Son of Only in the Comics: What Cartooning Can Do That No Other Medium Can by R.C. Harvey

Posted by on March 3rd, 2011 at 12:19 PM

The all-time champion comic strip for continually contriving comedy in ways that can be achieved only in the comic-strip form is Zits, the collaboration of Jerry Scott, who mostly “writes” it, and Jim Borgman, who mostly draws it. They say of their collaboration that each of them does 75% of the work. Seems accurate enough. Here are a few:

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That the first one is possible only in a comic strip seems obvious. The next two, scrolling down, are perhaps less obvious. But in both, the multiple images not only attract attention to themselves (an important aspect of competing with other strips on the same page for readers) but create, by their very multiplicity, a puzzle that the concluding panels “solve.” Only in the comics.

Here are a couple more:

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In these two strips, the visual devices to which Scott and Borgman have resorted may seem obvious. But, as Samuel Johnson is said to have remarked about the alleged genius of Gulliver’s Travels, once you have thought of little people, the rest is a foregone conclusion. Well, yes. But thinking of the little people wasn’t all that easy.

You can find this sort of deployment of image and verbiage in Zits several times a week. I can’t help thinking that a contributing factor may be that Borgman has more creative time on his hands these days than he did when he was also doing editorial cartoons several times a week. To fill the time, he doodles up more and more outlandish combinations of word and picture. Not by formula, mind you. But combining word and picture into an image is how a cartoonist thinks. That’s his way of being. He does it without, er, thinking about it.

Here’s another one — Zits breaking a taboo this time.

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That’s Pierce’s bare ass he’s holding in the third panel. Bare buttocks are forbidden visual fare in most comic strips. In Pierce’s remark, however, Scott and Borgman surrender to contemporary mores in substituting “butt” for “ass.” Yes, they mean the same thing, but somehow “butt” is less offensive than “ass.” Dunno why.

Below Zits is another in our continuing series showing how toilet humor has infected newspaper comic strips. I can’t seem to go a week these days without encountering yet another example of the same erstwhile verboten topic. What a joke. Two days! I can’t go two days without another toilet joke!

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Darby Conley may have achieved an Enviable First in Get Fuzzy for Feb. 26 — a picture of a comic strip character sitting on the toilet! Not that I mind, y’unnerstan. If it’s funny — and this one is — any amount of porcelain can be tolerated, even welcomed.

In Zits, one more time — only in the comics. We don’t need the words much in this one — except to add a dimension of familiar personality to the episode. Borgman’s visual touches always amaze as well as amuse. Jeremy’s mother’s boobs jump when she gets the full blast of her son’s “music” through the earpiece. And we don’t really need Jeremy’s father in this strip for the joke: His getting burnt to a crisp is a laugh bonus.

Excellent, excellent, excellent.

images ©their respective owners

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