Going Pink

Posted by on October 13th, 2010 at 7:54 AM

The last time, reading the funnies, that I had the sensation that something was wrong but it wasn’t was several years ago on an April First. On the daily comics page, Blondie was at the top, and so I always began with Blondie. I looked at it and gasped (figuratively). Dagwood didn’t look at all like Dagwood. He looked like a Disney version of Dagwood. Or MGM, maybe. Suddenly, it flitted through my so-called mind that Stan Drake, who’d been drawing Blondie, had recently died—and so the Blondie specimen before me was probably done by the New Guy, whoever he might be, and it was loudly apparent that he could not draw the strip’s iconic character.

Disaster, I thought. Then my eye skipped down to the next strip, Garfield—and Garfield didn’t look like Garfield!

Quickly, I scanned the page—make-shift characters had taken the place of the normal population of each strip. Then it dawned on me: April Fool’s Day.

Yes, you now realize what it took me 2-3 minutes to grasp: many cartoonists had conspired to switch comic strips for the sake of an April Fool’s Day joke.

This past Sunday, October 10 (10-10-10, kimo sabe), I had somewhat the same sensation when I picked up the Sunday funnies. The top strip on the first page was Zits, then, running down the page, came Pickles, For Better or For Worse, and Pearls Before Swine; up the side, Dilbert.

But Zits was missing some of its color. It was colored in shades of pink. No green, no blue. What happened? Did the engravers drop the ball on Zits?

When I subsequently browsed the rest of the comics section, I saw other strips done up all in pink. And I also saw the pink ribbon displayed in some of them. Slowly, it was dawning on me: maybe no one had made a coloring mistake. By the time I got to Hilary Price’s Rhymes with Orange, I was ready to appreciate the gag: two women walking along, and one says to the other: “One thing I discovered with my mastectomy is that I had to reassure everyone I’d be all right. After I explained I’d be losing my left, I’d say, ‘It’s okay: I’ve always been right-breasted.’”

Yup: I’d missed the memo. Too bad. I’m all in favor of women’s rights. And their lefts, too.

In support of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, more than 50 of the King Features strips “turn pink,” participating in a “Cartoonists Care” initiative.

“It’s very inspiring to see so many of our cartoonists come together to rally around such an important cause,” said Brendan Burford, Comics Editor at King Features Syndicate. “Nearly everyone has a connection to this heart-wrenching disease, and we felt it was important to make a powerful statement to help support for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We could think of no better way to do that than by turning the funny pages pink! We hope the ‘Cartoonists Care’ initiative will help raise awareness and encourage our millions of readers across the country to do whatever they can in the fight against breast cancer.”

Bravo, I say. But until I got to Rhymes with Orange, I read on in blissful ignorance of what was going on all around me. As usual. And when I got to the bottom of that first page of the funnies and saw Pearls Before Swine, I rejoiced, momentarily, because the Sunday release was the punchline to trio of daily Pearls that had finished the preceding week. In all of them, cartooner Stephan Pastis was resorting to the deceased Cathy for his comedy, as you can see here:

A week’s worth of Cathy cameos reveals the basic blemish of the maneuver. One could easily assume that a cartoonist’s sense of humor must be particularly feeble if he repeatedly invokes the work of other cartoonists. In these strips, there is no joke without Cathy. So one might say that Pastis is essentially creating comedy out of another cartoonist’s creation.

It’s funny and fun, but is it altogether fair?

As we pointed out last week (or thereabouts), many of the younger crop of cartoonists have pursued this course to comedy lately. Most of them are friends and acquaintances, and when they use each other’s characters, they are, to a minor extent, creating in-group humor. As long as they use characters from widely circulating strips so that we all recognize them, we’re in on the joke and don’t mind at all.

Here’s Chad Carpenter with Tundra, making a joke about comic strip syndication, alluding to the fleeting nature of success in popular culture endeavors.

We get the illusive nature of success without having to know that getting syndicated for a cartoonist is even harder to achieve. (Tundra, by the way, is self-syndicated, and it has piled up a more-than-merely-respectable list of subscribing papers, a remarkable accomplishment. But that’s not part of the joke here because only you and me are in on it.)

Cathy’s cameo in Glenn McCoy’s turn at The Flying McCoys has a satirical target—namely, Michael Jackson’s endless plastic surgery to adjust his facial features.

But with Mike Peters’ Mother Goose and Grim, we’re back to making jokes the humor which resides entirely in the characters putting in guest appearances.

If Bambi’s mother hadn’t famously died in the movie, the first joke would lose most, if not all, of its punch. And if Garfield were not an infamous cartoon cat, the joke in the second wouldn’t exist.

But on Sunday, Pastis takes his Cathy sequence to a comedic conclusion that relies on something in addition to Cathy’s character to make its point.

Funny. And a tribute, saying something over and above making fun of Cathy’s dietary difficulties. Nicely done.

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