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Jewish World Review March 23, 2001 / 28 Adar, 5761

Greg Crosby

Greg Crosby
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Consumer Reports

The Not Very Funny Papers -- CHECK OUT this actual comic strip which ran in the Los Angeles Times this week: “Mutts” by Patrick McDonnell

First Panel: Bird sitting on a branch of a tree. He says, “It’s Spring! I’m Back!!!”

Second Panel: Same bird sitting on the same branch of the tree. No dialogue.

Third Panel: The same bird sitting in the tree is looking to his right and says, “Where’s the parade?”

Are you rolling in the aisles yet? Me either. Read any good comic strips lately? I haven’t. It’s not to say that some strips don’t make an attempt at humor, but I just don’t find them all that funny anymore ...that is when I’m able to understand them. The fact is, I don’t even know what many strips are talking about. A lot of the newer ones are ugly and seem to be talking in code. Like modern television commercials, I know they’re trying to communicate a message to someone, but it certainly isn’t me. Okay, let’s try another one.

“Get Fuzzy” by Darby Conley

First Panel: Man talking to cat. “Whoa there, kitty! Where are you going in that ridiculous studded collar?” Cat says, “You said I could go out.”

Second Panel: Cat is talking to dog, “...the collar is just you know, “village tough guy.” Dog says, “It looks more like village people.” Man in background says, “It’s “village idiot,” that’s what it is.”

At least this strip is appropriately named. Forget the fact that many new comics are, for the most part, poorly drawn. I’ve long ago come to accept the fact that, like much of the rest of today’s popular culture, the graphic art of newspaper comic strips is basically left to the mediocre and the untalented. The most fundamental principles of cartooning, composition and staging, are simply not required any longer in the newspaper comic strip business. Real artists need not apply.

For the past hundred years or so, each generation has had their own favorite strips.

My father grew up with “The Katzenjammer Kids,” “Mutt and Jeff,” “Bringing Up Father,” and “The Gumps.” Later came “Popeye,” “Gasoline Alley,” “Moon Mullins,” “Blondie,” “Barney Google,” “Flash Gordon,” “Dick Tracy,” and “Little Orphan Annie.” As a kid I loved many of the same comics that my dad did, along with some others like, “Lil’ Iodine,” “The Little King,” “Smokey Stover,” “Beetle Bailey,” “Henry,” “Buz Sawyer,” and so many others.

Mostly I read the funny joke strips growing up. I never really got into “Lil Abner,” “Pogo,” and a lot of the adventure strips like “Steve Canyon,” until I became older -- but I guess that was the point. There was always a little something for everyone in the funny papers.

The last really good comic strip to come along, in my opinion and a lot of other people’s, was Bill Watterston’s “Calvin and Hobbes.” Funny, insightful writing, well-defined characters, and nicely drawn. It was a real throw-back to the “golden age” of the comics. I followed it regularly, actually looked forward to reading it every day. It lasted about ten years when Watterston decided that he’d had enough and quit. Too bad. I still miss it. Maybe someday he’ll come up with a new strip. That would be terrific.

As in a lot of other things today, the newer comics are either abrasive and angry or just plain don’t make sense. Newspaper comics have always been a reflection of their time, so I suppose that would explain the ones we get now. Every now and again I can get a smile out of “Dilbert,” or “The Family Circus” or “Frank and Ernest” but for the most part, the laughs and the personalities on the comic pages are as nonexistent as the drawing ability. Okay, one last time.

“Foxtrot” by Bill Amend

First Panel: Two little girls. First girl says, “Where’s Jason?” Second girl, “He’s spending the afternoon over at a classmate’s house.”

Second Panel: First girl says, “You mean someone besides Marcus?”

Third Panel: First girl continues, “Wow. Who knew the little geek had other friends?” Second girl says, “Actually, he specifically avoided using that word.”

Fourth Panel: Little boy wearing a paper bag over his head says to another little boy who is standing in a doorway, “Don’t say my name. Just let me in quickly.”

Second boy says, “Is that a voice scrambler you’re using?”

Ernie Bushmiller, where are you now that we need you?

JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. You may contact him by clicking here.


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© 2000, Greg Crosby