Only in the Comics

Posted by on October 22nd, 2010 at 11:06 AM

Some jokes are possible only in a medium that blends words and pictures. Take these strips for instance.

In Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman’s Zits, the arrangement of the teacher’s verbal compliment, first horizontal then vertical, impaling Pierce like a spear, is possible only in a medium in which words are a visual component. It is the “picturing” of the words, and their effect on Pierce, that makes the joke.

In Pearls Before Swine, Stephan Pastis resorts to a relatively old device among comic strippers—treating his strip as part of the visual landscape and letting a presumably neighboring strip invade the precincts. The laugh here is as much the allusion to Cathy’s weight fixation as it is to her presence.

Our next slide is not about artistry peculiar to the medium. It’s just some routine stuff.

Once again, in his Non Sequitur Wiley Miller takes up the political cartoonists cudgel, or something akin to it, in commenting on the easy access our government grants lobbyists as opposed to the maze it constructs for ordinary citizens to get in to bend the ear of their congressman.

Chad Carpenter’s Tundra is here because of its use of rabbits and the “out of the hat” maneuver. Since I have a kinship with rabbits….

Then we have a dollop of wisdom served up in the next two strips.

Sally’s logic in Peanuts is irrefutable. How can we fault it? Can’t.

In Frazz, Jef Mallett often comes up with word games that soar into the rafters of the mental attic and hang there, defying all attempts to explain how we never thought of that before.

Next, leaving wisdumb behind in a cloud of confusion, we come upon two manifestations of the strange and wonderful in comics.

I didn’t know Mooch in Patrick McDonnell’s Mutts had an automobile, even so obviously a “toy” as this. Has McDonnell cruised by in this device before? Maybe I just haven’t been paying attention.

I guess since Snoopy can have a Sopwith Camel, Mooch can have a car. Makes sense to me.

And in Blondie, another instance (of which there have been several in the last year or so) of the gag-writer playing with the time-honored heraldry of the strip. Lately, it’s been Dagwood’s hair. Now, that single button in the middle of his shirt.

With the publication a couple weeks ago of IDW’s Chic Young’s Blondie, the first volume in what promises to be a fairly extensive reprinting of the classic, we can see Dagwood without the shirt button occasionally. And sometimes, even wearing a four-in-hand tie rather than a bow tie. Still, it’s a fair guess that the button, which became more and more ubiquitous as the strip moved into its second and third years, is a remnant of formal attire: when Dagwood is wearing a tuxedo, which, as the scion of a wealthy family, he does often, he is also wearing a starched shirt-front, in which is embedded, in the middle, a stud, or button.

Habits die hard, and Young kept putting in the button more-or-less as a knee-jerk, or wrist-wrenching, habit, even when Dagwood gave up the tux for a working man’s suit.

By the way, harkening back to the Blondie mystery we mentioned a few weeks ago, now that we have the IDW volume and the first week of Blondie before us, we know Blondie began September 8, not September 15 as once alleged by Jeff Lindenblatt.

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