Monday, January 8, 2007

White Elephant of the Comics Page

How far we fall. Can it possibly be true that the funniest and most inventive strip in this Sunday's Comics was Zits? Zits? What the hell? Family humor? Yeah, not quite what I expected, and I'm sure not quite what you expected either. What's worse is that another family values strip, For Better or Worse, came in close second.

Sure, the heavy weights have retired. The comic titans who roamed the Sunday pages in the golden days of the 80's and 90's, Peanuts, The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, and above all, Bloom County have all faded into memory. But somebody has to carry the torch! Where's the irreverence? Where's the social commentary? Who, by god, is going to bring on the funny? A half dozen Far Side clones don't hack it I say, and neither does "workplace humor" or Gary Trudeau.

This brings me to the most embarrassing spectacle of the Sunday Comics: page two's Opus. Perhaps one of the funniest and creative strippers of all time, Berkeley Breathed needs to improve or retire again before he does serious damage to his legacy. Take yesterday's strip for example. It makes no sense! Dancing idiots? Where does that come from? Is this some kind of pop culture sensation that I don't know about? Some TV show with dancing animals? What's with the crass sexuality in the last two panels? Sexual attraction is not its own punchline, and Mr. Breathed should be the first one to recognise that.

Remember the old days? The zany ideas, the lapses into absurdity, the great artwork. Back then pop culture was just a tool Breathed used to push along his far out ideas and rockin' art. Today, they are an ends and not a means. The results are insipid, not creative.

Breathed was forgiven when he abandoned Bloom County for Outland. Outland, although far inferior to Bloom County, was still a fine vehicle for Breathed's creativity and his occasional flashes of genius. Disturbing trends were on the rise even then though, as Outland's shameless pandering to the crowd, and pop humor began to rear their ugly heads. When it finally left the papers, Outland retired to sighs of relief. No one likes to see the master start losing his touch.

My worst fears have been realized with the release of Breathed's newest strip. The magic that once infused Bloom County, and occasionally emerged in Outland, has been paved over with Opus's sad, crass, pandering nonsense.

His illustrations are still strong though. Yes! Read Opus for the illustrations! A damnable endorsement indeed.


hcduvall said...

I only look for insight from BC, myself.

Chengora said...

Is it just me, or have the days of the incomprehensible comic gone and left us? When I was younger, I remember seeing (and getting bored by) comics like Bloom Country and Gary Trudeau's political rant. Among these I would probably include Prince Valiant and 50's throwbacks like Mary Worth. And I promptly skipped over them.

Of course, as I got older, certain ones got better (Far Side, Bloom Country, maybe Doonesbury) and others did not (Mary Worth, Prince Valiant). But it seems to me the deeper, richer comics have all gone the way of "graphic novels", which I'm sure Duvall will jump in (and rightly so) that they are comics. And I haven't read a newspaper comic strip in a really long time, but it really does feel like there was a gulf that emerged and now yawns between silly, three-panel jokes (with the occasional expansion to five or ten panels on Sunday) and much more serious-minded "graphic novels". What caused that? Is it simply that short-form comics have come to be increasingly associated with children (and perhaps geekdom)? But that would be at least in part because of the vacuous turn of many three panel comics, which don't have to be that way.

Either way, we've lost the serious-minded three panel, and the less said about one panel political cartoons, the better.

HoBs said...

so haven't read comics in ages. I just get the sunday nytimes. I remember there once was a time when subscribing to a newspaper without a comics page was anathema to me.

but last time i checked, foxtrot and over the hedge were still pretty on top of things. (I appreciate the physics/trekkie/ifruity humor esp)
and over the hedge carried on the full panel, boxless glory that calvin and hobbes brought back in its late years.

and i have a friend who swears by mary worth and prince valiant. I think those are only meaningful to those who have been following them for decades.

a lot of good comics have gone online. some crazy stat i recall hearing that more comic strips are viewed that way than in newspapers

my favorite is (written by a fellow stanford phd student while I was there, he was an engineer though. captures grad school life perfectly.)

duvall clued me into which captures disaffected po-po-mo twenty something new york (asian-american) youth. liked it enough to send money to the author
for an original panel.

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