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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. 




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:



Smoldering, coiled violence in every panel!  




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. 








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: 




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. 

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. 


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




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


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



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.

April 09, 2014

What Eyes Beneath




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. 






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. 


Above: Yes, even you, Carnosaur.



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






"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.




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



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.




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.     








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.  



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




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.



 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]! 






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? 




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.




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. 




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. 



March 26, 2014

Basically Perfect



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?




March 20, 2014

Frank and Ernest and Ted and Alice



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. 





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. 




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.




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. 



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. 




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.








































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. 




March 05, 2014

Facts on, Facts off

Humor is rooted in truth, and truth, as I understand it, is rooted in fact. So when I tell you, "Hey, look at this video full of amazing facts about comic strips," I hope you don't knock a bunch of pictures off the wall behind your chair as you're blown backwards by the sheer force of hilarity.


It's a spiffy li'l rundown of all sorts of miscellany, though we've covered some of it before. The internet's not so bad, after all.


Hold onto your butts:






February 19, 2014

A Clever Pun-Based Headline About How F-Minus Makes the Grade or Whatever

If you're anything like me, you're irrationally afraid of having sticky hands, eat most meals over your kitchen sink and keep a sword-cane in your car, just in case someone at a party doesn't believe your claim that you have a sword-cane in your car. If you're anything else like me, you're a big, giant fan of Tony Carrillo's brilliant strip F-Minus, and also maybe drive a Toyota Camry.




Regardless of how we differ on the finer points, I think we can all agree that F-Minus is one of the most consistently inventive comics since The Far Side, which is pretty much universally acknowledged as the high-water mark in daily absurdism, right above [fill in your own joke about politicians here]. Zing!




Once you read comics for a while, it becomes pretty easy to spot where the gag is going to end up based on the premise. This isn't a bad thing at all, necessarily-- in fact, it's a not-insignificant factor in why so many readers find the comics so comforting. In those strips, enjoyment comes from the subtle turns the creator makes to keep an otherwise stale setup fresh, which is itself quite a feat as a given strip goes on year after year.




There's a qualitative difference to laughter resulting from different levels of humor. This is just an observation on my part, so it's hardly science, but the sound someone makes when laughing to punchlines that amount to "Oh, that's a thing I recognize," "That's an unconventional reaction to a common circumstance" or "This is the quiet part at the end of that sentence where I'm supposed to make a laughing sound," are of a much blunter, broad texture than the sharp "Ha!" of a joke that takes you by surprise.



I'm lucky enough to be among the first to get my sticky hands on a fresh batch of F-Minuses as they roll in each week, and upon first scrolling through them, I can't recall an instance where I've reacted with any of the first three laughs, which are essentially polite social cues that you're aware a joke is present. Not that I'm usually sitting at my desk interrupting the otherwise serene office environment with obnoxious braying, but when I do, it's either because I just watched that YouTube video where the baby panda sneezes and startles its mother again, or because of F-Minus. The strip is always a treat, and that panda is so startled! 




Coincidentally, it's a good thing I've droned on so long about this strip, because I happened to dig up a bunch of my favorites to share with y'all this week. Kismet!


Enjoy them, won't you? [ProTip: yes]


































































...But you don't have to take my word for it! Click these words, and be whisked to a place where you can read all the F Minus that your heart desires [if you're a non-pro member, I hope your heart only desires the last two weeks' worth]!



February 13, 2014

Paper Hearts



My job is tricky to explain in casual conversation. When asked, I usually say something along the lines of, "I work with comics," before muttering something witty about Marmaduke. There's more to my job, of course, but I've learned that illuminating my role in bringing a puzzle-hungry nation their daily Sudoku infusion is a conversational dead-end with anyone whom I'd like to continue speaking. 





My hilarious quips about Marmaduke do double duty to disarm the listener with my insight and to vaguely establish that I don't mean comic books, I mean syndicated strips. I take a silly amount of pride in my association with them. More often than not, this is met with, "Comics? Cool, I love ______!!" (fill in Calvin and Hobbes, Pooch Cafe, The Far Side, Dilbert, Frazz, etc), which is always nice to hear, though the only credit I can take for a given strip's success is not betraying the trust instilled in me by adding mustaches to all the characters as a funny prank. But peoples' word choice is always the same: "love" instead of "like," even if they're not still active readers. The effort that goes into getting a strip in front of an audience is an exercise in passion, which is a gritty sort of love-- for the fun of drawing, the precision of language, the grind of working out all the myriad details along the way so that someone in a kitchen somewhere can chuckle softly to himself before moving on with his day. Obviously, silly characters doing funny things is going to be inherently appealing, but there's more to them that makes them stick firmly and fondly in the mind of readers.






Ponderously articulated or not, something about the medium connects with lots of people on a really deep level, and the feeling stays put, resistant to eroding over the years into one of those youthful pastimes that, in hindsight, goes from character-defining to a deeply regrettable stage in learning how to have good taste. Maybe it's because there's no risk in enjoying a given comic, no cultural cache to be gained by affiliating oneself with, say, F Minus instead of Betty. They're all great if you're a fan. Comics are around for you to enjoy, and require as much or as little attention as you care to give them. Take a break for as long as you want-- they'll still be there for you whenever you return, and they'll still be great.





Seeing as it's Valentine's Day, and I clearly spend a lot of much time thinking about how people relate to comics, I thought it might be worth exploring the way the comics relate to each other. Sound like a stretch? Wait until you see the nonsense I have planned for St. Patrick's Day.








Manifestation: The most conventional type of relationship on our spectrum, but only because most people didn't realize how broad the boundaries of love could be until the advent of the Color Internet opened our eyes to the elasticity of amour. Deep into their marriage, with no kids in the house to distract them, Jimmy Johnson's Arlo & Janis have built a lasting love on a foundation of attraction, respect, and mutual bemusement with those dang smartphones.  


Notable for: The gentle, profound sense of purpose that comes with finding someone with whom to share your life; spooning.  

Preferable to: Escaping through the bayou handcuffed to a fellow member of your chain-gang, blood feuds and foreign game shows where you have to sing karaoke while being lowered into a vat of frogs and snakes.










Manifestation: Unshakable, innate and as evolutionarily beneficial to our species' continued propagation as thumbs, tool use and the absence of velociraptors. In Robb Armstrong's Jump Start, that broad, unconditional bond stretches across generations, social strata and the vicissitudes of occasions where use of the word "vicissitudes" is appropriate. Also, one of the grade school-aged kids is a doctor, somehow!

Notable for: A sense of belonging, security and comfort; people who will store all your old action figures when you move into your own place.

Preferable to: Being a wooden boy brought to life by a fairy; Dickensian orphanhood.



Boy & Dog:






Manifestation: In Red & Rover by Brian Basset, Red (boy) and Rover (dog) spend all day playing, cuddling, and nurturing each other through a big, soft world that seems to exist on the dateline between a post-WWII midwestern idyll and our modern world. The simplicity of a place where all the toy shops sell model planes and the televisions are gigantic and sit on the floor allow Red and Rover to constantly share the same purity of excited affection usually only witnessed briefly in your dog's frenzy when you first get home from work.


Notable for: Being so good and cute, oh yes it is, oh yeah, such a good strip, such a good-- you wanna go outside, strip? C'mon, comic strip, let's go to the park! [pat pat pat]

Preferable to: Boy and Cat. There'd be no strip if Rover was a cat, unless every plot revolved around Red walking around the house calling for Rover to come out, while Rover hunched under a bed, listlessly cleaning himself and occasionally yawning.






Boy & Squid:




Manifestation: In Mark Tatulli's Lio --whose tone is sort of like The Wonder Years mixed with the episode of The Twilight Zone where the telekinetic kid keeps sending people to a cornfield with his mind-- there is occasionally a giant squid. I'm not sure if the squid has much of a backstory, but he seems to hold Lio in whatever the squid equivalent of "buddy" is. They have adventures that span a spirited mix of science, spite, shenanigans and sweetness, and the squid is gentle enough with Lio not to squish him when they hug. Yet.


Notable for: The fact that there's a giant squid just hanging around in the yard, and no one raises a stink. We've come a long way, America. 


Preferable to: Squid and Boy. In most instances, a squid would find it pretty tricky to even get a kid's attention, since it would have to swim dangerously close to shore to be visible from land. Even then, it would have to gauge its timing perfectly to ensure that anyone was present when it appeared, that the shore-based prospective friend wasn't a predator, would be intuitive enough to understand the squid's appeals for companionship, and had an apparatus on hand to keep the squid's skin supple in the open air. Assuming the squid could find friendship before the seagulls spotted him, he would have to be emotionally prepared to never again return to the ocean, since there's a lot more potential for excitement in the variety of environments offered on land. Expecting the human to prefer seeking adventure while the two of them paddled around on the ocean's surface would put a lot of strain on the relationship, and the only excitement they'd be likely to find would be sunburns and jellyfish. Plus, the mindset of ocean life is a lot more old-fashioned than we forward-thinking mammals, and they would likely shun the both of them by retreating scornfully into coral. So sad.


Boy & Stuffed Tiger:




Manifestation: There is no artistic medium more suited to depicting the daily exploits of a child's imagination than comics, and no example of comics as an art form than Calvin and Hobbes-- but you know that already. Calvin's a kid, Hobbes is his stuffed buddy, and you should probably stop reading this right now and go read today's strip, instead. Hobbes is a great listener, coconspirator and foil, but he's also a crucial voice of reason to rein in Calvin's rampaging id. It's a bit like Fight Club, except, it's about a kid and a stuffed tiger being wonderful, instead of grown men hitting each other and crying about Ikea. Other than that, it's exactly like Fight Club.


Notable for: Being a perfect object that will stand the test of time, as well as any and all hyperbole I keep shoveling onto it.

Preferable to: I dunno, Life of Pi?




Cat & Lasagna:





Manifestation: Garfield's enlarged heart is limited to tough love for nearly all the players in his life, as exemplified by how often he breaks into his customary half-lidded smirk, which is a pretty efficient way to synthesize the inscrutable smugness through which most real cats relate to the world. Garfield's broad, guileless grins are reserved for those specific things which benefit him directly: Jon or Odie being injured due as a result of his actions or due to his conscious inaction at a crucial moment, napping-related miscellany and food either intended for him or unguarded enough for him to steal. Lasagna's rich, textured layers are the ideal indulgence for his appetites, and as he's pondered whilst gazing longingly into his own reflection 'pon many an emptied plate over the years, a delight with more secrets than he has lives. Which is to say, at least ten, but probably more. Maybe twelve!


Notable for: Personally, I've always derived a great deal of enjoyment imagining the sound of a kitty furtively snacking on a dish of lasagna in an otherwise quiet room. They have such teensy mouths!


Preferable to: Mondays. AM I RIGHT?!




Dog & Bone:




Manifestation: Pretty much any cartoon that has ever featured a dog as a cameo or reoccurring character. Chiefly, Marmaduke, who is never specific about his intent after finding a bone, be it gifted to him or pilfered from a plate, but is very, very serious about obtaining as many bones as he can, as frequently as possible, even if he has to chew through some healthy flesh to get to them.


Notable for: The observation that dogs liking bones is a relatable occurrence from many peoples' experience with real dogs.


Preferable to: Dogs eating steaks all the time. Besides it being unhealthy for the dog in the long-term, they'd probably start acting like they thought they were better than us because of their high-class diet. If we are to retain any semblance of social order in these troubled times, we must restrict dog-steaks to "treat" status. The last group to permit their canines to dictate their own diets were the Romans, and one of the only things that remains of their legacy are totems of Romulus and Remus, which stand as a chilling portrait of beastly subversion of Man's supremacy. If we are to remain on the right side of the leash, we must not waver.


Boy & No One:


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Manifestation: The brutal, crushing saga of Charlie Brown's annual Valentine's Day heartbreak at the hollow, laughing mouth of his mailbox. Spending time alone when you're a kid isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it provides a space for introspection and nurturing personal interests, but the isolation forced upon ol' Chuck thanks to the world's utter derision for him can't be healthy. It's a credit to the mastery of the medium exhibited by Charles Schulz that we think of Peanuts as warm and largely innocent-- it certainly can be, but reading year after year of Valentine's Day strips in a single sitting makes it clear that a huge portion of the run was devoted to different ways to humiliate, belittle and reject Charlie Brown. It's stated repeatedly that the reason he never gets Valentines isn't because he forgot to file proper change-of-address forms or Woodstock used them for nesting material, it's because literally no one likes him. To his credit, he takes this in stride and remains steadfast in his hope, but his posture slumps a little more every year when propped up against the mailbox's post. Poor kid. Why won't his parents put down their trumpets and hug him?


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Notable for: The fact that this emotional hellscape never, ever relents, except for a few weeks in the 70s where Charlie developed a rash, had to wear a bag over his head, and was mistakenly popular at camp because no one could see his face.

Preferable to: Uh, I guess being uniformly and cruelly ignored is slightly better than the opposite, where you're a household name for starting a plague. It's also better than being chased into a cave by a mob of villagers. At least the neglect is largely benign and consistently frosty enough that it stops being much of a surprise after a few years. If I may say so, I think you're a good man, Charlie Brown.

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After a sobering look at my word count, I think we can probably conclude our survey for this year. If anyone needs me, I'll be at my desk, putting makeup on my stuffed Garfield doll so we don't look out of place when we go out for our Valentine's dinner this evening. Please don't judge me.  




February 12, 2014

Who Hearted?

Howdy! I have a much bigger post scheduled to drop on Friday, so I'm spending today staying hydrated, jogging in place and saying "Showtime!" while staring at myself in the mirror in preparation.


Rather than shirk my usual Wednesday posting duties altogether, here's a Valentine's drawing I did last year for a girl who opted not to acknowlege my thoughtful, romantic gift. After nearly a full year of drinking, running around aimlessly and saying "Showtime!" while staring at myself in the mirror, my love's labors have finally borne fruit in the form of an efficient blog entry. 


Who Hearted


In these modern times, an efficient blog entry is as good as a girlfriend, right? Sure it is. No time for moping, though-- I'm due back at the mirror for another pep talk. Feel free to share this drawing with whomever you please; you can even act like you drew it yourself! Deception can be a mighty strong foundation for a relationship, so long as you keep your story straight. Good luck!


Sees youse Fridays!



February 05, 2014

Men of Letters



If you hope to learn to draw, there are a few things necessary to get started. Besides a writing instrument and drawing surface, you're going to need a lot of time to yourself, either through the ability to tune out the rest of the world or by finding a secluded spot and spreading out your tools. You're alone, but it's not lonely-- you're working; the time will fly by, and if you make things that are good, it'll mean you can have a much higher caliber level of friends once you start showing it off. No matter how far you take it, you're always going to need some space to concentrate and consider shapes and styles and the myriad intangibles that go in to forging any kind of art.


Isolated though they may be, there's a really great sense of community among a lot of syndicated cartoonists. Having never been one myself, I can only speculate on the particulars, but from what I've observed from my position here, there's a general spirit of encouragement shared between them towards doing good work as individuals and moving the medium incrementally forward as a result. That's probably too fine a point to put on it, actually: Since most cartoonists are weird and productively antisocial in the same ways, a lot of their camaraderie manifests in them sending obscene drawings to each other.


Perhaps the best (or at least most satisfying and/ or available to share) example I've seen is in the video below, shot by an audience member at the 2010 San Diego Comic Con. Bloom County creator Berkeley Breathed shared some of his correspondence with Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson. Some of these show up in the not-completely-terrible documentary Dear Mr. Watterson, but there are a few additional highlights here that I think are worth a look. Please take note: while both brief and blurry, there's a rendering of Blondie at the very end that is both incredibly filthy and basically the perfect intersection of all of my interests. Just be aware that you maybe shouldn't allow your kid to watch this, unless you want him to grow up to be awesome.








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