What’s Going On With Mary Worth?


Some of the story comics have undergone changes that aren’t hard to explain.

Mary Worth.

Most of the story comics are written and drawn by teams of people. The only exceptions I can think of are James Allen’s Mark Trail and Dan Thompson’s Rip Haywire. Mark Trail I’ve talked about. Rip Haywire is a weird case. It’s a humor adventure strip for one thing. Also Dan Thompson is apparently some superhuman force as he produces an estimated 14 to 22 daily comics as it is. I don’t know if any of them appear in newspapers. They should.

For the most part, though, story strips have an author and an artist and they’re separate people. It’s easy to think that the important part of a comic strip is the writing. After all, if the story is boring who cares if the art is good? And there are drearily many comics that get by on pretty good writing and indifferent art. So it seems like the change of artist, such as happened with Mary Worth this spring, shouldn’t change much.

People who pay attention should know better. They’d remember Bill Watterson writing of how when he had a weak Calvin and Hobbes joke he’d go all out on illustrating it. Somehow a lavish picture makes a weak joke better. Or they might remember how that experiment in redrawing Apartment 3-G turned a disastrously bad strip into one that at least parses as a story. And yet I was taken by surprise too.

Dawn and Harlan continue their talk after lunch ... and Harlan goes on about how he studies stuff, you know: art history, Latin, parkour, cartography, gardening, yoga. Pretty sure he's trying to rope Dawn into a cult, so watch this space.
Karen Moy and Joe Giella’s Mary Worth for the 24th of April, 2016. The coloring of comics, even Sunday strips, is a pretty dodgy thing so maybe this can’t be blamed on anybody particular. But I believe Harlan is wearing the carpet from the shuttered Amboy Cinemas multiplex just south of the Raritan River on US 9.

First things, though: it’s not like the art was bad when Joe Giella was drawing it. Above is his last Sunday strip. It’s composed well enough, with a good balance of close-ups and distant shots, and the camera movement is clear enough. Where people are relative to each other is never confusing, and we never get close to that mess where the character on the right speaks before the character on the left. The worst you can say is that the faces seem a bit weirdly flat — Dawn’s hair does not do her any favors, especially in the third row there — and the fingers look weird. Fingers always do. I don’t think newspapers provide enough space for fingers not to look weird anymore. But if I could draw as well today as Giella did, I’d not be beating myself up for not taking drawing more systematically when I was eight.

Joe Giella retired this year, to enjoy rolling around in the piles of syndicated newspaper story comic money I’m sure he has. June Brigman, last artist for the Brenda Starr comic and a longtime comic book artist, took his place. I can’t deny it took time to get used to her style, and I’m not sure we’ve yet met all of the Charterstone Regulars.

Tommy attempts to fill his pain medication prescription and gets refused. The pharmacist sees he's already bought too much Vicodin, too rapidly, at several different pharmacies. Tommy's mother is shocked and he just looks doomed.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 4th of September, 2016. I would chuckle at Tommy’s incompetent attempts to support his Vicodin addiction except that I had absolutely no idea that the thing I smelled in the office of our unread campus leftist weekly newspaper was marijuana. I’d still never know if someone hadn’t mentioned it like two years later after we’d driven smoking of anything and everything out of the office. In my defense, I was the sort of 18-year-old who would go on to make informed opinions about Mary Worth. Also being an undergraduate is all about being introduced to unexplained and exotic new odors.

The art’s gotten better, though. Brigman’s doing better at getting a sense of volume into the confined spaces of modern comic strips. And she seems to show more ambition in the choice of camera angles. We’re more likely to see the view from higher above or far below figures. It conveys motion even in a static panel.

I can’t say the stories have changed since Brigman (with the help of her husband) took over the art. The stories have been quite the usual for Mary Worth: Dawn pursues a relationship with one of her instructors that every college and university warns its instructors not to do. Tommy gets injured at work and turns his Vicodin prescription into a Vicodin addiction in no time. Charterstone regular Wilbur Westin, who survived a cruise ship, is taking a sabbatical year to interview survivors of other disasters. His girlfriend is pondering whether to date someone she met at community college even though Zak is decades younger than she is. In some of these stories Mary Worth has something relevant to say. In some of them she just makes a cameo to remind you who’s in charge here.

Zak ENJOYED our lunch and hopes to CONTINUE his talk with Iris. She's reluctant and says she 'may be BUSY this weekend'. Zak is unphased and says 'I look FORWARD to HEARING from you' as she flees.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 4th of December, 2016. End of a hilariously awkward coffee date between Iris and the much-younger Zak. I don’t know if we’ve gotten Zak’s full name so I’m going to go ahead and suppose it’s Zakerri Dellyn Brooklin except that since he’s supposed to be about 25 he’s a little old to get ‘Brooklyn’ in his name. Maybe he changed it.

Still, they read better. They do feel like stuff is happening. The little shortcuts and elided bits of logic needed to carry on a story when you get two or maybe three panels a day haven’t stood out so much. I don’t remember any strips showing action or emotion that might have challenged Giella. But a comic strip is the writing and the art, and it turns out somewhat better art does make the comic enormously better.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index was unchanged today following the first significant snow of the year. In response to this traders spent so much time cleaning off the driveway and dusting the snow off the tops of their cars that it would be a shame to come in and do any work, honestly. By about the sixth major snow of the year they’re just going to be brushing off about two-thirds of the windshield and car hood, after all, and around the tenth major snow of the year they just brush off a two-square-inch patch and hit the windshield wiper fluid a lot. We should celebrate the real cleaning while it lasts.

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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 “What’s Going On With Mary Worth?”

  1. Uncle Joe had 2 Ultimate Fails, and you’ve shown both of them:

    1) Astroturf jackets
    2) Hausfrau Dawn

    So, they’re gone. Cool. Now we have no way to avoid Moy’s unspeakable crimes against art. Today being an utterly average illustration. Bad quotes, platitudes, inaction. Nothing lately has quite matched an Olive tummybrain story for total stupidity, but the inevitable moment when Iris realizes that Zak isn’t a Wilbur level eunuch has me ready to hide out until Easter.

    Like

    1. Well, yes, that’s so. It’s hard to imagine a Mary Worth that isn’t quite so charmingly square. And, lately, that involves so little of Mary Worth nudging her way into things. There were several stories in the past few years that didn’t involve her pressing people to get all heteronormatively involved. They kind of straightened out their extremely small problems themselves.

      It’s going to take some really inspired touch to top the Oliver’s Tummybrain story, must say.

      Like

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