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Dinette Set, 2/21/06

Ballard Street, 2/21/06

So like I said, I’ve been reading a bunch of new comics on the Houston Chronicle’s Web page, and goddamn some of them are weird. It goes without saying that the market for off-kilter one-panel comics exploded in the wake of the Far Side’s success, but some of the efforts in this space have been more fruitful than others. This Dinette Set, for instance, seems to think that a collection of potentially funny elements, connected by a liberal amount of free-associative logic, together create a coherent whole; sadly, it is incorrect in that assumption. After much scrutiny, I think that this is supposed to be some sort of commentary on America’s energy-inefficient ways: the papaya-headed protagonists (The Dinettes?) scoff at attempts to use our dwindling fossil fuels more wisely, while enjoying a film sponsored by their utility company with a suggestive title. (They’ll be “paying” their gas and electric bills “forward” because they have that enormous picture window! Get it? GET IT?) Potentially less relevant is the presence of Some Like It Hot atop their VCR (a reference to the sky-high heating bills they won’t like paying?) and their guest’s attire. I want an “I Heart Sour-Dough Bread” t-shirt as much as the next annoying thirtysomething hipster does, but it doesn’t really fit in with anything else happening here, and only adds to the impression that the panel is flailing around waist-deep in humor-like material, desperately trying to grab onto a punchline that is nowhere in sight.

Today’s Ballard Street, on the other hand, while also not funny in any conventional sense of the word, is much darker and more wonderful in its utter opacity. In the Dinette Set panel above, you can kind of see where the jokes are supposed to be coming from, which makes them all the more pathetic when they fail. This Ballard Street, on the other hand, seems to come from some strange alternate universe; it’s entirely self-contained, and I feel like it would be totally hilarious if only I were grounded in the completely alien set of cultural assumptions from which it arises. Is that a mechanical dog’s head? If so, how is it emitting spittle? If not, why the crank? Either way, why the megaphone? And why is it apparently vibrating? And the gloves? Why is Bob wearing gloves? Nothing is explained, but I still somehow feel like it’s my fault for not getting it. The fact that the caption is in the present tense somehow only adds to the weird feeling of dislocation about it.