Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G: Could Bringing In Artists Help?


Let me get my publicity out of the way first. A couple days ago my mathematics blog gave serious thought about how the teachers in Barney Google and Snuffy Smith could do better. Also I reveal its fictional location, based on a reference to a 1940 story where Snuffy Smith brings the United States Army over for training. Really.


So. What has gone on in Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G since I last explained the nothingness? We’ve gotten actual information, is what. I think this reflects the Just End The Story Already Fairies taking hold and trying to get out of this failed storyline as soon as possible. Tommie somehow examined Margo’s heart without visible stethoscope on the streets of Manhattan, and then rushed her to Manhattan General, which I guess is the hospital Tommie supposedly works at. Or worked out. She made noise about quitting but goodness knows if her supervisors or even she took it seriously.

This week, Tommie and Margo’s dead fiancée Eric have been talking, while standing randomly on the streets of 1958 Albany. Tommie revealed that Margo’s problem is hyperthyroidism. Tommie says typical symptoms are anxiety, impatience, and depression, which I suppose fits Margo well enough. I do not think that wandering around in an amnesiac fugue state for months is one of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism. However, I won’t get in the way of the Just End The Story Already Fairies in trying to use that to get out of things. To demand medical authenticity out of a soap opera strip is to demand scientific authenticity out of science fiction. It’s not what the genre is about.

Since the story has been progressing well enough that makes the ineptness of the art stand out more. The week’s strips have been Tommie and Eric standing around random street scenes talking with one another. I suppose since they’re just casually (if understandably) violating health privacy rules they could be speaking anywhere. I’d put the action in the hospital or in either of their apartments, but this is an artistic choice that can be defended.

If it’s a made choice. And here the strip from Sunday, the 27th, stands out. As usual the Sunday strip repeats the action from the previous week: Tommie listening to Margo’s heart, declaring they have to get her to the hospital, and telling Eric they won’t give up. During the week before, the action switched at random between street and apartment setting. And, amusingly, Margo stopped appearing altogether after the panel in which Tommie declares she’s going to listen to Margo’s heart and breathing.

Tommie listens to Invisible Margo's heart, and demands an ambulance. Eric and Tommie appear inside a building for one panel, then back out on the street, resolving not to give up.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 27th of September, 2015. Note the one panel that isn’t set in the middle of a street.

In the Sunday redraw of this, the action takes place entirely on the street, except for the penultimate panel in which they’re suddenly back inside an apartment somewhere. Then it jumps back again. This doesn’t even parse.

And here we have a convenient experiment. One of the supererogatory commenters on the Comics Curmudgeon site, A Lee, took the Sunday strip as scripted and laid out, and redrew it. It’s inked in, only, not colored, but the effect is radical.

Tommie listens to the heart and lungs of a Margo who's present and existing, and she discusses the matter with Eric. They're inside rooms and look at one another and stuff like that.
Comics Curmudgeon poster ALee’s redrawing of the Apartment 3-G above. Yeah, the ‘here is the plan — we don’t give up’ word balloon points to the wrong person but that’s a minor glitch.

Nothing more happens, but it at least looks like things are happening. I don’t know whether tight, controlled, and well-composed artwork like this would wear better day-to-day. Things are still only barely happening and that because the Just End The Story Already Fairies have stepped in. But at least in this example the strip reads well. I would rather the strip were well-drawn and well-plotted. But it’s astounding how much effect simply making the artwork better has.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

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

2 thoughts on “Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G: Could Bringing In Artists Help?”

  1. See, to me the redraw just demonstrates concretely that the artist isn’t engaged with the text at all. I seriously wonder about Bolle having cognitive problems. 😦

    [And then, of course, the basic editorial question about why this is being allowed to go to press….]

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    1. It does show Bolle isn’t engaged with the text, yeah. The shakiness of the character models and the arbitrary compositions would be less distracting if the backgrounds made sense and there were, say, evidence of Margo existing while she was getting her heart and lungs listened to.

      If it weren’t for the mid-conversation leaps in background I could buy that Bolle was drawing first and then Shulock trying to match a story to what she sees. It would at least excuse the art being only vaguely near the action.

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