We’ve Arrived

Posted by on January 22nd, 2010 at 2:47 PM

Comic strips are at the opposite end of the cultural cutting edge. As I’ve mentioned before, to attract and keep readership in a popular medium, comic strips never initiate fads or movements: they follow trends, appealing to readers with material the readers are already familiar with and comfortable with. So when the eponymous Betty engages in conversation with her son about graphic novels, we know graphic novels have arrived and are now commonplace in popular culture. All of us gathered here around the warm glow of the computer screen knew graphic novels were barging into social acceptance: they’ve been in bookstores for years. But now, thanks to Betty and her Canadian creators, Gary Delainey (who writes the strip) and Gerry Rasmussen (who draws it), we have confirmation: when you can make jokes about something, that signals that the something is fully integrated into the consciousness of the joke’s audience.

Betty, who is described in United Feature Syndicate publicity as “a smart, savvy … unapologetically ordinary, happy female … a true modern woman—a wife, mother, and working woman,”started as a walk-on character in a comic strip called Bub Slug that Delainey and Rasmussen did for The Gateway, the campus newspaper at the University of Alberta, starting in 1976. Betty made her debut holding a dead parrot. She showed up again in 1985 when the collaborators concocted for the Edmonton Journal a weekly version of Bub Slug that put the characters in Edmonton locations and featured Edmonton personalities.

Between the time of their graduation in 1978 and the Edmonton Journal incarnation of Betty, the two creators were freelancing art and cartooning; and they self-syndicated another daily strip, Gramps, to Canadian newspapers for three years.

Then in 1991, Betty graduated into her own title for syndication with United Feature. Delainey and Rasmussen had submitted Bub Slug, whose title character was a hard-hat working man; but the UFS editor liked Betty, Bub’s wife; so the creative duo shifted the focus from husband to wife. And soon the narrative focus changed, too: Betty was originally about Betty at work, where she reviewed movies for a local cable company, but before long, the concentration was on Betty as wife and mother. And Bub smartened up, too: in the college and Edmonton version, he was somewhat stupid.

What I like about the strip is the vital conjunction of a modern sensibility in story and gags and a vintage, almost antique, graphic style. Almost R. Crumb’s celebrated galoot manner but not quite—just this side of that.

Delainey and Rasmussen both draw, and early in their strip’s collegiate incarnation, they thought, briefly, that they’d alternate drawing it week to week or, even, panel to panel, but they quickly separated into the two functions they now follow. Said Rasmussen: “Once Gary started writing, I looked over at him and saw him just kind of burning up the lead, going through page after page of great stuff, and I thought, ‘Well, I guess Gary will write this strip.’”

As art students, they’d often collect after class with others who were interested in cartooning. “We’d have some late night ‘jam sessions,’” Rasmussen remembered. “We would make up characters and different strips. We would each start a strip on a page, which would be the first panel, and then we would pass it on to the next guy. Some of these sessions started off with as many as twelve people. Slowly, Gary and I felt it was time to pool our resources because we were dong some stuff that was really interesting and we worked well together.” Bub Slug was the result.

“The thing I’ve really enjoyed in our collaboration,” he continued, “is that we both came from a visual art background. When Gary writes, he writes in pictures so it’s not something that I really have to translate from a written idea. He conceptualizes it visually from the start. One of the biggest stumbling blocks in doing good comics is [the failure] to always think in pictures.”

Gary chimed in: “A lot of times I have to draw because the writing itself would leave Gerry scratching his head. It has to be with the appropriate pauses and camera angles in order to come off at its maximum.”

The foregoing quotations and some of the biographical information were gleaned from an article in Cartoonist PROfiles, No. 94 (June 1992).

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One Response to “We’ve Arrived”

  1. Mike Hunter says:

    Not much about “Betty” online, though the art and writing in your sample strips are appealing and witty enough. (If hardly interestingly imaginative.) Your article enjoyably informative, its primary premise unassailable.


    Betty… is described in United Feature Syndicate publicity as “… a true modern woman—a wife, mother, and working woman”…

    (Eyes roll in dismay)

    Yeah, that’s what being “liberated” means for women these days. In addition to – first and foremost – taking care of a husband and children, they get to also work at a JOB!