Posted by on January 18th, 2010 at 3:32 PM

Sometimes we can have too much of a good thing, particularly when it’s not so good to begin with. Take, for example, Sunday’s Deflocked, which we will display in a trice. This strip by Jeff Corriveau is populated by some dysfunctional farm animals who are raising an 8-year-old male humanoid named Tucker. The chief parental roles are filled by two dogs, Cobb and his younger brother Rupert. But the spotlight in the strip shines almost exclusively on Mamet, a sheep who took comic strip character lessons from Bucky the Katt in Get Fuzzy. Mamet is the only one of the starring quartet to appear in our example (dated January 17)—he’s the talking nose; the other characters are nameless cows. Here’s the strip.

I appreciate Corriveau’s attempt to exploit the roomier Sunday format by varying panel size and layout, which he does with some frequency on Sundays. But here, as on other similar occasions, he destroys the effect by jamming too much into the strip. The first visual impression we have of this installment is that it is cluttered. Admittedly, the severe reduction to which the strip is subjected in my paper is part of the problem (my problem, anyhow), but Corriveau must realize that some papers will run the strip this small, and as a professional comic strip cartoonist, he should adapt his pictorial methods accordingly. And jamming words and pictures into the strip compounds the problem. The daily strip is often overwhelmed with verbiage, the pictures being reduced to visual footnotes. The first tier here suffers from the same proclivity, complicated, in this instance, by Corriveau’s attempt to get too much story into too little space.

The gag this Sunday is that Mamet apparently gets pornographic movies from Netflix, and because one of the shipments has been erroneously delivered to the cows, they learn what a pervert Mamet is: despite his strenuous effort to deny his culpability, he is revealed as a hopeless sex maniac. The comedy stems in part from Mamet’s towering good opinion of himself: exposed as a pervert, he can scarcely continue hereafter to maintain his self-constructed reputation as a superior being. He is, in effect, destroyed. (He’ll regain his self-esteem almost at once, but for today, he’s completely deflated. Or deflocked, if you prefer.)

Corriveau has introduced some sort of sight-gag subplot which falls flat because he hasn’t room to display it—all that “clomp, clomp, clomp” stuff and the door that slams when Mamet forces his way into the cowbarn, flattening the door in the process. I’m not sure what all that means, if anything; or why it is in this strip. What does it add to the basic gag? And cramming all the visual information into two tiny panels only increases the confusion.

The next three panels grow progressively smaller as Mamet tries, vainly, to extricate himself from the dilemma. A good move: just as he gets smaller and smaller in the estimation of the cattle, so do the panels in which he appears. (Mamet himself cannot get any smaller: Corriveau has already reduced him to a nose and a wooly wad, a rendering mannerism that sometimes seriously interferes with our ability to decipher the meaning of a strip. Mamet’s hands, rendered as fingerless mittens, are often waving around so close to his head—how, given his construction, could they not be?—that we mistake them for his ears, which are drawn the same way.)

Realizing that no amount of lame explanation will rescue him, Mamet leaves in a single bound—a move the drama of which is considerably reduced by the composition of the panel: horizontal action would be more effective, but Corriveau hasn’t that kind of room left. In the last panel, Mamet is apparently consoling himself by viewing the porno movie, but we can’t be sure: the coloring, which creates the dimly-lit room, obscures much of the detail. But some of that detail—what is Mamet eating? and what is the word lettered on the doll he’s clutching?—is drawn so small that we probably couldn’t discern it very easily even in a brightly lighted setting.

The visual clutter in the strip makes it uninviting for a reader. And even if we try to read it, there’s too much superfluous visual information in the strip, which just adds to the clutter without clarifying the comedy.

Before deciding to inflict this kind of mess on a reading public, Corriveau worked as a comedy writer for “Saturday Night Live,” “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” and “Talk Soup,” where he was head writer. His metier is verbal humor, although, as we see here, he understands the audio-visual mode of motion picture/television. He should have stuck with it instead of trying to impose that sensibility on a static medium. Motion coupled to sound (“slam!”) could have rescued this comedy: movement draws attention to itself and thereby subsumes all other visual information, which, in comic strip form here, becomes distracting. And Corriveau’s marginal drawing ability—or, the visual style he has adopted for the strip—doesn’t help him at all. Too bad.

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One Response to “Ineptitude”

  1. noelmu says:

    He’s watching BEACHES, a weepy chick-flick. The gag isn’t that he’s a porn-fiend, but that he’s a sissy. Hence the litany of manly movie titles.

    Not a great gag, but different that what you thought.