What’s Going On In Apartment 3-G

Prepended the 11th of November, 2015: Hi, many folks who’ve found this page while looking for information about Apartment 3-G. I do update what’s known about the strip under the category tag of Apartment 3-G, so you can always find the latest by following this link.

Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be much more latest to report. The comic strip has, reportedly, been cancelled, and the last new strip is to appear the weekend of the 21st-22nd. Rumor is that vintage (rerun) strips will be appearing at least on the Comics Kingdom web site after that. Whether they’ll be distributed to newspapers that want reruns of a soap opera strip I don’t know. Whether they will finish off the current story before ending … I don’t know, but I am skeptical they even could. I’m sorry not to have better information.

I have noticed the recent surge in people searching for Apartment 3-G information. I’ve written about the comic strip a couple of times, because it’s been going through a stage of fantastic quantities of nothing happening lately. But it’s been getting worse, or at least more baffling. Yes, worse than the stretch where artist Frank Bolle and writer Margaret Shulock spent without exaggeration six weeks of nothing but shots of two people talking about how they had to talk with no relief or any actual subject in mind except for the world’s most hideously deformed kangaroo-deer-night terror.

So to answer the question of what’s going on in Apartment 3-G as sincerely and honestly as I can: nothing comprehensible. No. Not anything.

Margo exists in the least diner-iest diner you have ever seen. It just looks like a generic apartment with no hints of tables or chairs or food or customers or anything.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 1st of February, 2015.

The overarching plot as it stumbled into the year, back around February or so, was that Margo’s father and the woman she’d always thought was the maid but was in fact her biological mother were finally getting married. Margo had been hired to organize their wedding, but was emotionally confused and furious that her biological mother had been taking advice from some kind of psychic who’s warning about evil at their (planned? considered?) wedding location. That takes us to about February.

Margo demands to know who some guy who doesn't answer her is. She wonders why this keeps happening.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 21st of February, 2015.

Margo sees a stranger? He says, 'Am I a stranger or an old friend? Or maybe just a ghost in the fog.'
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 4th of July, 2015.
Yes, this was published over four months after the previous strip and it reiterates the same tiny plot point.

Since then, Margo has been wandering around what are allegedly spots in alleged Manhattan, shouting at people that I guess we’re supposed to conclude are her friends. Meanwhile, she’s being haunted by people who seem to know her, but that she doesn’t recognize. Some of them she drives away; some of them just vanish on their own. These haunting people don’t look like the same person, but given the shakiness of Apartment 3-G lately it’s not possible to say whether that’s intentionally unclear. I suspect that these are meant to be the ghosts of boyfriends or male entanglements of the past. However, none of that has been established on-screen, and nobody who’s read the strip has popped up with any identifications of, oh, “the guy haunting her in April was her fiancee from the 1984-86 story they were talking about that one Golden Girls episode”.

A strange face asks Margo if she wants to know his name. She replies, 'That's a heck to the no!'. This is one of the more wonderful things I've seen this year.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 7th of July, 2015.

A man on the street asks Margo if she's all right. She declares, 'This is Manhattan --- you're not supposed to care about people.'
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 8th of July, 2015.

And about two weeks ago Lu Ann declared that she was fed up with everything, and she was quitting the gallery and selling her third-share in Apartment 3-G’s building. Also she worked at a gallery, and owned a third-share in Apartment 3-G’s building. The only reason that’s been given for this is that she wants to get out of Manhattan and see the big time. This seems to be correlated to a Mister Clean cosplayer named Mike Downey apologizing I guess for something he maybe did at some point, but how has not been said.

Lu Ann forgives a Mister Clean cosplayed and then hasn't talked to Margo lately.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 7th of June, 2015.

No, none of what motivates any of this has been clarified. Believe me. I have been reading the strip daily, and I have gone back reading it weeks and months at a time to see if it connects more clearly when you look at a block of story at once. There is no story here. There are a couple of plot points — Margo is distressed by her parents’ wedding, Margo is haunted by familiar but unidentifiable figures, Lu Ann wants to change her life — but they exist in island universes, separated from one another and receding ever-faster. And after nothing happened between February and June, then the third of those plot points was dropped into this shapeless melange. You are not missing something, dear confused reader.

Lu Ann explains she's selling out of Apartment 3-G because 'there is a big world out there, and I want to see it all!'
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 28th of June, 2015.

I know it’s always easy to make fun of the story strips, since they usually don’t do story well and they’re never funny on purpose. But something seriously bad has happend with Apartment 3-G the past several years. What plotting and narrative the strip used to have has evaporated, and the artwork has collapsed. The only thing I can compare it to is the last years of Dick Locher’s run on Dick Tracy. At that point all narrative collapsed. What few things happened were repeated over and over, as far as you could make out from the artwork. Without exaggeration it was possible to take a week’s worth of panels, scramble them, and read exactly as coherent a story.

That’s fine for some ironic thrills, for a while. Truly incompetent storytelling carries this exciting, outsider-art appeal. But it’s an unhealthy diet. It’s especially so for syndicated newspaper comic strips, an already sickly relative of the pop culture; and it’s extremely dangerous for the syndicated story strip, which might be the most endangered part of the newspaper.

I would like to think there’s hope. After a seemingly endless mess of nothing Dick Locher retired from Dick Tracy. The new team — Joe Staton and Mike Curtis — brought to it fresh artwork and exciting plots carried out with energy and direction. While the strip is flawed (there’s a lot of fanboyish determination to reference and cross-reference everything, and plots have rarely required Dick Tracy to do actual detective work), it’s recovered to being a good story strip again. While I wish no harm to Margaret Shulock or Frank Bolle, I do hope the strip can regenerate. It would be terrible if this is the long sad prelude to cancellation.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

14 thoughts on “What’s Going On In Apartment 3-G”

  1. Also, you’re understating. Martin & Gabrielle had the exact same fight in December & again in May, There was a “Diner” scene where Margo ordered breakfast on a sidewalk & ate it in her apartment. Where Tommy knocked on the hotel room door & the scene finished in the apartment?
    If anyone can explain the total breakdown of space, it’s #Lampy, the green lampshade that appears in random spots in every indoor strip.


    1. I had forgotten the duplication of fights, I admit. But I’d also forgotten how long ago the diner-on-the-sidewalk was, too. In my memory it was only a couple weeks ago, I suppose because of how little action’s passed since that fiasco. Digging back through week after week of strips shocked me for how full of nothing the things were.


  2. I could have sworn that first one was just someone snarkily replacing it with adapted dialog from “The Room.” Has Tommy Wiseau been writing the strip lately?


      1. I have wondered a bit if the strip is trying to be self-consciously awful. For example, Rip Haywire does pretty well at being an adventure strip that’s also a mock-adventure strip. I could imagine a soap-opera strip trying the same approach.

        But while the dialogue is loopy and doesn’t make sense spoken aloud I’m not sure that it’s enough more loopy or senseless than what you get in soap-opera strips that haven’t completely collapsed, like Mary Worth or Rex Morgan.


  3. Nothing funny in my comment, I’m just surprised you didn’t talk more about the “collapsed” artwork. I asked about this obvious deterioration on another blog, and am wondering if it contributed much to the move to end the strip. Frank Bolle did a decent job for the most part, but the recent strips are just too sloppy.


    1. The artwork in the last years of the strip was a baffling piece of it, certainly. I do talk about it in some of the Apartment 3-G reviews, mostly when art errors subvert what narrative is even left.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the collapse of the artwork helped the decision to cancel the strip. It’s reasonable to suppose readers will overlook a disaster than something that’s really attractive. But the amount of poor draftsmanship that’s tolerated on the comics page — see many, many humor strips — suggests to me the writing is the bigger disaster. That said I’m not aware of any well-written but badly-drafted story strips that had any longevity; maybe the art matters more when the comic doesn’t try being funny?


    2. John again. I’ve been looking at some more recent 3Gs and I’m still struck by the whole issue of the artwork. This is because I’m seeing some recent Sunday strips where the three Gs are shown as part of the logo, something that was obviously done a long time ago and is simply being reused as sort of stock art. The three Gs look quite good here, and Frank B. was a good artist for most of his run. I know he’s 91, and my criticism of his recent work isn’t meant to be mean-spirited. (For all I know, it may be someone else drawing it). But that logo in those Sundays just highlights the decline even more, and the strip should’ve shut down sooner. Okay, no more comments from me.


      1. That’s all right, no need to apologize. The collapse of the artwork is part of the mystery and … awe of the last years of Apartment 3-G. And I do mean that sincerely; there’s a kind of art in making something that isn’t just bad but is compelling and worth study in its badness.

        I don’t know why the art got so bad. It is easy to imagine Bolle losing control of his line art, and no one having the heart (or budget) to replace him. That there wasn’t really any sudden change in the artwork suggests that it wasn’t quietly farmed out to a lesser artist. (If you have a Comics Kingdom subscription — and I recommend it, for the vintage comics alone — you can look through, say, the first strip of each month for the past several years. There’s no one month where things are much different than the month before, but over the course of a year or two the change is stunning.)

        Somewhere among the Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G reports is a redrawing someone on the Comics Curmudgeon blog did. (I’m sorry to be so vague about it, but searching takes the slightest bit of effort.) It does suggest that strong, sharp art would have made the nonsensical story at least tolerable, so the collapse really was a blending of bad writing and bad art.


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