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Purge on Wednesday, binge on Thursday, and now the inevitable aftermath.

I dislike political comics. Political messages throw characters, relationships, situations, and art — everything that makes good comics good — into the background. Entertainment suffers: even when you agree with their message, the biggest payoff you’re likely to get from a political strip is a smug chuckle at the expense of some imagined adversary. Thin gruel, by my lights.

When somebody raises a stink about their politics, the authors respond with self-promoting claptrap about freedom of speech, speaking truth to power, taking hard stands, making a difference, and other noble causes they have little talent to advance. Most of the time, they aren’t striking a damn blow for any damn thing – just wasting their talent on comics that read like speeches and billboards, and pretty soon start looking like them, too.

So here we go:

Day by Day, 2/1/07

This Web comic trying to make it to print chronicles four co-workers who have paired off and make ever more turgid speeches in ever more revealing poses. Typically, the heavy lifting happens in panel two, as some poor character has to wrench a labored setup into context for the “payoff.” This one makes no sense (Marie Antoinette was surely indulged and confused, but I don’t think she said the peasants were). I love how the cute redhead has to crouch to make room for the yak, yak, yak, . . . . Talk about forgetting your raison d’être, pal!

Doonesbury, 1/27/07

Doonesbury does characters, even public characters, better than anybody – check out that porcine fop Trump in panel 4. But his presidents are always ciphers – helmets, doughnuts, asterisks, and above all, speech bubbles rising out of buildings. I guess it avoids the tiresome task of humanizing them, and leaves more room for the yak, yak, yak. . . . Trudeau is is a genius at building characters like B.D. and Mark Slackmeyer across decades, but his political strips are just lazy.

Mallard Fillmore, 2/1/07

So here’s a picture of somebody writing a letter. About a radio show. And there’s a footnote – with a URL! Why not just put up a sign that says, “I got nothin’ – go someplace else”? I think papers carry this strip for “balance”, i.e., to shut up the Doonesbury critics so they can keep it on the comics page. A nice little irony for Mallard‘s author.

Get Fuzzy, 1/26/07

This is my favorite comic strip in the paper – consistently creative, character-driven comedy, great expressive artwork, and enough play at the borders of the medium to keep it interesting even in a slow week. But not last week. Last week, we got one of the best characters in comics – the peer of B.D., Ted Forth, or Snoopy – hiding behind a poster. Q.E. f’n D.

Are any political strips entertaining? I’d say Al Capp‘s takedown of Joe McCarthy in the ’50′s, and Aaron McGruder’s “Flagee and Ribbon” series after 9/11. I’m sure there have been others. But most of the time, entertainment isn’t the point, and certainly isn’t the result. Whether or not you agree with the politics, most political strips fail as comics.

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