Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Comics Page

So the local paper sent out a survey about the comics page. Even the the funnies are the first thing I turn to when I read the paper, I've always been hesitant to write to the paper about them since it seems more appropriate to write about I-69 or some other political issue rather than grouse about how unfunny Dilbert was today. But I sure don't mind blogging about it, and I did answer the survey. The rules were: Choose your top 5 in order, suggest some new titles, and suggest any old ones to be dropped.

The old ones to be dropped was the most interesting choices. I only had one additional suggestion, Baby Blues, so I didn't want to list out the dozen or so that I would have liked to dump so as not to seem overly negative. So I restrained myself to two, the always unfunny and fundamentalist B.C., and Peanuts, whose author is dead. But I had many to choose from! The Wizard of Id is not quite as bad as B.C.; it doesn't have the religious bombasticism but does have the endless golf jokes. Mallard Fillmore for the most part is strictly right-wing propaganda, disguising hate as satire, but it has been funnier lately.

The five to be selected were tough too, though. I selected Zits and Arlo-n-Janis as the two best; Doonesbury and Dilbert as the two that might have the most negative reactions that I wanted to keep, but I had trouble deciding on the last one.

Keeping a comic strip fresh must be really difficult. I think you have to mature and grow your characters over time, which is why Fox Trot didn't make my list. There have been a lot of good strips but there's only so many jokes you can make. If he's ever willing to send Peter off to college or Jason to high school it might gain a little more freshness. For Better Or For Worse has the interesting take of trying to age its characters in realtime, but I don't think it quite works; sometimes you have to run a week's worth of strips that the characters see in about five minutes, but yet they've grown a week in that time. Baby Blues seems to informally age its characters at about half realtime, which works pretty well. But Doonesbury handles this issue the best, which is how it's managed to survive for more than 30 years and still be good. The characters mostly seem to age when offscreen, and their ability to make major life shifts helps to keep the strip fresh; B.D.'s injury, for example, or Mike and J.J.'s divorce. Of course, sometimes the author sidesteps the issue, like Garry Larson and Bill Watterson, and just ends the strip. I salute them for that, and you have to feel sorry, I guess, for Berke Breathed, who figured out that it was time to end Bloom County only a few years after it stopped being funny, before bringing it back in a couple of awful sequels. Suppose he needed the money?

Random thoughts on some other strips: Big Top I think is probably only carried since it's an Indiana guy, but it's pretty good. Right now it's balanced on the edge between being a series of running gags a la B.C., and gaining the textural richness of Doonesbury, so we'll have to see how it pans out. Wee Pals, although unfunny, is sort of a "little kids" strip - I wonder if the name is a play on the original Peanuts title, "Li'l Folks"? - so it should probably stay just for its inclusive attitude. Garfield - someone did a blog entry using Jim Davis as an example of someone who would never be a great artist. I've lost the link, but it's not quite true; the first few years of Garfield were very good, but then it was finagled onto a corporate empire and lost all semblence of creativity along the way. Tank McNamara is usually worth reading.

Then there are a couple of tech-focused online strips I like: User Friendly - although it drives me nuts that there's no RSS feed - and Bug Bash, which has only done a few entries. Which strips are your favorites?

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