What’s Going On With Rex Morgan, M.D.?


[Edited the 6th of June, 2017 to add] Thanks for looking to me for tips on the developments in Rex Morgan, M.D.. This post is from January of 2017. Summaries of more recent storylines should be available at this link at or near the top of its page.


So, you know the difference between Rex Morgan, M.D. and Judge Parker? Yeah, me neither. I’m not meaning to be snarky here. It’s just both story comics are about people who nominally have exciting professional jobs but never get around to doing those jobs because they’re busy having strangers throw money and valuable prizes at them. They were even both created by Nicholas P Dallis (in 1952 and 1948, respectively). There’s a lot in common. That started to change earlier this year.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

The craziness came on gradually. It always does. It’s one thing when characters have abnormally long stretches of good luck. That happens, at least when authors like their characters so much they wish them well, and can make success happen. It went really crazy with a trip to the museum. I forget the exact details. The museum had been planning a fundraiser, selling this volume of drawings kids contributed. A little odd but I could imagine that working. Then Sarah Morgan drew a horsey. A really good horsey. The kind of horsey that left everyone awestruck with her horsey-drawing abilities. The book mutated. It would be one of Sarah Morgan’s drawings, horseys and anything else she wanted to draw. Also it would hae a much bigger press run. Maybe worldwide distribution. Also she’d be brought in to the museum to draw and be seen drawing by tour groups. Her first day at this she spotted and overthrew the class bully of some tour group. Also she caught the attention of a none-dare-call-it mafia widow, who hired professional instructors for her. And her father, Rex Morgan, renegotiated the book deal so Sarah would get a much bigger cut of the royalties on this already-bestselling art book.

And then the kindly old widow lady offered to sell Rex Morgan her Victorian-era mansion for whatever cash he had in his wallet right this second, and actually never mind, she’d spot him that too. That’s about where things stood before the 1st of May, when artist Terry Beatty took over the writing duties also for Rex Morgan, M.D.: you could be forgiven thinking this was some parody of the lives of the impossibly well-off.

June thanks Cilla for offering the house cheaply. But she points out to Rex that the house is a gorgeous museum full of antiques, and they have a two kids and a dog smashing around. It's not practical. Rex resigns himself to it. 'I'm not getting my roll top desk, am I?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of May, 2016. The fake-out about buying Cillia’s house had some nice stuff around it, including a bit where she was constantly fighting with her neighbor and he was warning the Morgans that the house was on the verge of collapse. It was one of those longrunning fights between ancient people who’re crushing on each other without admitting it. You know the kind, the ones that I’m sure happen in real life … like … sometime, I guess?

The six months plus since Woody Wilson stepped away from the comic have been largely one of ratcheting things back down. Some of that’s been handled gracefully: Rex and June Morgan conclude that while the Victorian mansion would be a swell place — furniture included! — it’s really not practical, not with two kids and a dog racing around the place. It’s the sort of quiet little dream-snatching thing which you think of when you’re a grownup.

The mafia wife’s interest in Sarah was explained as trying to make up for her own lost daughter. The museum’s interest in her horsey pictures was because she, as a major donor, was driving them. Is that sensible? I’m not sure, but if I don’t poke at it too hard it sounds like it makes sense. That’s as much as I need in a story. Especially if it’s trying to retcon past excesses away without causing too much trouble.

Rex gets a late-night phone call. 'That was the hospital letting me know we'd lost a patient ... and such a great guy, too. Smart, talented, the sort of person the world needs more of, not less.' He's not going to be able to get to sleep. 'Maybe I'll go downstairs and throw on one of those superhero movies where they *do* save everybody. That's the kind of thing this guy liked.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 4th of September, 2016. It’s a touching strip, not just because I believe it’s another memorial comic for Cul de Sac cartoonist Richard Thompson, who died too soon in July.

Other, similarly excessive, storylines have gotten walked back too. Dr Morgan had proclaimed competent Milton Avery, one of those industrialists you see in comic strips who’s incredibly wealthy in the field of business. And who was also barely aware of where he was or what day it was. I forget the pretext. I think that Morgan was doing this out of friendship to either Avery or his daughter, so they might fight off a Board of Directors attempt to replace their dementia-ridden executive. It’s hard to see how Morgan was supposed to be in the right, there. Beatty’s getting Morgan out of that malpractice by having Avery’s condition get far worse, rather quickly, leaving all questions of competence moot. And he’s turning that into a fresh storyline, as Avery’s daughter means to take him back to England and asked Morgan to follow and care for him there.

Heather explains her father's dementia is worsening so much she wants to take him back to England. 'I think he'll be more comfortable there.' And she asks if Rex will come with them. 'I've come to rely on your these past few months, and Milton is quite fond of you. Don't answer yet: give it some thought before you decide.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 20th of November, 2016. The bus station incident is one where Milton wandered away from home and tried to hitchhike to England. A driver put him off at the bus station, swapped jackets with him, and tried to make off with Milton’s bundle of emergency cash. He got himself into the Dumb Criminals News feature quickly enough, which is plausible enough and kind of fun to watch.

And then this past month came the biggest change. Sarah got hit by a car, by a distracted driver. It felt startling and a bit of a return to the understated class warfare of pre-May comics. (“See what happens when you let children ride the public school bus like peasants?”) But it also puts Rex Morgan back in the hospital, someplace that Beatty has wanted Morgan to spend more of his time. And where he ought to. Story strips can wander some but it’s weird to get so far away from the medical-comic origins.

As June and Rex Morgan worry about Sarah, hit by a distracted driver, the police officer talks about the hazards of texting-while-driving.
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 11th of December, 2016. It may seem like an odd thing for the police officer to talk at length about the hazards of distracted driving. (Sarah was hit by a driver looking at a cell phone instead of the road.) But it also has, for me anyway, the feel of the sort of slightly crazy thing that actually happens and that the worried parents in this sort of situation dimly remember as a weird thing that happened for no reason they can understand. I’m fortunate to be inexperienced in emergencies but my understanding is they’re a lot of standing around confused while strange authority figures tell you things you don’t care about for no reason you understand.

I have to rate it as an improvement. The most excessive storylines are being resolved or being retconned into things that less offend reason. And the pacing is improved too; this is the strip which saw June Morgan pregnant for something like 27 months, reader time, and it handled the Morgans buying a new house in about a week’s worth of montage. That’s much more like it.

(By the way, Speers also created Apartment 3-G. One would never confuse that with Judge Parker or Rex Morgan. And that’s got to be some kind of record for creating long-lasting story strips.)

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

And just like that the Another Blog, Meanwhile index dropped two points, owing to our sitting a little too far back in the chair. We lost the good pen, too, and have to resort to the main backup pen. We’re not going to be caught leaning back again because the alternate backup pen is just awful. It’s ball-point.

119

On Richard Thompson


I first saw Richard Thompson’s cartoons as the occasional illustrations in Joel Achenbach’s Why Things Are books. They were these complicated, scribbly, not-exactly-attractive but still compelling sketches to go along with Achenbach’s Cecil-Adams-esque essays. But Achenbach went on to other things, and I didn’t pay attention to the artist, who went on to other things himself. Mostly that was illustrating for Washington Post features which, since I didn’t live in or near Washington, I’d never see.

Last decade he started the comic strip Cul de Sac, which just everybody I knew who cared about comic strips got to praising. My natural contrariness and memories of past times I was burned left me skeptical. But as sometimes happens everyone was right. It was a fantastic comic strip. The art was no less … weird, honestly. It took time to warm up to it. But it’s … well, here. Let me put up a link that always goes to today’s rerun of the comic strip. I’ll say this confidently: the art is funny to look at. It’s expressive. Every face is showing an emotion, a clear and strongly-drawn one. The stuff that isn’t the focus of the panel’s action is drawn funny too. The more you study the lines the more you realize it’s tricky to draw like that.

Cul de Sac was, by 2010, ready to be the savior of the comics page. The strip just had everything. Expressive artwork. Characters who, by being so outrageously implausible, become intimate familiars. Dialogue that’s logical yet surreal. The small-kid perspective by which everything in the world is a bit magical. And hyperbole. It isn’t enough that one kid’s mother is scrapbooking everything he does. It’s that she has twenty-eight (or something) scrapbooks just for the current month. Tall tales are part of the foundation of the American humorous voice, and Thompson captured that perfectly.

And then just as Cul de Sac was escaping from the notice of comic strip fans into the wider world, where it might be spoken of with the delighted reverence we use for Calvin and Hobbes or Peanuts, it was struck down. Thompson suffered from Parkinson’s disease, and had reached the point he couldn’t do the strip anymore. The comics page has been the poorer since then. There are many fine comics out there, but I haven’t seen anything that shows the apparently-easy genius that Cul de Sac did, or the promise of it.

Thompson died late last month, complications from Parkinson’s disease.

Gocomics.com reruns his Cul de Sac comics as well as the Richard’s Poor Almanac feature, which if I understand right was mostly quarter- or full-page features for Washington Post Sundays. Those haven’t got the recurring characters of Cul de Sac, but they have got the same vibrant imagination and sharp attention to detail. I recommend both comics. There’s things you’ll be sorry you missed. They will likely include jokes about restaurants.