters as they age over the years. Red and Rover reminds me of Calvin and Hobbes with the innocence of youth and the playfullness of imagination. I also like Baby Blues, Boondocks, and Zits because they make me smile, but I don't read Cathy anymore because it's same-old, same-old: diets/exercise, men, fashion. yawn

Not many. Foxtrot, For Better for Worse occasionally, and Get Fuzzy. Even those I don't make much effort to read.

(sigh) I miss Calvin and Hobbes. The good die young.

We get the paper on Saturdays and Sundays only - I don't even look at the comics. I get Calvin & Hobbes and Pearls Before Swine via email each day.

I mostly don't read the comic anymore. If I do, it's like you, I read them online.

I do like Day by Day, and just for balance I read Doonesbury until he starts a series that I know is just going to piss me off. Dilbert still finds the funny on occaission.

I miss Bloom County too. Some of those strips actually caused me to ruin my paper with my coffee sometimes.

For the most part though, you've got it pegged. They're all the same...over...and over...and over again.

Perhaps the first question should be "Do you read newspapers on a daily basis?" No. The rampant bias, evident even in local news stories, is just too depressing and distasteful to support with a subscription.

Day By Day is the only current strip I read and enjoy daily. That doesn't mean I don't read comics, though--I constantly read and reread books and comic books I've collected over the years: Calvin & Hobbs, Bloom County, Far Side, B.C., Peanuts, B. Kliban (his books went far beyond cats!), Gil Shelton (The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers), and a master in my youth, R. Crumb. One of those is always on my night table.

As a kid, I always read the Sunday comics back to front, leaving the best for last read...

and, uhm, ok... old fart here (50), this was in the glorious days when the LA Times devoted the full front page of the comics section to Prince Valiant. Beautiful art, long story arcs and characters to care about.

Eventually, LATimes shrunk it to 1/2 page, then 1/3 page and kept moving it to the back.

Heathens.

I sorely miss Calvin & Hobbes (another fine artist, his Sunday watercolor renditions especially when Calvin was imagining himself as a dinosaur are priceless!) were wonderful. The old Bloom County.

Today if I can't get my hands on print, I'll catch the latest Non-sequitur online. And I also read Day by Day

The problem with Cathy, Garfield and other in-the-rut comics is that they are one joke premise strips. When they first hit the papers, they were fresh and original. But you can't stay on the same treadmill forever or you become a parody of yourself (Henny Youngman's "take my wife, please"). I would not miss them, or Beetle Baily, Wizard of Id, or Blondie if they fell off the pages tomorrow. For Better or Worse still works because the characters have changed. They grow realtime and while some of the themes are revisited, it can be fresh with new voices and new POV's ... from the death of their dog Farley to introducing characters struggling with homosexuality. No, I wouldn't put FBOW in the top of strips, but it's good solid middle-material that doesn't try to insult its audience (Doonesbury lost me long ago on precisely this point.) I like Crankshaft for similar reasons. And today, with some of the mindless insulting dreck (La Cucaracha) or just plain insulting dreck (Boondocks) that the LATimes is wont to run, I'll take solid entertainment that will make me grin and chuckle with my Sunday coffee anytime.

The treacly, mindless comic strip isn't a new invention. "Family Circus" has been around just barely longer than you and me, Michele. And from the looks of things Bil Keane's previous comic strips weren't any edgier.

Well, other than maybe they were drawn in squares instead of those less-likely-to-injure-you circles...

I first saw Berkely Breathed's (Bloom County) work when I was in college - he ran a strip in the UT daily. Many of those characters came to BC. Fabulous stuff. As was Calvin and Hobbes.

I really don't read a regular anymore.. Dilbert was fun for a while. When there wasn't a Far Side to look forward to, that was the end for me.

Get Fuzzy, Zits, Baby Blues, Fox Trot, Dilbert. Occasionally Sally Forth. FBOW from time to time if it has a good story.

On-line, it's Day by Day and Non Sequitur.

I get a weekly fix from Opus, but find Crankshaft obnoxious. It's simply mean-spirited. I get enough mean-spirited form blogs, why do I want it in my comic strips?

Oh, and Prince Valiant has clearly seen better days, but he get's about a 1/4 page in the local on Sundays. Sometime worth looking at in the anticpated-trainwreck sort of way.

Sure, I still glance at the comics page as part of my morning-paper routine. It's a habit developed in my formative I'm unlikely to break it any time soon.

Still, for all the reasons you assert, and maybe more, my enjoyment of comics has been declining about as steadily as the newspaper print size of the strips.

Over the last ten years or so, this has resulted in some sort of neglect syndrome, whereby about three quarters of the strips don't even exist for me anymore. (e.g. Funky winkerbeen is there in all its detail, but my brain has learned to fade it out into a meaningless blur.
Which it probably is even if you read it.)

I suppose I still get laughs from Dilbert, Zits, Rose is Rose, and Foxtrot. For Better and for Worse, I still follow, but even that has gotten very tired over the years, and Lynn Johnston annoys me on many levels.

Perhaps all the young cartoon talent is moving on to other mediums, just as new READERSHIP is moving on to other media.
By media I mean internet. If you are clever and talented it seems flash anim fame is drawing the most views.

At least my views. For instance, I can't stop clicking on my own link to Jonti Pickering's "Magical Trevor" and teleporting again and again into Michele's well stocked larder. The chicken broth must be in the other closet.

Other than the lost sleep at night, it is as convenient acessible and disposable a form of entertainment.

Jonti's Weebl and Bob series, perhaps more analogous to a comic strip, never fails to crack me up.

His site is self-supporting; he and animators like Joel Vietch Joel Veitchcan make good moolah with advertising and product sales. Who needs a press syndicate?!!

Instead of stale 4-frame, 2-d format with limited possibilities, visual and audio gags and puns in without rigid size or shape or length limitations is possible. If I were an artist, I'd prefer it.

Dilbert became a lot funnier during grad school. I miss Ernie, which became The Piranha Club (and left my local paper). Other than that, the local daily is a wasteland with a very few oases.

My local alt-weekly has Boondocks, Tom Tomorrow, some local stuff (Red Meat and some unknowns), and America's Favorite, Ted Rall. Even with Rall, the free paper's comics rule. I'd rather look at Rall's scrawls than Billy's spoor anytime.

Greatly miss Calvin & Hobbes, too. Rarely read the comics anymore.

Anyone remember the strip, "Henry?" Now THAT was cutting edge. A silent comic strip in the age of the "talkies." Except for an occasional sound effect, like a phone ringing, there were no words. No thought bubbles. And the illustrations were as spare as the text. But you always new exactly what they were talking about.

Never quite appreciated the genius of that strip until it went away.

SarahW - Just read your comment about Joel Veitch ... a few favorites from his site:

"When Good Biscuits Go Wrong" (the "Mango Biscuits" song - I love this. Definitely a classic.)

Paul McCartney - Chicken to Ride

Pavarotti - "Elephants"

That one about the scared kid was pretty funny, can't remember the name of the link.

Yep. Some of it there is 'rather good.'

That said, some of it there is "rather distasteful."

Ok, now. That's it from the peanut gallery.

I'm going to date myself bigtime here, but the comic strip I miss most is Walt Kelley's Pogo. I remember when I was a kid my mother would read the comics to us and she could never get through a Pogo strip without cracking up. Years later, I had the same problem when trying to read a Pogo collection to my son. If you haven't experienced this, find a Pogo book and try to read it out loud.

The comics died the day Calvin and Hobbes stopped. I have all but one or two of the books, and have the entire collection downloaded. Life without Far Side was tough enough, but Calvin was the top or the peak.

My new favorite is a web-comic : Orneryboy

I've got a subscription to the WaPo. That sucker has almost three full pages of comics, which I always make time to read.

Why? Even on thier worst day, those three pages churn out higher quality stuff than the editorials and front-page reporting. And, to thier credit, I don't think Dick Tracy is on staff there (though I may just skip over him every day and not realize it).

I admit, though, that the comics could be much better than they are.

For Better or for Worse is a quality strip. I'm not always falling out of my seat with amusement, but Lynn Johnston is an excellent artist. Take a few of her recent strips and note the attention to detail, the consistient high-quality. It's pretty remarkable. And despite the inevitable repetions of a 25 year strip, the aging of her characters allows for many new storylines in FBOFW. Word is that Johnston is retiring the strip when her contract is up in 2007; all in all a wise move. She respects her craft enough not to succumb to Blondie Syndrome. That alone makes the strip worth reading!

Get Fuzzy is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and Pearls Before Swine sometimes KILLS me with its delightful absurdity. But they are both relatively new strips. I don't know how long Pastis and Conley can keep it up.

Non Sequitur is good, when Wiley doesn't get too political. The Boondocks would have a lot of potential, if McGruder didn't have such a fucking chip on his shoulder. Yeah, you're an angry black man, we get it already. His characters are edgy and non-mainstream, energetic and vibrant. But he'll waste an entire Sunday on one big panel with Huey making some sort of sarcastic comment, with nothing even going on in the background other than grass and trees. Huey's great, but one-liners just aren't good enough week after week.

Zits is a good strip. Curtis still has a good moment now and then, when Dad isn't complaining about "rap" music.

Cathy died a horrible death long ago, creatively speaking. I was actually ahppy when Cathy got engaged a few months ago because I thought it meant the strip would FINALLY go away, but no such luck.

Family Circus has gotten slightly better - though of course that's like saying Hell got one degree cooler. But I think Bil Keane's son took over the day-to-day production of the strip a little while back, and he's infused it with an ounce of freshness. Again, not saying much - it still isn't worth reading most days.

Pickles can be clever sometimes, despite being about old people. They're not doddering, I think that's the key.

There was a point in time when I loved Garfield. Granted, I was about 9 years old, but I like to think it once had some quality that made it worth its fame. But the persistient lack of anything interesting in Garfield strips lately has made it one of the few things I'm apt to skip if I don't have enough time in the morning. Shame.

Whoops. Forgot this nice, gentle, well-drawn chuckler, Mutts.

I read PVP, Pearls Before Swine, Big Nate, Get Fuzzy and Dilbert.

I have to read them all online because my local newspaper only has the old stand-bys like Beatle Bailey and Hagar the Horrible. Seriously, there's only so many times I can read about Sarge stomping on Beatle.

Yes, newspaper cartoons are crap. Perhaps they always were, but I recall Garfield was once rather good around circa 1985- or maybe I just imagined it.

Zits pisses me off. Its meant to be a comment on contemporary teenage manners but its drawn to look like 1992, which is almost as dated in my eyes as Archies terminal 1962 look.

Im guess I'm relatively lucky since my local papers re-run Calvin and Hobbes, 60's Modesty Blaise and the very amusing Torkan serial.

I get my biggest laughs mostly from online stuff: Day by Day, is a prime example. PvP, Sluggy Freelance, Red Meat, Lore Brand Comics.

I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned Homestar Runner yet. ("Welcome to Homestarrunner.net! It's dot com!") Yeah, it's not a 4-panel cartoon, but it's some of the funniest stuff going.

I read a few "newspaper" comics strips still, but even those I read online by going to kingfeatures or comics.com. I mostly read the web comics these days;
PvP (As a gamer I relate)
Schlock Mercenary (Military Humor, evolved)
Sluggy (Though I can't stand BunBun at all)
IrregularWebcomic (Intelligent, role playing and popculture humor using Legos, whats not to love?)
FreeFall (Doggy!!!)
User Friendly (Though the Linux schtick gets irksome at times)
Dragon Tales (Nice art)
8 Bit Theater (Nice pixels)
Sabrina Online (I was a member of AFIT Amiga way back when)
Newpaper comics are
For Better or Worse
9 Chickweed Lane
Pirana Club
Shermans Lagoon
and a few others at times.

For a good listing of comics online go to The Belfry WebComics Index.

The best "newspaper" comics I read are Get Fuzzy and Sheldon, although I read Sheldon online.

Sheldon is exceptional, and it should replace 90% of the dreck in the comics pages. What could be better than a 10-year old multi-billionaire with a talking duck and a Grandfather who won't let him buy Ecuador? Just plain excellent

Achewood.

How has nobody mentioned Achewood?

www.achewood.com

"Henry" is still around, running in my local daily newspaper. Apparently it's just dropped to the minor leagues where it runs in the newspapers people take in addition to the big metro daily. If my wife and I were willing to pay for a subscription to the Al Jazeera Constitution, that would be us.

Give me the comic "Garfield" Delivered to my email address daily

Anyone seen spamusement? www.spamusement.com

It's reminiscent of the far side, but only reminiscent, it's not trying to BE the farside. Certainly not one of the awful modern farside clones. The best part is he'll never run out of ideas until he runs out of spam.