Only in the Comics

Posted by on February 23rd, 2011 at 2:29 PM

To leap, unabashed, from our previous discussion of how words blending with pictures make the arts of cartooning unique, today we’ll look at some stories that can be told only in the comics. Some “stories” are jokes, and because comedy makes a visual-verbal blend so obvious, the secret of its functioning is easier to see in comedy than, say, in tragedy Some jokes make no sense without the verbal-visual blend that is at the heart of cartooning. Take “The Woodsman” from Hilary B. Price’s Rhymes with Orange comic strip.

This may be an extreme example: we’re looking at an optical illusion after all. But the visual makes no comedic sense without the lumberman’s comment.

Here are a couple more telling instances.

Stephan Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine seems, at first blush, a little simple-minded: okay, the lettering is on the wallpaper, and we, the readers/viewers, are easily sucked in to mistaking those letters for the usual way the sound of sleeping is depicted in comics and assume, thereby, that Pig is asleep. But when we get to the last panel, we realize that Rat has been sucked in, too. This joke is possible only in a comic strip.

Below that, a less complicated visual-verbal joke in Jef Mallett’s Frazz. The joke can take place only in a comic strip where Frazz can stretch out to “measure” the space available to him, a comic strip character. And without his comment, no joke.

Kevin Fagan toys with his medium in quite another way.

I suppose you could pull the Drabble gag in a motion picture, but I’m still tempted to say “only in the comics.”

The joke in Jim Davis’ Garfield, however, can work only in a comic strip.

And now, to change the subject mercilessly, before we go, here’s yet another example of how age-old taboos have been cast roughly aside in order to tell jokes about bodily functions—in this case, having to take a leak.

And then, in another abrupt shift in topic, we have Chip Dunham’s Overboard again. What’s the joke here? The gag depends upon our knowing what is going on in the last panel. But the visualization of whatever is that the pirate is peering into is so lame I can’t tell what it is. A dumpster? A soccer goal? What?

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One Response to “Only in the Comics”

  1. MrJM says:

    I believe that the mystery item in the last panel of “Overboard” is the shrouded video screen that NFL referees consult when reviewing a play in professional football.

    But after further review, the call on the field stands: lame visualization, 15 yard penalty, repeat first down.

    – MrJM