Archive: Doonesbury

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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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Well, Monday was one of those days, with this site unaccountably down for a few hours, followed by the unavailability of the King Features Web site. Since King Features is the origin of most of the color comics we follow here, including Mary Worth, Funky Winkerbean, Mark Trail, Judge Parker, Apartment 3G, and Rex Morgan, M.D., well, you can see the problem!

I’ll post a note here when I hear that King (and therefore the Chron) is back up, although some alert reader is sure to post the news in the comments before then.

Update 1/30/07 11:15 EST – King Features and Chron back up.
Many, many thanks to faithful readers gh and willethompson for scanning and sending MW, FW, RMMD and JP backups, but it appears the crisis has passed.

Until then, I have a confession to make:

Diesel Sweeties, 1/30/07

Robots terrify me. I’m convinced NASA made a big mistake sending them to Mars, and I bet they wouldn’t tell us about Elvis even if they found him. I felt a lot better about Darth Vader when I figured out there was a guy inside. I have a Roomba, but I keep an eye on it, and unplug it at night.

So I’m really ambivalent about Diesel Sweeties. It’s pretty smart about human/machine relationships, the IM-style graphics give it a distinctive look and can be surprisingly expressive, and I love love love the nonspatial references (like the Sweden flag here) that just pop in and out when they’re needed. On the other hand, the human characters are really shallow and there are too many of them – it’s like they’re in tryouts. The human/human relationship strips fall really flat. And, well, robots are evil. Everybody knows that.

Doonesbury, 1/30/07

In panel one, we have a robot; in panel three, Alex Doonesbury. If you’re looking to strike up a relationship of any kind, pick the robot. Alex is a self-obsessed, whiny, manipulative, spoiled, . . . well, I could go on and on. She is a twenty-four carat pain in the ass, even though she’s surrounded by some of the most engaging characters in all of comics. But she’s even though she’s completely unlikeable, she’s entertaining. See, Lynn? See? That’s how it’s done!

Luann, 1/30/07

This has nothing at all to do with technology, but gah. GAH! How many times will we have to sit through this same damn storyline? Aaron f’n Hill, Bernice’s wheelchair guy, Toni f’n Daytona, fill in the f’n blank. Now I like Greg Evans’ work! He draws cartoon people – particularly girls – better than almost anybody around, and his faces are expressive (compare with Foob’s “I have been hit with a baseball bat” universal reaction shot). But the guy can’t plot for stink. Luann, I’ve got sad, sad news for you. You’re marrying Gunther.

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During a recent visit to a D.C.-area old folks’ home, I found an abandoned Style section from the Washington Post in the billiards room. In addition to the traditional “What’s In-What’s Out” New Year’s feature (and half of the “in” items I’ve never heard of, including “The Maybach”, “Move that bus!”, and “Annasophia Robb”, thus proving conclusively that I am not “in”), it also included the following cartoon, which sort of does my job for me. I figured I’d reproduce it here to tide you over since I’m being such a slacker about posting stuff this week.

I should have new comics up by this evening, but I make no promises. If you’re getting desperate for comics-derived larfs, I urge you to check out these poorly-drawn cartoons inspired by actual spam subject lines.

Update: Also funny: Subdivided We Stand’s recap of the last few weeks of Mary Worth.