Posts from Dave Coates

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September 17, 2014

The Stacks, Marmaduke Edition

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Ahoy there, True Believers! After a week off to nurse my severe paper cuts, I believe I'm emotionally and physically ready to return once again to my bulging Archive Selects desktop folder, a long-neglected batch of dynamite strips that I assembled years ago in an effort to provide blog content to my future self. It also contains advice to invest in Apple Computer and Snuggie stock, because the 2011 version of me didn't quite grasp that the only way one profits off of time travel is for the future version to advise the past version, instead of the other way around.

 

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The reasons are murky, but I have always harbored a sincere, thorough appreciation of Marmaduke. So much, in fact, that I can think of four distinct times in my life where I've had to be told forcefully to stop talking so much about Marmaduke (only one of these times was during my employment here). One month early on in my blogging tenure, I wrote over 2000 words about various aspects of his strip, to the delight of… well, mainly me, but I'm pretty sure that's the whole idea behind blogging in the first place. As such, I'm devoting this week to just him, and feeling really good about my decision.

 

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What's easy to miss for the casual reader of the strip is that Marmaduke, on a semi-regular basis, goes well beyond the premise of "a big dog is big." Here's a whole post about his interactions with aliens, for example. Slightly less regularly, it contains really keen observations about life with a dog, giant or otherwise. Pretty consistently, it radiates the sweetness behind the bond that allows us to refer to animals who regularly eat poop as our best friends, and every once in a while, it lets itself get a little weird. Just a little, though. 

 

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Please direct your attention in the following strip to the fact that Marmaduke has a cake on his head. He thinks he's people (with a cake on his head)!

 

 

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There's an occasionally reoccurring notion in the strip that bones grow from bushes and trees, like fruit. This is always fantastic.

 

 

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Another reoccurring theme is "Marmaduke did something bad enough to involve the police." It's surely slobber- or tresspassing-related, but since we only witness the end of his spree, it hints at crimes sinister enough to incur the long, rolled-up newspaper of Johnny Law.

 

 

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Ultimately, Marmaduke only wants to love and be loved, and occasionally dine on fresh cat meat. I think we can all identify.

 

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Next week! Back to a varied selection of different comics, many of which begin with different letters of the alphabet which follow "M"! I wish I had a dog's sense of the passage of time, so it wouldn't feel so far from now. 

 

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My apologies to all the other blog posts which were fire hosed off the front page by the length of this one. If I were as wily as Marmaduke, I'd eschew asserting myself in passive-aggressive ways, which I guess would probably manifest in me biting people. Or maybe a new wardrobe consisting of Big Dog shirts?? 

 

Sit, Ubu, Sit,

Dave

September 03, 2014

The Stacks, H-L

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As has become the custom over the last few weeks, we again find ourselves hip-deep in my fabled Archive Selects folder, clutching the fronts of our collective shirts in our fists as we attempt to keep its hem unsullied by the brackish, inky waters. We wade forward, ever forward, towards a horizon that promises Garfield-orange sunrises and the dawning of comics drawn after 2009. We've come so far already, and yet, judging by the faded letters nailed to fenceposts (I'm envisioning this as a sort of forgotten swamp), we're not even halfway home. This would be cause for despair, were this an actual journey through soggy, uneven terrain and not a silly framing device for me to share more great comic strips with you. Our spirits are buoyed enormously by this news.

 

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This week, let's all get trenchfoot by stomping around in highlights from Herman, Jump Start, Knight Life and Lola! I'll put on some Creedence to get us in the mood. 

 

 

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What a fantastic workout! It's almost worth it just for the feeling of getting to peel our waterlogged socks off afterwards. For now, let's rest. While we may not speak the same language as the feral natives who make their homes here, one needs no Rosetta Stone to translate their chanted incantation of what lies ahead: "Marmaduke, Marmaduke, Marmaduke." I just hope he doesn't require a sacrifice. Sees youse nexts weeks!

 

--Dave

August 27, 2014

The Stacks, G-G

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Ahoy! Welcome back to our second dip into my long-forgotten "Archive Selects" folder. While I'd planned to span another stretch of the alphabet with today's entry, looks like we've hit a bit of a roadblock, resulting in a detour down Grand Avenue. It'd be nice if we could stay on schedule and get the H out of here, but we're going to have to take the long way. This dang monorail construction is never going to end!

 

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Grand Avenue, by Steve Breen and Mike Thompson, is about as wry as a comic can be without being actually, actively mean-spirited. This makes sense-- each of the creators keep their pencils sharp through their respective work as editorial cartoonists, a fact that almost led me to type something about "the whetstone of satire," which, we can agree, would be a terrible thing to say.

 

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Gag-wise, Grand Avenue is consistently snappy and refreshing. I can't tell you how good it is to finally find a legitimate reason to describe something as "snappy." Sure, I've used it in other instances, but the only other time it was an accurate summary was when I served as a character reference for my turtle roommate's job search. I'm not proud of this joke, but going through it together made our bond stronger, Dear Reader.

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Ah, the scenic route. This is a pretty nice street; all that cross-hatching really ups the property value. Next week: more letters, worse jokes! 

 

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--Dave

 

August 21, 2014

The Stacks, A-F

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Earlier today, I dug up a half-remembered folder on my computer that I made a few weeks after I started working here. Based on the volume of different comics I see in an average day, I realized pretty quickly that I'd need some mechanism through which I could preserve particularly delightful comics for my own enjoyment that didn't involve scrapbooking. Thus, I made a folder called "Archive Selects," and tossed everything in there that struck me as worthy of inclusion.

 

A few weeks after that, they assigned me a lot more work to do, and I sort of forgot about nuturing my collection, leaving it to languish for quite a while its quality fermented. In a good way.

 

 

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Obviously, we have a lot of comics around here. We add new ones all the time! It's great, lemme tell you. But once those comics aren't new, we corral them into our Archive, where they wait patiently for some distant week when their creator goes on vacation, so that they might be hefted up into the sun once more, chosen as that week's batch of reruns. It just breaks my heart every time I have to pull a vacation week; all those little cartoon eyes peeking expectantly up at me. Poor things. I wish I could rescue each and every one of you.

 

In an effort to boost our Archives' collective morale, we'll trot out some of the best stuff I saved lo those many years ago to Archive Selects. Today? A through F. Next week? I'll have to check a dictionary, but I think we start at "G."

 

Yum. Please enjoy some highlights from Born Loser, The Buckets, Drabble and Ferd'nand. Then go read them every day. Deal? Deal.

 

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Great, great, great. Hey, how about nine Ferd'nand strips to send you on your way? He's little and silent and foreign, so he won't make much fuss.

 

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Stay frosty,

Dave

August 14, 2014

All That Frazz

From the sound of it, last week's Frazzstravaganza was pretty popular with those of you who enjoy things that are objectively terrific. Glad to hear it-- Frazz gets to feel the love, and I get to feel a little less alone in this big, mean world after noticing how perfectly our respective tastes overlap. I can't wait to find out what else we have in common... I bet you like soft pillows and pepperoni pizza, too!

 

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I'm tempted to use this week's entry to burn off the thousand or so leftover words I cut from last week's entry about Frazz's joke structure and my complicated numerological theories where every third numeral that appears in the strip actually spells out the true name of God (it's "Ricky"), but a jam-packed workload this week means I'll have to dispose with the haughty nonsense until sometime down the road. Instead, have another sip from the fire hose!

 

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Ah, refreshing! Thanks, Frazz.

 

--Dave

August 07, 2014

I Know What You Did Frazz Zummer

Jef Mallet is a runner. He's also a swimmer, a bike enthusiast and (probably) expert swordsman. After he towels off, he also draws Frazz, which is likely already one of your favorite comics. Fortunately for all of us, a lot of Jef comes through in his work.

 

Reading Frazz, I like to think about Jef jogging along a circuit, eyes forward but attention elsewhere, mentally working out the next week of comics. It's pretty efficient. I do most of my thinking just sitting here, trying to come up with blog post topics.

 

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It's probably just coincidence, but a lot of Jef's gags operate on a similar circular track, as demonstrated by the above strip. Because Frazz is such a treat to read, I picture his jokes structured not as a circuit's elongated, yawning O, instead, they loop gracefully around themselves, making a nicely tied bow. Hey, shoelaces on running shoes are tied in bows! Jef enjoys running! The imagery! It's like a hall of mirrors!

 

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For just a moment after reading the above strip, I merely enjoyed it, and then I actually got the joke, and I made a silent vow to myself that I wouldn't pretend that I got it right away when I posted it. I still can't believe how great it is. It's like a fractal!

 

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I've written of my admiration for Jef's work before, but Frazz is so consistently terrific I figured revisiting some of his older daily strips was in order. Fun fact: I would've spelunked into the archives for my own enjoyment. That I also have a forum in which to share some of my favorites is but mere coincidence.

 

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There are maybe ten strips of which I can think that consistently delight, day after day. Before I read Frazz, my list only had nine entries, and one of those entries was an idea I had for my own comic that I pinned to my Vision Board as an aspirational prompt. My admiration is such that I've spent the last two nights of my own free time writing, then deleting, a few hundred words of incredibly stuffy explorations of Frazz's jokes' structure, detailed theories about how his setups seem like the sorts of musings one might have while out jogging, and paragraph after paragraph specifically listing traits that make Jef and his work so doggone endearing. I consider it a sign of my continuing maturation that I realized the folly of posting such nonsense before it was too late.

 

What I'm saying here is, you should read more Frazz. It's the best.

 

This level of sustained sincerity feels strange to me. I need to go appreciate something ironically. Ah, that's better.

--Dave

July 30, 2014

Bless Your Art

Stahler - Seurat Cellphone ParodyJeff Stahler

 

Who likes comics? Wha-- everyone? That's good. Here are a bunch of comics I've had knocking around my hard drive for a while for want of a reason to post. August's sticky stubbornness saps me of my need to adhere to a theme, so open wide and drink from the fire hose.

 

Off the Mark - M&Ms Peanut Bar

 

 

Off the Mark - Easier Drawing

Off the Mark

 

 

Nc_c080923 - iron manNancy

 

Sn030531 - feel like a romanThe Buckets

 

 

Tom the Dancing Bug - Bagel Bites StripTom the Dancing Bug

 

 

Its_c111107 - Mermons

In the Sticks

 

Pe810531 - Rain VS Baseball

 

 

Pe811229 - ClosetLight

 

 

Pe950127 - DogTerribleWriter

Peanuts

 

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Unstrange Phenomena

 

Next week: substance, probably! Stay frosty!

 

--Dave

July 25, 2014

Meet Your Heroes

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It's time for Comic-Con International, when the east coast rises a full thirty feet above sea level as enthusiasts worldwide weigh down San Diego. Comic-Con is where every single one of the things that are too cool for your tiny brain to even imagine happen all at once. Merchandise and creator meet-and-greets aside, the cosplay scene has grown so vibrant that there are people there dressed as "sexy" variants on Star Wars bounty hunter/ space mummy Dengar. At least four. Even if you don't think that's cool, it's better than most of the parties you go to. Everyone wins at Comic-Con!

 
 
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Another cool thing that is happening right now is that if you click on any of the images, they'll open in another tab in high-resolution. It's totally wizard.
 
 
Comic-Con is the future our forefathers fought to protect. It's the best. Everyone agrees.
 
 
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To those in attendance, we salute you, and remind you to drop by our booth, number 1503. You can get a free GoComics Pro account, so you can spend your time in various lines reading sweet comics on your cool computer-phone, instead of trying to make small talk with the guy in front of you dressed like a zombie version of Frasier Crane. There will also be a ton of awesome signings from people like Bloom County and Outland creator Berkeley Breathed (who, I can say from experience, is a real peach) They might have stickers there, too. I don't know, it's not my department. I know the people who will be there, though, and they're terrific. Make them talk to you! They basically have to!

 

 

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For those unable to attend, I suggest coordinating your own fan summit via your local Craigslist for opportunities to meet up with like-minded people in your area who enjoy comics and/ or dressing up like steampunk versions of historical characters. That's how my parents met, though they were dressed as steampunk versions of Mork and Mindy. It was a simpler time.  

 
 
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You know what's shockingly easy to find in our archives? Comic strips about comics. Turns out, there's some overlap in those interests. Now revel in your literacy, True Believers!

 

 

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You enjoyed that, right? Hey, so did we. We have lots more comics that, even when they aren't about other comics, are still comics themselves, so you can't go wrong, assuming comics are what you're after. But you don't have to take my word for it-- you can check out Calvin & Hobbes, FoxTrot, Big Nate and a seemingly infinite cast of others every dang day on our site. I think we also have an app. Yeah, we also have an app. Gosh, we're pretty great. 
 
 
 
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--Dave

July 01, 2014

Map Treasures

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Hey, party people. If you're anything like me, you find yourself constantly wondering, "Is there a means by which I can see a detailed cross-section of the X-Men's signature jet Blackbird? How about a sail and rigging plan constitution from the late 1700s, also? Or perhaps, like, every map ever drawn into a comic book, comic strip, bathroom wall, pamphlet, screed, escape plan or tattooed on the back of a galley slave for later treasure retrieval? All in one place, I mean. FOR MY CONVENIENCE."

 

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Well, heck. That's pretty much why Tumblr exists, my friend. Why not burn off some of your workday perusing the stacks over at Comic Cartography? It's not like you're going to get anything else done this week. It even has a nice, hi-res map plucked from our very own Cul De Sac! I mean, so do we (click on the above image for a larger version), but they have lots of other stuff, too.

 

--Dave

June 19, 2014

Garfield's First 36 Years

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It's Garfield's 36th birthday! If we were going by the list of traditional anniversary gifts as complied by librarians at the Chicago Public Library (which is apparently the list of record), Garfield would unwrap a nice set of bone china for his special day. Hang in there another year, and you're due for a tasteful chunk of alabaster, big guy!

 

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Since Garfield's first strip wasn't about him being born, then followed by years of him being a kitten, etc, technically, this "birthday" commemorates his first appearance in print. Of course, celebrating the event in those terms would cause an annual rending of the space/time continuum in the Garfield universe, since the characters would then have to acknowledge themselves as fictional players in a syndicated comic. As that last wheezing sentence proved, it's much simpler and enjoyable to say "birthday," and leave it at that.

 

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In the eyes of generations of readers, Garfield stands as the shorthand for all comic strips-- it's the first one many people cite when they need an example of a comic strip (this probably comes up in my life more than yours), and his ubiquity as a licensed property is bested only by Peanuts, which is saying something, since, holy macaroni, Peanuts is good at licensing.

 

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It's a testament to the skill of Jim Davis and all the good folks at Paws, Inc that such a seemingly mundane premise ("A man has a cat") has endured for so long and remained so consistent without having to bring in a bunch of tertiary characters to provide more grist for plots. Garfield pretty much hangs out around the house, pretty much around the kitchen counter, and is pretty much the same as he was 36 years ago: lazy, hungry and unflappable. Also, fat.

 

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Garfield is fat like Homer Simpson is fat-- he has a rounded midsection, and everyone talks about how fat he is, but it's more a source for jokes at his expense than an obstacle for the character to overcome. I would maybe point out his disturbingly large feet if I had to highlight a single attribute worth noting. His profile has been wisely revised over the years from the original design (which I'll call  "Garfield Prime"), to make him more mobile and relatable, since, while certainly more accurate in terms of "how to draw a morbidly obese house cat," Garfield Prime also falls into the category of "kind of gross and unappealing." I picture Garfield Prime as having a voice like a phlegmy George Wendt.

 

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You don't make it 36 years in this industry with "gross and unappealing," unless you just sit at home drawing icky strips for yourself year after year that you never send to anyone, in which case, you're tangential to this industry at best. The most you can hope for is Henry Darger status, which is noble and all, but will never result in suction cup-footed characters stuck in back windows of Volvos. He might as well have never lived! 

 

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Anyway, birthdays are great, Garfield's great, and you're great for reading this far down. Please enjoy this generous helping of Garfield- and Garfield's birthday-related miscellany from years gone by, and help yourself to some cake.*

 

*Cake must be provided by you.

 

Garfield-related miscellany, Blog Post Division:

 

This one time, a Garfield punchline stretched over two days. Take my word for it, or see for yourself!

 

Another time, Garfield was replaced as the strip's protagonist by a big, yucky dog. Now we have "Garfield's 'Poochie'"!

 

And yet another time, about a year ago, I posted a bunch of my favorite Garfield strips and out-of-context images, which you can click on and save and then have as a thing on your computer, if you want.

 

 

Garfield-related miscellany, Birthday-Themed Comic Strips Division:

 

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--Dave

June 16, 2014

Garfields vs Garfields

Oh, hello. Coming up later this week, we'll have a nice, big birthday blow-out for our pal Garfield, but as we're already in a birthday-celebratin' sort of mood, I thought it might be worth cheering for the first birthday of Garfield vs Garfield, a weird thing I made around this time last year. I even made this title banner, which never ended up running, because I'd already made, like, 40 strips, and didn't think it needed to take up any more space on the blog.

 

 

GARvsGAR - TitlePanel

 

Now, thanks to the glory of hypertext, I can post it here, then link to the original three batches of Garfield vs Garfield strips by typing out the words "The first batch are here," "the second batch is here" and "the third here," and not care at all about my verb tenses, because I came to party, not copy edit.

Hey, look! Some highlights showed up fashionably late:

 

Garfield vs Garfield 1

 

Garfield vs Garfield 5

 

Garfield vs Garfield 22

 

Garfield vs Garfield 25

 

Garfield vs Garfield 28

 

Garfield vs Garfield 35

 

Garfield vs Garfield 31

 

Want more? Really? Whatever, mack-- go click on those links, and fill your boots. Buckle up-- more Garfleid coming up later this week.

 

--Dave

June 06, 2014

Garfield of Dreams

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Flatter than the rest of the folded newspaper sections spread out on the kitchen table, the comics section was always waiting for me, every Sunday morning for as long as I can remember. Whatever was ahead-- church, a soccer game, a trip to the pool, yard work-- Sundays started off with a few quiet minutes studying the comics. If we were in a rush, as happened with increasing frequency the older I became and the more "sleeping in" revealed itself to be the smartest option of all, I'd steal a few minutes while my parents honked the horn in the driveway to hopscotch through my favorite strips, knowing I'd be back later to read the rest and scoff at how simple the "spot the difference" puzzle was.

 

Sunday mornings in my parents' house remain ritualized to this day, even in my absence: if I drop by before my dad gets back from playing golf and settles in to tidying up, the comics are still out among the rest of the pre-church clutter, under the lights in the kitchen someone forgot to turn off, not realizing they were the last one out of the house when they left.

 

Garfield is especially suited to the broad expanse of Sundays, appearing in most papers above the fold, stretching out to take up a full quarter or more of the page. The color palate used is nice and flat, which always looks cleaner and more crisp than other strips' attempts at depth and shading through gradients, which never seem to reproduce as intended in print. This is a personal preference-- I'm all for a Pantone scale freakout, if that's what a particular creator wants.

 

To me, even the most hilarious Garfield gag never measured up to the title panel, which changed every week. The best part was that it didn't need to do anything (start here, end there, etc) besides somehow figuring out how to get the word "GARFIELD" in there. So week after week, there was some weird, new context for the title, encompassing all sorts of settings and fonts unthinkable in the strip proper. I'm not proud of this, but it took me a few years before I realized that the title panel never really had anything to do with the strip, no matter how hard I looked for clues.

 

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The reason there even is such a thing as a title panel has to do with the various configurations a multi-panel strip appears in different papers around the world. With every paper's layout differing slightly, there's a functionally infinite combination of strips, columns and puzzles on pages that could be oriented vertically or horizontally, Sunday comics need to have built-in "crumple zones" (not the actual term) to account for any nips or tucks necessary to fit them onto a given page alongside the rest of the stuff on there.

 

For instance, ever notice how Peanuts takes a panel or two to get going, even after the title panel? That's because those first few panels can be lopped off if needed without harming the integrity of that day's gag, and the remaining panels reconfigured into a new, streamlined format. Example? Example:

 

  Pe770220 - snow washington

 

See? Lop off that first panel and the title, and you didn't miss a thing. Instead of a tall rectangle, you get a long one. Newspaper readers in markets with certain spacial configurations might never have the pleasure of seeing a title panel. Pity them.

 

Calvin and Hobbes is a little unique in this regard-- Bill Watterson chafed at the idea of constraining his ideas into little boxes, so he worked out an agreement that he'd fill up a box however he felt like it, then turn it in and have it run in papers without any tinkering. This isn't necessary for a lot of strips-- their scope doesn't call for such creative freedom. For anyone who remembers having their minds blown by seeing a T-Rex flying a jet in the newspaper one Sunday, you can see why it was such a smart idea to compromise on the side of the artist, instead of the format.

 

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Click on any of these here word-pitchers for hugeness.

 

Earlier today, I happened to be rummaging around in the Garfield archives, renaming years and years' worth of strips translated into different languages to ensure they all adhered to the same naming conventions for future database searches. As my soul slowly died, I managed a saving throw, grasping on to the novelty of title panels. In order to ensure this flight of fancy counts as a work-related activity (thus remaining part of my billable hours), I've fluffed up some selections from 2006 for you to enjoy, since 2006 was where I stopped renaming things for this week. Now we both win, except in this case, you win a lot bigger than I do, since the only parts of you that have to do any work here are your eyes and whatever fingers you employ for scrolling down the page. In a way, we're also both losers for caring this much about these things, but only in the eyes of those incapable of joy. We win again! Have a nice weekend, y'all.

 

3GarPancakes

4GarSink

5GarSteak

6GarTruck

GarBongos

GarCampfire

GarCoffee

GarCops

GarCouchPillows

GarDeli

GarDriveInDiner

GarElvisParty

GarFiremanCake

GarFish

GarFryCook

GarHippie

GarJuggle

GarKnitting

GarLionTamer

GarMarchinBand

GarMeatballs

GarMiceHalloween

GarRedCarpet

GarSawLog

GarSignLanguage

GarViking

GarWatermellon

GarTallPen

 

 

--Dave

May 22, 2014

The Circus Is in Town

I've been thinking a lot about Google lately. The thing about Google that's really unsettling is that besides knowing all of our respective personal data, they know what's in our hearts. We ask search engines things we'd never ask another human (assuming we knew another human who could even answer such questions as, "Do you know if anyone breeds huge rabbits?"). Market dominance aside, possessing information about what's troubling us makes them easily the most powerful company in history. Good thing they're not evil, probably.

Since the Internet is such a conceptually weird thing to begin with (abstractly: "Here's a functionally infinite well of Man's knowledge that you can access over air... no witchcraft necessary!"), and humans, deep down and stripped of context, are even weirder, getting a peek at our aggregated, collective curiosities doesn't really demonstrate anything useful. Most thoughts we have on a daily basis probably wouldn't seem like they proceeded in a straight line if we listed them out in bullet points. Even if this information could be collated into something usable, we'd still be only moments away from getting distracted by a video of robotic traffic cop girls in Pyongyang, so I'm fine with humanity remaining an unsolvable mystery, since the answer would probably be something like, "Cats and celebrity gossip!".

 

Google-search-map2

 


However, this map, posted today by some place called Estately, troubles me. So much so, in fact, that I returned to it after rewatching that Pyongyang Robogirl video a few times. I'm originally from Kansas, and while I grew up near enough to the Missouri state line that I couldn't reliably tell you where to find livestock (go, uh, west, I guess?), I'm not too surprised by my home state's concern over hoof and mouth disease. The threat is real, people. However, despite the image suggested by having "Universal" as the first part of our company's name, Universal UClick is not run out of a high-rise in Manhattan or in a cargo plane than never lands, it's based in Missouri. So you can understand that it hurts a little that the folks in our home state are so dead set on tracking down Family Circus, a comic that we don't even syndicate.

 

 

ZoomIn

Above: The star indicates UU's approximate location. I made this myself!

 

Far be it from me to score a bunch of easy jokes based on insignificant data, but I'm not above stooping down for a handful or two. Content is king, after all.

 

NietzscheFamilyCircus

Photo credit: Nietzsche Family Circus

 


Some theories as to why our hometown is so curious about Family Circus's whereabouts:

1) Our company is so effective at disseminating comics to the masses that the masses never need to question where to find them. If you're lucky enough to be able to see, we have you covered. Better yet, we've identified underserved segments of the market ripe for further investment! Coming soon: audio-only spoken descriptions of our most popular comics, offered via daily micro-podcasts! Example: "Panel one: Garfield naps. Panel two: Jon walks past with a mustache. Panel three: Oh, jeez, it's really hard to describe, but Garfield does this thing… it's crazy. Crud, I wish you could see it, it's hilarious!"

2) One guy searched "Family Circus" over and over again using the TOR browser to tip the results in an art project similar to that Horse_ebooks thing. The techno-wiz in question goes by the handle of "N0T_M3." Welcome to the payoff!

3) All of our grandmothers live in Missouri, and all of their newspapers are stolen each day by their dirtbag neighbors.

4) No one in Missouri owns a computer, and this map merely bumped Illinois' #2 result over the border so it wouldn't be a weird blank spot. By the way, nice job, Illinois-- your people won't stand for racist jokes they've already heard, so staying on top of the most current, cutting-edge racism is an admirable priority. Shape up, you jerks. Sheesh.

 

5) Thanks to a loophole in Missouri's tax credit program, hundreds of prospective trapeze artists, human cannonballs, goat-faced women, elephant wranglers and sad clowns migrated to the state a year ago in hopes of finding work and began to intermarry. They sit patiently at libraries across the state each day, searching fruitlessly for a job suited to the skills of their families, then all ride home each night in the same tiny car.

 


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Above: Three squares vs. one circle? For your comic-reading dollar, you can't beat the value offered by Cul de Sac.


I am in no way attempting to discourage anyone eager to check in with Family Circus from doing so; that strip is basically the backbone of my interest in comics, and making fun of it is as mean-spirited as it is hack. But-- and I'd say this even if I didn't work here-- if it's family-centric comics you people are looking for, we have a bunch, and they're all terrific. Cul de Sac? Yes. Literally thousands of them. Jump Start? Believe it, son: that strip has, like, seven different families, each with a distinct silhouette. Grizzwells? Yes, though they're technically all bears. For Better or For Worse? Since its beginning! They even aged in real-time, unlike those poor Keane kids and their chromosomal deficiencies.

 


Humbly, Missouri, I submit: give us a shot. We could be so good together.

 

--Dave

May 15, 2014

Grad as Hell

10th Anniversary Cover Art

 

When I graduated from Beloit College in 2005, our commencement speaker was some Belgian guy in a neck brace whose speech was essentially, "Remember: never commit human rights abuses." I think he repurposed a speech he'd been saving just in case he was ever asked to speak on the floor of the UN. Some lady read Dr. Seuss' "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" aloud, utterly ignorant of how incredibly hacky it is to do such a thing at a graduation (we applauded politely, since she seemed nice enough). At one point, a local high schooler stood to sing Vitamin C's seminal song "Graduation, (Friends Forever)" and for no discernible reason, started bawling uncontrollably halfway through, possibly because she was overcome with hope over our collective futures. Finally, moments after receiving my diploma, the goggle-eyed president of the college shook my hand and said, "Great work, Dan."

Let me tell you: it's been all uphill ever since.


It's time once again for the world's educational institutions to gently, yet firmly, force their seniors out into the world. Cold and uncaring as it might seem, neither the graduates nor their alma maters need worry themselves over the sense of loss that comes with parting ways; an unbreakable bond will forever remain in the form of constant phone calls and emails from schools, soliciting donations to cover the costs associated with flying in Belgians and outfitting them with non-metric medical appliances. They'll act like they're interested in how things are going for you since you earned your degree, but only to gauge if they should pitch you on the offer to have your name inscribed in a brick that will make up part of their new stadium for a mere few thousand dollars. For me, I get the satsifaction of the last laugh: no one with creative writing and literature studies degrees ever makes a decent living! Suckers.

 

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While every commencement speech is essentially the same (this year, I suggest bringing along a copy of Wired's indespensible "Graduation Speech Bingo" game to pass the time), it's not always due to lack of imagination on the speaker's part-- there's only so many different ways to give a optimistic pep talk. However, I came across this quote of everyone's favorite creator Bill Watterson some time ago, and have re-read it enough that it's ably replaced whatever dross I was using for an overall outlook prior to finding it (I think my old ethos was essentially, "Don't sweat nothin' petty, and don't pet nothin' sweaty").

 

In the spirit of that Belgian guy with the neck brace, please enjoy this handy chunk of actionable life advice from someone whose life's work has so effortlessly embodied it.

 

"Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential, as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth. You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them. To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed. And I think you’ll be happier for the trouble."

-Bill Watterson

 

Right? What a guy. If you feel like reading it, here's a super long Comics Journal interview with Mr. Watterson from 1989. Surprise: it's also great.

 

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--Dave

 

April 30, 2014

James Bond in: The Guy Who Summarized Me - Week II

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I'd hoped to stage an elaborate one-off caper of a paragraph to open this post, packed with daring and adventure. A rhetorical montage of spinning roulette wheels, hungry kimodo dragons, windshields of exotic sports cars sheared off by steel girders dangling from cranes on a construction site, some parkour through a crumbling Incan temple, maybe a quick flash of thigh, culminating in a crisply written swan dive off a frozen dam, where I'd bring the sentence to a close by shrinking the intensity smaller and smaller until, POP, my parachute opened, revealing a sans serif "PART II" printed on the top. Cue Shirley Bassey and some abstract kaleidoscope imagery of pistols and décolletage.

 

There's a lot to cover, so I had to shrink the iris a bit. I'm sure you understand. 

 
 
[jame1][10-17-08][eng][TDDUP2902]
 
Action on a budget. 
 
 
There have been a number of developments since last time. For one, I realized, holy hell, there are a ton of James Bond comics out there. After ingesting many of them in a few after-hours marathons, it became apparent that merely serving up selected out-of-context panels where Bond does something weird or sexist would be to do a disservice to the creative talents involved in making it, as well as depriving you, the reader, of all the in-context weird and sexist stuff that happens on a near-daily basis. As such, welcome to part two of what might very well be a sizable ongoing series of close reads of the dozens of story arcs contained in Bond comics over the years. 
 
 
[jame1][08-30-10][eng][DM431]
 
 
I'll be dispensing with some of the more minor tales first to make way for the straightforward adaptations of the original Ian Fleming novels that served to scrape back the dignity lost by some of Bond's less attentive spymasters.
 
 
Meanwhile, let's make a deal: I'll remain keenly aware that this undertaking would make much, much more sense if there were a new Bond movie anywhere on the horizon, if you remember that this is a rich vein of content that I can mine whenever I'm at a loss for another, more relevant post. Deal? Deal. Cue Shirley Bassey! 
 
 
 
 
 

First up, 1975's "Till Death Do Us Part," written by Jim Lawrence, with art by Yaroslav Horak.

 

Fun Fact: Thanks to his credit of "Drawing by Horak" at the beginning of each strip, I've been unable to shake the notion of Mr. Horak as an artistically gifted variation on Game of Thrones' simpleton man-mountain "Hodor," who's sort of a giantic Pokemon, capable only of saying his own name over and over as a substitute for all other words. I don't know enough about either Horak or Hodor to say definitively if either also possess lightning powers similiar to a Pokemon, but odds are, at least one of them does-- or could, if he believed in himself.

 

"Horak," says Horak, handing in another batch of inked dailies. 

 

"Splendid, Horak! The interplay of light and shadow is really evocative. Such expert cross-hatching!" says his editor. 

 

"Horak," Horak says, blushing. He looks bashfully at the floor, kneading his newsboy cap in his enormous hands out of embarrassed distraction. 

 

 

Anyway, there isn't much I can share from this particular arc, due to the fact that the main non-Bond character in the strip shows up wearing see-through lingerie on day 2, and then is promptly kidnapped by Bond, who utterly refuses to allow her to cover her exposed breasts for all but the final three or four strips of the story, long after any mystery is dispensed with. If it sounds like I'm kidding, I'm not: the only way she could've been more naked is if at some point she removed the top few layers of her skin. 

 

 

2[jame1][10-21-08][eng][TDDUP2905]

 

 

In lieu of a plot summary, please enjoy these highlights from the story's conclusion, where Bond hits a man with a ski, then hits another man with a log, and follows up by hitting the same man with a heavy wooden table. It's okay: they were KGB! 

 
1[jame1][10-16-08][eng][TDDUP2901]
Nice to ski you.
 
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4[jame1][01-16-09][eng][TDDUP2980]
 
Bond spells "diplomacy" "T-H-U-N-K"
 
 

Next up, 1971's "Starfire," written and illustrated by the same team. It's actually a really terrible story, so you're not missing much in this abbreviated format. It does, however, boast the single most promising setup I've yet seen in any of the Bond comics.

 

As always, click on any of these to see them in a much larger format

 
1[jame1][12-29-05][eng][SF1709start]
 
 
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"Capering mountebank" is maybe the best insult I've heard since "f****** c*********."
 
3[jame1][12-31-05][eng][SF1711]
 
 

That's right: a public horsewhipping, or "bulldog justice" as they called it in the grimy pre-Thatcher days. Of course, Lord Astro's hardly a benevolent guru, and immediately calls a press conference to announce his intentions to smite his enemies with space lightning. 

 

 

4[jame1][01-02-06][eng][SF1712]

 

 

5[jame1][01-18-06][eng][SF1726]

 

Threats leveled, Lord Astro's words prove to be prophetic: a bunch of saps soon each find themselves bathed in holy light, which comes to them while they are out on the town, at their homes or in their cars.

 

Cruelly, Lord Astro's "God" visits the condemned in the form of a mysterious floating, glowing sphere, stoking the chosen ones' respective wonder and innocence before exploding in a ghastly fireball almost immediately. Bodies pile up, a sinister scheme reveals itself, and Bond decides that deliverance must come in the form of horrendously poor tactical positions: 

 
6[jame1][03-06-06][eng][SF1766]
In the bad guys' defense, guns are really scary, so they were probably too distracted to notice that Bond was kneeling on a six-inch wide bit of masonry on the outside of a ten story building, gripping the frame of a shattered window with his fingertips. He got the drop on them, fair and square. 
 

Leaping into action, Bond immediately puts his gun away and dispatches the criminal ethnic stereotypes with his handsome fists, then turns to the last of them, spared until now so Bond might savor the moment when he finally achieves the dream that inspired him to join M.I.6 in the first place: gassing a mime.

 
7[jame1][03-14-06][eng][SF1773]
 
Ironically, after ingesting all that nerve gas, the mime's body was placed inside a small box.
 
 
Most men would then walk calmly to the unobstructed door rather than risk death for the second time in three minutes by pointlessly scaling the side of a building, but most men aren't Bond. 
 

It turned out that instead of summoning ancient wrathful spirits from behind the sun, Lord Astro had just rigged up incandescent gas-filled balloons attached to small model airplanes, which he flew via remote control into the dumb faces of his dumb adversaries. I think Lord Astro gets shot at the end, and Bond has greedy sex with the coroner because she's the only woman in reach. Maybe not; I sort of lost interest by that point. 

 

 

That'll have to be it for this week. I'd hoped to include selections from the far more satisfying tale "Isle of Condors," but it has a lot more going on, and is extra-super-crazy, so I'd hate to rush it. Same time next week? Sure. This is pretty much my only creative outlet. 

 

Oh, jeez, I almost forgot to end this week's entry with a witty pun! Uh, well… "I guess we all have a Part Two play." [Hero's eyes twinkle for a moment before Shirley Bassey's hand and forearm reach into the shot, grasp hero's necktie, and pull him out of frame]

 
--Dave 
 

April 16, 2014

James Bond's Comics Royale

JB TitleCard

 

I'm not entirely sure what James Bond is supposed to be. Is he a man of action or reaction? Does his salary come out of the national defense budget, or the super-secret national offense budget, split between agents and the yearly fiscal allotment for new battering rams? Every single one of the Bond movies begins and ends in a haze for me-- most likely due to viewing them after being immobilized by various winter holiday meals-- so all I can say for sure is that he treats women poorly, feels fine about killing people (bad people), tends to smirk, and that extended credits sequences involving naked, silhouetted women doing gymnastic routines on gun barrels will never, ever be a comfortable thing to watch in the same room as my parents. Other than that, I think he works for Statler and Waldorf, the old men in the balcony from The Muppet Show. Pretty sure I'm right about that. 

 

AquariumOneMillionDollars

 

While rooting around in the archives earlier, looking for something about which to write this week, I was at first shaken by the discovery of hundreds of daily James Bond comic strips, then later, stirred into writing about some of the weird bits I found within them. 

 

Since I didn't have a ton of time to really dig through them, I started with the first batch, a fairly faithful retelling of the first Bond adventure, "Casino Royale." Well, the original novel's version of the story, at least. These originally ran in the British newspaper The Daily Express, starting in 1957. For a variety of reasons, UK newspapers have always been a bit more forward-thinking and sensational than the more staid dailies in our country, so try to keep that in mind when reading the story's kickoff below to keep spit-takes to a minimum:

 

[jame1][01-13-12][eng][CR002]

Smoldering, coiled violence in every panel!  

 

[jame1][01-27-12][eng][CR014]

 

The story progresses along the lines of the various movie adaptations ("Bond, go gamble!" "Hello, I'm a pretty lady," "Oh, no! Gambling went wrong!" "Ack! Bad guys!" etc). Below, more highlights. 

 

[jame1][02-23-12][eng][CR037]

 

[jame1][03-07-12][eng][CR048]

 

[jame1][05-11-12][eng][CR104]SMERSH

 

The story concludes pretty nicely, with the loose ends tied up as you'd expect. True to form, the last words you see promise that James Bond Will Return, though I like to read this to the tune of the popular Wings song, winding its way through the cruel city, continuity be danged: 

 

[jame1][06-20-12][eng][CR138end]

 

Bond comics rolled on and on in British papers from 1958 until 1983, and we've apparently been syndicating them to various outlets for years. I didn't have time to do a thorough examination of all of them, but I managed to pry up some highlights taken from stories adapted from other Fleming novels as well as what appear to be monstrously bizarre flights of fancy conjured by Patrick Nagel and the writing staff of Penthouse Forum. 

 
FriendsWithAnimalsStrip
Feel free to click on any of the images for a closer look. Just don't try and get too close. He'll never let you in. 

GiantSnake 
 
RobotEagle 
 
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MudBathDollarFifty 

This mud bath thing goes on for, like, two full weeks. 

 
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MudFaceJockey

 

Besides sultry gun molls and international intrigue, another common trope seems to be "sleeve knives." 

 
SleeveKnife1 
 
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Note: Much like the popular Nintendo 64 game "Goldeneye," the Bond comics also had a secret "Big Head Mode."

 

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In case this is hard to make out, what happens here is James Bond bashes a man over the head with an entire lady.  

 

I barely scratched the surface of our archives, and due to concerns over length, still had to cut nearly a dozen other strips I think are worth sharing. As such, next week, James Bond will return in: You Only Post Twice.
 
 
--Dave
 
 


April 09, 2014

What Eyes Beneath

 

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Besides our near-monopoly on all things comic strips, we also handle a majority of the world's puzzles here at Ye Olde Syndicate. I am personally responsible for constructing 80% of the roughly 72 different varieties of Sudoku demanded by air travelers and shut-ins on a weekly basis. To be clear: I don't make up the puzzles, I just make them, through a combination of alchemy and algorithm too awesome to detail here. It's a living. 

 

 

Mi030401_sol

 

 

We also offer crossword puzzles of all shapes and sizes (mostly square, though), word jumbles, other number puzzles with Asian-sounding names and even a Bridge feature, which somehow manages to encapsulate all the action, drama and sensuality of the card game into a single column every week of the year. If you're bored and up for an activity more engaging than watching YouTube videos of cats but not quite as physically demanding as jai alai, boy oh boy, do we have you covered. 

 

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Above: Yes, even you, Carnosaur.
 

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What's more, the puzzles we offer aren't just ones that engage the conscious parts of your big ol' brains-- we even have some that go much deeper, upending your usual expectations of reality and plunging you into an abyss where nothing is as it first appears, except for those cases where a thing first appears to be a crazy brain-melting puzzle that threatens to shatter your already tenuous grip on the world and leave you a gibbering wreck of a human being, forever drawing spirals on any available surface in order to scrape what remains of your sanity back together. But y'know, in a fun way you can enjoy over breakfast. Like what? Like Magic Eye

 

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"Magic Eye" is the proprietary name for autostereograms, which function by subverting the brain's insistence on coordinating focus and viewing angle to gauge things like depth perception as perceived through either eye in order to make the hidden image appear in three dimensions. For those who can't imagine such a thing, think of it like the most constructive outcome of staring at paisley wallpaper. Let your eyes go "soft" and brace yourself, because as we'll learn, there is no possible way of guessing what might be lurking on the other side of the veil.

 

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Another way many people are able to "see" these images is by blatantly lying to whomever is standing next to them. Example: "Oh, there we go. It's a deer or whatever." An important factor in this second type of viewing Magic Eye puzzles is remaining vague enough with your answer (see: "…or whatever") that you can adapt it to a more correct-sounding verdict if challenged. Example: "Ah, right-- I thought it was a deer because I'm able to see an additional visible spectrum, and was actually looking at the ultraviolet result, instead of the more pedestrian one you were talking about. It's totally a rocket ship. On an unrelated note, your house is covered in pollen." [crumples newspaper, runs out of house

 

Mi070520_sol

Above: A demonstration of the finite amount of flexibility possible in humans. Want an impossibly bendy spine? Fine, but those pigtails are going to be as rigid as goat horns, sister.

 

I'd like to continue pretending that I know what I'm talking about, but if you'd actually like to know more about how these things work, you should read the Wikipedia entry for autostereograms, instead of my admittedly impressive summary.

 

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Last week, I was enlisted to dig up an old edition of our syndicated "Magic Eye" feature for someone who needed it to fill a request from one of our international syndication clients. Since I spend quite a bit of time poking around in our archives, I knew where to look. While scrolling through nearly 20 years' worth of them, I noticed a grip of folders near the top of the window appended with the word "Hidden." Obviously, this was an important discovery that required me to look at every single image contained therein. Note to my superiors: I was off-the-clock for this journey, so instead of being irritated at my poor work ethic, opt for pity over how barren my social calendar is during evening hours. See? That's better.     

 

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Friends, I'm here to tell you: looking at the collected sum of years and years of images hidden within Magic Eye puzzles was an experience very nearly worth blogging about. Having always subscribed to the second method of enjoying Magic Eye puzzles, I had no idea what sorts of things lurked below the surface of those crazy Pollock patterns. Shown here are some of the highlights from the batch-- a lot of them are visual representations of puns, I suspect, but as they were sorted by date, not theme, most of the cleverness has been stripped away, leaving only these haunting, translucent echolocations to swim up and grab at your ankles.  

 

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Above: I'm not saying that's a filed-down version of Bugs Bunny's face, but I'm not not saying that, either.

 

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I'm told that the actual, intended experience of seeing one of these things in their proper context makes them appear wrapped in a given puzzle's pattern, but I'll never, ever know if that's the case. My brain steadfastly refuses to get the puzzles to work properly, which has never been more okay than after viewing hundreds of these types of images in a single sitting. It's always a deer or a rocket ship, as far as I'm concerned.

 

Mi090927_sol

 Above: Jell-o shots with The Lockhorns.

 

Peeking behind the crazy-quilt curtain was actually pretty neat. Now that I know how these things are supposed to function, the next time I find myself facing the need to either render a hurried guess at the image within a Magic Eye puzzle or having to sit there for twenty minutes while someone tries to teach me the proper way to see it, my options have been expanded. In addition to "It's definitely supposed to be a deer" or setting someone's kitchen on fire, I can now bore them into silence with a detailed explanation of how the puzzles are made! Some lucky lady is going to really regret keeping me around for Sunday brunch. Thanks, Magic Eye [wink]! 

 

Mi123001_sol

 

--Dave 

 

April 02, 2014

You're on Your Own, Kids

 

 

Charlie Brown's father is a barber. Possibly an invisible barber. I realized after typing "invisible barber" that such a thing is a concept I apparently find really unsettling. I'll revisit this newfound fear on my own time, and instead speculate that, judging by how infrequently the elder Mr. Brown seems to be home, he is instead a very, very busy barber. Other than his father's profession and his implied corporeal legitimacy, no further details about Charlie Brown's parents are ever stated. The following strip is the only instance in which his mother ever directly appears. She might be a Ghost Mom, it's impossible to say. 

 

Pe510316 momsvoice

 

 

Aside from ghosts being very scary, it's never of much actual concern that adults are nowhere to be found in PeanutsThe strip is constructed in such a way that they aren't necessary. The scope of the world is kid-sized and free of any real threats, if you set aside the entire world's constant, subtle nudging of Charlie Brown towards suicide.

 

Like everyone else, I started reading Peanuts pretty deeply into its run. After having the basics explained and figuring out the rest through context and by not being really stupid, I followed it for a few decades until it concluded. It's a really good strip to hand to a kid-- the lines are soft and sparse, the threats are all existential and open-ended, so there's always hope for a happy outcome, and no one's sarcastic. It's incredibly, miraculously thoughtful, which is a pretty great example to provide your average grubby, pre-moral kid. I don't have the data handy at the moment, but there's a disturbing correlation between juvenile diabetes and kids whose first comic was Family Circus

 

Still, one thing always nagged at me, due largely to the expectation of safety that comes from being fortunate enough to grow up in a stable, loving household: where are all the adults? 

 

Pe540516

 

Not that I thought adults needed to be regular fixtures-- I still can't really imagine how an adult's face would look in the Peanuts universe. But everyone's always so mean to poor Chuck, and it'd be nice to see that he had a reliably safe place to go where someone loved him. Snoopy's love seems conditional, at best, and sure, that beanbag chair is probably warm, but it's no substitute for a hug. 

 

The strips shown here are literally the only ones in the entire run of Peanuts where adults show up. I'm glad to see that the kids do indeed have actual, tangible elders to whom they could turn instead of just spooky, translucent ghost-parents. I guess the adults in these strips could all actually have monster faces, but that seems like a pessimistic assumption to make, so I'll assume they don't.

 

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Even though Charles Schulz was talented enough to keep the cast from ever acting like child-shaped adults, they really acted like genuine little kids for the first few years. It's for the best he edged them forward a bit, developmentally, to not only give them more to do, say and think, but also to allow for enough autonomy that they could inhabit a world custom-built for them, instead of peeking around the corners of a world where they were new arrivals

 

It's fun to muck around in the early years of the strip to see Schulz build out his characters and watch his illustration style loosen up. The lines he draws gradually go from uniformly even and neat to nervous and loose within the first decade as he gets to know the cast. His backgrounds start off as expertly detailed and subtly imposing, staged with just the right things that someone three feet high would find noteworthy. Within the first ten years, things recede into arid landscapes that serve to best frame the day's activity: here's where we are, here are the props we'll be using. He starts off as an amazing illustrator, and almost immediately grows into a masterful storyteller. While I would've really liked to see more of the early years' tight, precise linework, the strip grows into the quiet, mannered masterpiece for which it's remembered once Schulz softens the edges on his panels. 

 

Pe540530

 

What I'm saying here is: Peanuts is pretty good. I guess he knew what he was doing.

 

It's only after sitting here for a long time, trying to type something worthwhile about adults' cameos in this strip that I think I've figured out how Peanuts could possibly work so well when its ridiculously sympathetic protagonist seems so utterly alone and unloved. Peanuts is so adored and admired because it pulled off something almost no other cartoon ever could, bringing the reader in to fill a role so notably absent in the strip.

 

Turns out, Charlie Brown has plenty of adults around who love him: us. 

 

--Dave 

March 26, 2014

Basically Perfect

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A lot of my interest in the mechanics of humor comes from the mystery of how jokes form. I suspect part of the reason puns get so little love as a respectable form of humor is because they're so easy to reverse engineer-- words already sound like words, so one doesn't necessarily have to be actually clever to pipe up with "More like the lesser of two weevils," and then twist the knife by adding, "right??" They just have to be willing to die alone.


Personally, I think of jokes as puzzles: here's one thing, and here's another disparate thing, and figuring out how to unify them in a way that hides the weld takes skill, ingenuity and intent. Every once in awhile, I come across a joke that steadfastly resists forensic analysis. Seemingly plucked fully formed from the air and wrestled to earth, I have to resign myself to doing what I should be doing with jokes all the time: really, really enjoying it.


Last Sunday's Frazz is a marvel of joke engineering: simple setup, perfect pacing, and a solid dismount that ties back into the first panel while also standing on its own as a satisfying punchline. I realize I'm wading pretty deeply into the weeds on this one, but I can think of few venues better suited to me shouting "Holy macaroni, look how good the joke in this comic strip is!" besides this one. And, hey! This venue is equally conducive to my assurance that Frazz is reliably brilliant on a daily basis, and what's more, allows me the opportunity to provide you, the reader, a second link in the same paragraph to prove it!


Great job, Frazz. Not only did you renew my faith in the mystery of humor, but you also gave me a relatively stress-free means to a semi-decent concluding paragraph. What's next, Frazz? Allowing me to end this post with a rhetorical question instead of pulling everything together in a more substantive manner?

 

--Dave

 

March 20, 2014

Frank and Ernest and Ted and Alice

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The casual Frank and Ernest reader could be forgiven for making some assumptions. Merely surveying the strip, it seems like it's about hobos who have somehow maintained really great attitudes in the face of deepening personal turmoil. Perhaps they live outside by choice, like ducks. There's no shame assuming such a thing-- you have a life to lead, and are likely more accustomed to strips like For Better or For Worse, where you know from the title the entire scope of what the plot may offer. Frank and Ernest offers little in the way of easy answers.

 

Luckily, I'm here to welcome you into the fold. Thanks to a confluence of fate, refusal to recalibrate my interests to more age-appropriate materials and a little luck, I'm now a bit of a Frank and Ernest expert. Well, I've read a lot of them, anyway. 

 

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Some facts


*They aren't hobos.

 

*Sometimes they're hobos.

 

*Other things Frank and Ernest are, depending on the day: Planets, children, stuffed animals, cavemen, robots, dead hobos, hobo ghosts, knights, political prisoners, kings, lamps, trees, regular ghosts, clouds, shapes, letters, superheroes, chemicals, monsters, dinosaurs, senators or snowmen. I'm leaving out three dozen other varieties because they're infrequent enough to be statistically insignificant.

 

*The strip's title not only refers to the character's names, but also serves as a mind-bending easter egg microcosm of the sort of jokes they serve up daily. Let's see For Better or For Worse work on two levels-- oh, wait. Well, Frank and Ernest does, too-- and not only do they also have a big fluffy dog in their strip, but a few times a month, chances are good that they themselves are literally that big fluffy dog. Now might be a good time to see if all these mind-bending facts have caused your nose to start bleeding. 

 

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At the most basic level, comic strips are generally joke-delivery devices. Those jokes can come from the characters, situations or phrasing, and they can take any number of panels to get there, but ideally, the intended reaction from the reader is pleasure resulting from a well executed joke. Frank and Ernest has managed to boil this concept down to its essence, serving up gags immediately and consistently with any extraneous material syphoned out to make way. Looking through the archives and seeing a few years' worth in a single sitting was akin to being sucker-punched repeatedly by a clown. There's a reason we're only supposed to read one of these per day-- our bodies just can't take jokes this pure.

  

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When I first started working here, I wrote the strip off as a pretty tired, corny legacy strip. Like virtually every other assumption I've made during the execution of my daily workload, I was completely wrong-- the barrier for understanding, much less enjoying, 40% or so of Frank and Ernest's jokes demand that the reader have a grasp on history, philosophy, science, math and literature. The other 60% are equally highbrow, but are colorful enough to also be enjoyed by illiterates (even the aggressively ignorant can't resist those big noses). It's one of the most consistently smart strips in newspapers, even on Sundays, when it has to compete with Mark Trail's big, strapping brain. 

 

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It's really easy to assume the strip is a trifle, as it lacks an ongoing storyline or any consistent point of view, but the entire worth of Frank and Ernest comes from its flexibility (remember: they're only hobos occasionally) and its unyielding commitment to silliness. Silly isn't something you can do by half-measures. Take a look at the strip above this paragraph. It's a clever joke, to be sure, but it's also a model of just how perfectly Frank and Ernest deploys its silliness. For the joke to really work, it needs to be packed into an absurdly specific context. Y'know, like "Shampoo School." An adult wrote this joke. It's basically a miracle. 

 

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Lest I stomp all the humor out of Frank and Ernest by continuing my parade of reasons why it's so great, I'll get out of the way of the big bunch of highlights I've pulled for your viewing pleasure. If they're not to your tastes, take some time and consider what benefit could possibly come from your commitment to hating fun and joy, then take another look. You'll come around.

 

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Wait a minute… what if Frank and Ernest actually does have an ongoing storyline, and we've all just been too blind to realize it? A story that spans the spectrum of all existence, before the earth's formation until long after the heat-death of our universe? I know what I'm doing this weekend: buying a bunch of thumbtacks, tape and red yarn and piecing together this puzzle in my basement, strip by strip, epoch by epoch, until I've solved it.

 

I don't want to sound cocky, but if my initial figures are correct, we're all about to be rich. 

 

--Dave

 

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