Words’ Worth in Comics

Posted by on March 10th, 2010 at 12:10 AM

The words in comics are pregnant with implication, fraught with shades of meaning, charged sometimes with insight and, even, wisdumb, often without benefit of pictures. Maybe without pictures these are not sterling examples of the art of cartooning, but they are, as I said, pregnant, fraught, and charged. Here are a few choice syllables:

In Dave Coverly’s Speed Bump, a man appears in court before a judge and says: “I’d like to act as my own attorney, your honor.  And if found guilty, I’d like to act as my own prison guard.”

In Mike Baldwin’s Cornered, a couple are in marriage counseling, and the wife is saying: “I see the glass as half-full. Whereas he sees the glass and blames me for the naked man hiding in the closet.”

Nobody beats Tony Cochran’s eponymous Agnes for verbal hijinks. “My plan to stop climate change is called ‘Pause and Reflect,’” she begins, plunging perforce onward: “Did you know,” she asks her tomboyish friend, Trout, “that there are two hundred trillion square miles of unused mirrors in the world? They are in basements, sheds and cluttered closets from Maine to Singapore, just waiting to be put on the roof to reflect mean Mister Sun back at himself.” Trout demurs: “Two hundred trillion square miles?” Agnes: “That’s five times the size of the Pacific. I did the math myself.”

Jef Mallett gets off more than his share in Frazz. On a Sunday recently, we have the story of Ted: “Ted had gone bald, and he wasn’t happy. Someone had to be blamed. When Ted was young, he liked to do sixties things and listen to The Turtles sing ‘Happy Together.’ Maybe it was The Turtles’ fault. Ted would sue the members of The Turtles! But Ted was laughed out of the courtroom. You don’t mess around with suing Turtles. Because … the moral is … Flo and Eddie win the case.” To which the kid Caulfield of the ever-inquiring mind says: “What on earth was that?” And Frazz answers: “You don’t know the fable of the hairless and the tort?” Unusual for Mallett.

More in his customary mode, here’s a little girl who comes up to Frazz and says: “Isn’t porridge just another name for oatmeal?” Frazz: “It’s basically any grain boiled into mush.” “Okay,” she says, “—then I have no idea what Goldilocks was so upset about.” To which Frazz says: “Maybe people who believe in talking bears believe in tasty mush.”

On another day, Mrs. Olsen, the dumpy old lady school teacher, facing her class says:  “Any questions?” And Caulfield, never content with routine, raises his hand and says:  “What if nobody knew that ignorance is bliss?” Afterwards Caulfield tells Frazz about it. Frazz says: “She didn’t know?” Caulfield:  “And she wasn’t happy.” Nicely turned logical snare.

Not unlike Patrick McDonnell in Mutts on the same day (March 9), wherein a cat approaches the “all-knowing Shphinx” and asks: “If you try to fail and succeed—which have you done?”

Keith Knight sets up for a bad pun in The Knight Life by having a character in a Star Wars costume approach Keef and his wife to get them to sign a petition to force George Lucas to remake the “Star Wars” prequels. But Keef, a well-established Star Wars fan, declines, saying: “I abhor the prequels as much as the next geek, but there is so much more to be concerned about. The prequels will forever be!! You can’t redo the past!! Let it go!” But the petitioner persists: “Are you and yer wife gonna sign or what?” “Nope,” says Keef, “—sorry.” And he and his wife walk off. The petitioner, glaring after them, shouts: “May divorce be with you.”

And then there are the times that you are forced to think in an unaccustomed way. In Rick DeTorie’s One Big Happy, Grandma is lecturing Joe, beginning, “Sometimes what does happen is even worse than what could happen.” There follows a litany of unhappy events—a kid shot in the eye, parents suing the shooter, the shooter’s parents losing their house and living in a car—whereupon, we here, from inside the car, “Mom, we’re out of toilet paper.” And so we’re forced to imagine a bathroom inside the car, or—the mind boggles….

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