Print comics the opposite of comic

By Erik Hinton

‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Marmaduke’ is an awful cartoon. Just imagine the cartoonist, Brad Anderson, pitching the… ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Marmaduke’ is an awful cartoon. Just imagine the cartoonist, Brad Anderson, pitching the concept to a newspaper editor. ‘Yeah, see. Every day, Marmaduke, a large slobbering Great Dane, gets into mischief. He brings dirt into the house, steals his owners’ sausages and knocks things over with his aforementioned great size. Also, Marmaduke cannot talk and is altogether hateful.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Marmaduke’ is such a poor cartoon that it has spawned countless parody sites including Joe Mathlete Explains Today’s Marmaduke and The Marmaduke Project. Imitation is traditionally dubbed the highest form of flattery. This is not so on these sites, which vocally and frequently voice their disdain for the comic. ‘Jesus Christ, Brad Anderson. Grow some shame,’ reads the blog. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ As if this wasn’t depressing enough, on Sunday the official ‘Marmaduke’ prints ‘Dog Gone Funny,’ wherein dog owners write in about the antics of their pets. Yorkies howling at ‘Jeopardy,’ Elkhounds watching cat food commercials ‘- lots of television humor it appears ‘- Shih Tzus that cannot figure out how to play with pig ears. As you might expect, this isn’t funny, much less ‘doggone funny.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Family Circus’ might be a worse cartoon. Mommy, Daddy, Dolly, Billy and Jeffy parading their belligerent evangelism through frame after circular frame. PJ, the baby, was introduced in 1962. Presumably, there was quite the hubbub over the youngest child’s name not ending in a diminutive ‘-y’. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ The gold standard of the ‘Family Circus’ comic features Billy, the heir apparent of the ‘Family Circus’ bloodline, walking around the neighborhood, his path marked by a dotted line. One little boy can get into so much trouble in provincial town. It’s astonishing and terrible.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Cathy,’ ‘For Better or For Worse,’ ‘Prince Valiant’: The list of abjectly unfunny newspaper cartoons is extensive. Most haven’t been updated in decades. The whole affair conjures the image of an Archie Bunker-type fiddling away on a drawing board, chuckling over gawky dogs and watching the ‘700 Club.’ When hot-button issues spin through the news, these comics try to wittily incorporate in the most cut-and-paste fashion imaginable. Is Gov. Sarah Palin’s candidacy the hot news of the day? White-out ‘Spiro Agnew’ from that ’70s strip and write in ‘Palin’ instead. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ If similar dismal content was allowed in other copy, all papers would have already died or gone the way of the Christian Science Monitor and been eaten up by the Internet. Why, then, is ‘Marmaduke’ allowed to live? If I ever want to laugh even once on the comics page, I have to pull a Peter Pan and muster all of my good memories. It helps if a stranger tickles me. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Webcomics have been light-years ahead of print since the inception of the Web. Sarcastic collegiates spend hours on sites such as The Perry Bible Fellowship, Dinosaur Comics and Wondermark. I, on the other hand, have never seen anyone lazing away the afternoon with a ‘Cathy’ collection. Whereas Webcomics constantly innovate and follow trends in modern dialogue, print comics flaccidly trail behind, doting on chubby shoe-lovers and sloppy hounds. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ More than contributing anything stimulating to newspapers, comics survive as some of the last vestiges of the halcyon days of newspapers. In the puerile, jingoistic innocence of the ‘Family Circus,’ we see an entire legacy of news publication. Most of these strips have not updated their images since Vietnam. Through such consistency, older generations may seize upon the happy thread of history. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Furthermore, by brazenly turning a blind eye to modern issues, fashions, styles of humor or methods of illustration, comics maintain the image that nothing has changed in their often 50-year-plus runs. Beetle Bailey still fights in some ambiguous 20th-century war. Andy Capp still wallows in some drunken industrial-age stupor. Frank and Ernest are still optimistic homeless people who can change shape at will. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Newly introduced print comics are proof that we depend on these very comics we disparage to keep our papers feeling like papers as news organizations shift ever further to the Internet. Sure, ‘Zits’ and ‘Non Sequitur’ make me laugh. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ However, they make me feel like I went home to find an attractive stranger lounging on my couch. ‘Ma’am, I’m not entirely upset. This just smacks of intrusion.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Despite what good taste would like to tell you, do not expect traditional print comics to go away anytime soon. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ At the very least, they are a punching bag we can all rally around and try out our new social humors upon. But at the very best, they are a cultural touchstone that imprints history on ever-modernizing papers. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Doggone it. Email Erik at [email protected]. ‘ ‘ ‘