Making Our Manners

Posted by on December 30th, 2009 at 9:03 AM

Yes, I know: we haven’t been properly introduced. What with all the excitement that attended our getting catapulted into the digital ether on December One, we forgot to mention that this patch of tcj.com’s electronic acreage is devoted, mostly, to a contemplation of the art and lore of the newspaper comic strip. We’ll occasionally stray off the funnies page to the editorial page where the more blunt instruments of the cartooning arts are wielded, but only occasionally. Usually, we’ll concentrate on cartooning in the form of strips.

We’ve named this niche Hare Tonic, taking our cue from a small spectacled rabbit that I employ as a signature on my cartoons that I rarely draw. I call the rabbit Cahoots but that is not his name. His name is the same as that of a six-foot rabbit that accompanied Elwood P. Dowd, the tipsy protagonist of Mary Chase’s 1945 Pulitzer-winning play, enacted, most convincingly, by Jimmy Stewart in a movie named after the rabbit, “Harvey.” I’m only five-foot-eleven, I admit, but I have aspirations.

Someday, this blog will be decorated by a heading in which both I and the rabbit appear, bearing subheadings and other tidings that will suggest the subject of our deliberations hereabouts. Until then, you’ll have to commit to memory this installment with all its straightforward assertions, miscellaneous claims, and baldfaced distortions.

My own credentials for this assignment are laboriously set forth at a website of my own, www.RCHarvey.com, where I also sell my books and post a sometimes bi-weekly online magazine of comics news and reviews and cartooning history and lore, Rants & Raves, alternating in the off-week with Harv’s Hindsights, chapters detailing the history of cartooning by means of biographies of its practitioners and their practices.

Here, however, we’ll concentrate on newspaper comic strips, where, surprisingly enough in the giggling gaggle of gag-a-day endeavors, we find actual stories transpiring. In Rip Haywire, for instance, cartoonist Dan Thompson has concocted a seasonal adventure for his mock two-fisted swash-buckler: Rip and his villainous girlfriend, Cobra, accompany Santa on his global-spanning rounds. It’s the second yuletide adventure for Rip & Co.: the other one is perpetrated in a special 7-week continuity cobbled up for the anyule NEA Christmas strip. A couple days after Christmas in the regular strip, Rip adopts the kid who has followed him around all month, but the kid doesn’t have a name. So Rip, after considering a host of standard names (Ted, Reed, Dilbert, Ron, Cal, Jim, George, Francis) picks the only name not mentioned, christening the kid Rip, Jr. Well, why not? Every soldier of fortune has a kid sidekick, why should Rip be left out?

Shortly thereafter, Cobra, gripped, momentarily, in the clutch of heartthrob, proposes to Rip that she move in with him. Or maybe not. Maybe “stay on with you” means simply “continue adventuring together.” But I like the first alternative—juicy, scandalous, sexy, perfectly befitting the New Age of daring lockerroom comedy in newspaper comics.

Meanwhile, in Jeff Corriveau’s Deflocked, Mamet, the perverse sheep (Bucky the Kat reincarnated on a farm as a ball of wool), gets a black sheep visitor and commits all sorts of well-meant but clumsily delivered African-American slang; fraught with satiric possibilities, but Corriveau just makes Mamet look like a goofy liberal.

And in Brooke McEldowney’s 9 Chickweed Lane, Juliette’s mother, Edda’s grandmother, is telling her daughter about her WWII adventures as a chanteuse spying on German POWs. And perhaps falling in love with one of them.

In Sherman’s Lagoon, J.P. Toomey sends Sherman and his wife Megan into the world of human beings where they’ll take a jaunt on a cruise ship. Before embarking, however, the couple visits the stone Easter Island statue Kahuna, who magically turns the two sharks into human (sic) sapiens. This transformation occurs every so often, more frequently, I think, lately—as if Toomey is growing tired of doing a comic strip about fish and crabs and turtles.

Finally (for the time being), in Rudy Park by Theron Heir (not his real name) and Darrin Bell (his real name), the grotesquely overweight Sadie Cohen confesses to cheating on her husband, Mort Park (who was dead for most of the last year): she’s been having “clandestine arguments” with other comic strip characters—Beetle Bailey, Hagar the Horrible, and “countless other low characters.” Sadie strayed because, she explained, “Mort and I have been together for years and we just don’t argue the way we used to.” Oh.

See? Even gag-a-day strips tell stories these days.

Oh—Theron Heir’s real name is Oblisk Readout.

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