Things You Don’t Often (If Ever) See

Posted by on November 6th, 2010 at 9:42 AM

After a week of thrashing around trying to imitate political fervor, I’m relieved now to return to the tamer niches of this precinct, namely comic strips instead of editorial cartoons. And this time, we’re looking at things we rarely see—for instance, these two Blondie strips from the last week in October.

Single panel Blondie! Unprecedented? If you’ve followed the history of Chic Young’s durable domestic drama, you might recall the long horizontal panel depicting the marriage of Blondie and Dagwood on February 17, 1933. And if you’re passionate about such things, you’ll have the first volume of IDW’s Blondie: the Complete Daily Comic Strips from 1930-1933 in your library, and you can find this memorable panel for yourself.

But if you dig up that strip, you’ll see that it is not, your memory to the contrary notwithstanding, a single panel strip: the wedding scene is the second panel of a three-panel strip.

Having frustrated my own memory of that historic Blondie incident, I am now at a complete loss about whether there has ever been a single panel Blondie. And so I suspect the specimens we have at hand are, as I said, unprecedented. And both occurred in a single week.

In our first clipping, dated October 27, the elongated format underscores the joke by emphasizing the length of the line of people tugging at Dagwood. But in the second instance, the joke is what old man Dithers has emblazoned on his Superman costume for the office Hallowe’en party, and the elongation of the scene doesn’t serve the joke. It permits a panoramic view of the crowd at the party, but that’s scarcely essential to the gag.

So what’s going on? Have Dean Young, Chic’s son and the strip’s manager, and his gag writer given up sequential art in favor of the Non Sequitur and Rhymes with Orange format, a format made increasingly popular by such other single-panel spasms as F-Minus, Brevity, Tundra, and Bound and Gagged?

Time will tell.

In our excerpt, below, from Dilbert, another nearly unprecedented occurrence

Has Scott Adams ever before depicted anything from a perspective other than the side? Profiles abound in Dilbert. But here we have the pointy-haired boss and Dilbert himself on opposite sides of a desk as seen from up above, over the boss’s shoulder. Suddenly the strip has dimension and, perhaps, even life.

Below that, Linus abandoning his faith. Unprecedented, I ween. His unflagging faith in the gourd god, subjected every year to severe trial, has never faltered. Except this time. Any other instances? Dunno. I await your reports.

Yes, I said I’d taken a much-needed break from editorial cartoons, but the three I’m showcasing herewith fall into the category of “unusual” if not, actually, unprecedented. And two of them have nothing to do with the recently conducted News Media Orgy (i.e., midterm election), and the other one, only tangentially connected to the aforementioned National Disturbance.

I can’t read the signature on this one (Lowell?), but it’s an artful deployment of the visual resources of the medium in a way not often seen in political cartooning. Sergio Aragones once did an entire collection of cartoons in which the shadows of the participants contradicted what they were actually doing, but editoonists have not much resorted to this telling device for depicting the raging hypocrisy that infects politicians. Maybe we’ll see more of it—the device, not the hypocrisy, which is already so rampant that no increase is likely to be detectable. (It would be like identifying a single snowflake in a blizzard.)

Mike Luckovich’s cartoon is the first I’ve ever seen use the device he deploys.

The entire joke—not to mention Luckovich’s point, that O’Bama’s stature has shrunk below that of the host of a fake news broadcast—depends upon the ambiguity of the “speech” in the first panel. Who’s speaking? The second panel tells us—and thereby makes Luckovich’s point. But I haven’t seen the “cluster of words” format of speech balloon used in this way before. Clearly, the traditional speech balloon—with a tail pointing to the speaker—wouldn’t work.

And here’s Eric Allie, using color in a new and lovely way.

His visual reference is to the riots a couple of weeks ago in France, and I’m not sure what his point is. Is it that rioting in the street is more civilized, tamer, than American politics in an election year? Maybe.

In any event, it’s his deployment of color that struck me. Solid shapes, no outlines—somewhat in the manner of many contemporary animated cartoons. Striking. And now that newspapers are using color more and more, perhaps we’ll see cartoonists getting a little more experimental, bolder, with color.

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3 Responses to “Things You Don’t Often (If Ever) See”

  1. michael says:

    I remember those Aragones shadow gags! But this Lowell(?) cartoon seems totally different; the shadows aren’t even the central part of the joke, they just serve to place the two parties without ambiguity.

    So I don’t really understand where the hypocrisy is evinced, because it looks the shadows are identical to their sources.

  2. Mike Hunter says:

    The “hypocrisy” is that the Israeli politico says he is shaking hands with his Palestinian counterpart, but in reality he’s quite a distance off from the latter. The handshake only an illusion, rather than an actual deed.

    That Allie cartoon is indeed a beauty!

    I’d imagine the characters sipping wine mean “enlightened” in the sense of the French feeling powerfully enough about issues to riot over them.

    Why, look at when George W. stole his first Presidential election, and the Dem masses bovinely accepted the deed*. With newscasters repeatedly saying what a sign of a great society this was; that in any other country, there would have been riots in the streets over this!

    Sergio Aragones once did an entire collection of cartoons in which the shadows of the participants contradicted what they were actually doing…

    I recall another cartoonist – in “Playboy,” perhaps? – with a regular series of cartoons where the shadow would express the real, hidden self of the characters…

    * Who knows if it was as quiet as that, though. It took Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” movie to show Americans startling videos of the egg-throwing protesters at Bush II’s Presidential inauguration. Which the “liberal media” had considered not worth showing…

  3. TimR says:

    I think the Allie cartoon is..

    The Americans are voicing the typical admiration for French/Euro fine living– enjoying wine, a slower pace, attractive surroundings– and usually there’d be something to that. But now, with the riots, it supposedly gives the lie to such sentiments. The French are revealed as not-so-enlightened, in the cartoonist’s view—and the main point is, the cliche the Americans are voicing is exposed as hollow, or at least superficial, because even in “good times”, this potential violence would be beneath the surface.