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We mock, but cartoonists’ lives are hard. The drumbeat deadline, day after day for decades, enfevers the brain ’til it cries out, “Stop!” And stop it does — every cartoonist has a trademark way of putting the strip on autopilot so they can take a freaking break. And February, when the days are grey and the year ahead looks endless, is a great time to knock off for a bit. Here’s how they do it:

Crankshaft, 2/6/08

Tom Batiuk relaxes by expanding weak puns into multiple panels for weeks on end. This one is part of a recurring series, “Crankshaft mispronounces stuff.” The setup is completely arbitrary: Ed doesn’t cook, and wouldn’t use a frou-frou ingredient like balsamic vinegar if he did. If you really must make sense of it, assume that vinegar is Ed’s beverage of choice and they ran out of malt.

Dick Tracy, 2/6/08

Dick Lochler just hits the “pause” button on his calendar. Honestly, Chief Liz has known for more than a month that having your “gross” portrait in the museum gets you disappeared — that’s why she called Dick in the first place. Today’s strip is the equivalent of, “Yeah — what you said.” Somebody needs his Gretchen.

Curtis, 2/6/08

Ray Billingsley famously repeats the same themes year after year (this one is “Curtis’s Black History Month essay”). I suppose we should be grateful that Curtis recycles its material every year — Marmaduke does it every freaking day.

Get Fuzzy, 2/6/08

Darby Conley creates some of the best characters on the comics page today, but everybody deserves a break, and goddammit, he’s taking one. Lately, he seems to have taken to his bosom the cause of the television industry writers’ strike — an issue of pressing concern to no one on the face of the earth.* Phone us when you get back, pal.

– Uncle Lumpy

* Emphatically not true! See discussion in the comments, and retraction at #144