I mean, yes. He’s an underground cartoonist. The job selects for cranky old men, even when they’re, like, 19 and happy. If you’re not a cranky old man you leave underground cartooning for another field, such as ground cartooning, or telling people who tried the door anyway that the credit union closed ten minutes ago. They’re all useful services to society. But I wanted to share the glory of yesterday’s Zippy the Pinhead comic strip.
Understand, I’m not disapproving of his cranky rant here. Anyone who’s managed to make it in the world of somehow still syndicated newspaper comic strips should take pride using their platform for whatever pet peeves they have, even if most of them want to complain about “participation trophies”. And I’m glad to have the rant turned into a visually arresting monster-movie nightmare scenario. I post this only to share my joy with you.
I’m not sure what I expected, really. After the final run of a Henry comic, that is. I guess I expected some kind of reaction from the crowd. At least a sigh. Maybe writing out some message on the fence. But no, nothing like that. I just looked out the window and there was a lot of gone. All there was to remember them by was leaves fallen off the trees and a bunch of mysterious colored flags planted in the ground. I’m like 75% sure none of them are to blame for the leaves, either.
But for the record, here’s the comic that Henry finished its run with. It’s a competent enough strip and I can’t find when its previous rerun had been.
And in what I’m assuming is not exactly a coincidence, Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead guest-starred Henry. I don’t know, but I would imagine that Griffith liked the strip. It was always kind of weird. The constraint of the protagonist only pantomiming helped that. The commitment to keep the strip’s contents true to whatever its early-20th-century Americana Idyll too. It’s the rare comic strip that completely divorcees itself from contemporary culture, too. I mean, even Peanuts, not usually thought of as a topic strip, name-dropped Spuds Mackenzie, alluded to the Vietnam War, sent the kids to a weird millenarianist sleepover camp run by a for-profit preacher, and had Lucy offer her e-mail. (In different years.) But a comic strip like Henry that’s just entirely its own thing? I can see Griffith respecting that.
So I have not the faintest idea why Griffith had Henry present an ontological argument. I trust that he finds it all amusing and weird, and that’s always a fun energy.
Nothing yet from Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. Which is weird, but the comic for the 28th was Halloween-themed so it’s not like that could be coherently bumped to another weekend.
I mean, it’s not a total loss, except to what I had hoped for my lifetime count of blue consumed liquids. It’s still pretty tasty and is still a great phrase for Zippy the Pinhead to chant. It’s just that, like, Diet Faygo Red Pop is more blue than this.
Also while our streetlamp remains unpainted, I did use it the other night to watch a big ol’ skunk trotting merrily across the street, down the neighbor’s yard — past a rabbit who just stayed uncannily still, possibly for fear the skunk would ask for that money back — and finally off towards the woods. So I have to rate this a net positive to the community so far.
I know, I can feel how excited you are too. There’s several great reasons to. For one, it allows me to finally truthfully increment my lifetime count of “blue fluids consumed”. For another, “Diet Faygo Arctic Sun” sounds exactly like the sort of thing that Zippy the Pinhead would start chanting for three, maybe four panels straight while standing near miscellaneous roadside attractions. It’s something that just keeps on giving.
Also please enjoy this bit from a sequence of Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead. It’s from an August 2002 sequence where a strangely realistically-drawn woman turns up in the underground-styled comic strip. I discovered this from reading a strip compilation I borrowed from the library and felt as though Griffith were drawing a storyline just for me. (The woman turned out to be from — well, I won’t spoil the story unnecessarily.) And it’ll make a nice graphic for those times, like today, when the auto care place hasn’t updated its inspirational-despair sign.
14 May – 5 August 2018.
Mary Worth had just talked a despairing Wilbur Weston off the cliff face last time I checked in. He’d been going through a rough time. His column got dropped from the local newspaper. His former girlfriend had a shiny new boyfriend. His shower radio broke. His daughter’s off in Europe arranging a major professor-student relationship scandal. But she promised him things weren’t as dire as all that. And he figured he could go along with a gag.
It worked out well, too. The local newspaper reinstated his paper, citing reader demand. I swear I didn’t write in. I’m cutting back on my ironic reading of stuff. His daughter writes in to say how he’s happy and nobody from the college Human Resources department has asked any questions. And Mary treats Wilbur to a dinner with friends during karaoke night. And they push him to actually performing for once. It’s one of those moves that either turns out great or disastrous. Here it turns out great. He sings the theme from The Golden Girls. It’s one of those moves so corny that it falls over the edge to be sweet again.
And that’s followed by a week’s victory lap. Mostly Jeff telling Mary Worth how great it is that she can fix people up and not marry him. The new, and current, story started the 10th of June.
It’s about Iris’s son Tommy. He’s flirted successfully with coworker Brandy. They have a late-night dinner together that goes well. He’s figured he’s in love already, and he’s only more sure when they go to see Action-Adventure Movie. They do talk about the movie a little, about what you do when you lose choices and about trusting in strained circumstances. It all feels like foreshadowing. Also slightly foggy movie discussion, but I accept this as a convention of the medium. (Any actual movie, even if it were on point, would be out of the theaters before Moy and Bridgman could depict it in the strip. And there’s not the space to describe a made-up movie’s plot in detail.)
Going to the bar afterwards reveals the drama. Brandy doesn’t drink alcohol. Her father was an alcoholic and drug abuser. She doesn’t want that kind of trouble in her life. Tommy doesn’t drink either. He quit after getting addicted to alcohol and painkillers. He’s been clean for over a year now, and has a support group that he feels comfortable with. Brandy’s talk about how this damaged her ability to trust people, and how she can cope with it only by banishing drink and drugs from her life, shatters Tommy’s hopes.
He’s spent the time since then in a self-inquisitive spiral. He’s clean now, yes. But he did get hooked. And he worries about relapsing. He started using alcohol and painkillers after he was badly injured at work, yes. So, you know, he’s not one of those people who have drug problems because they’re bad. He just needed relief from never-ending severe pain. Still, he can foresee Brandy learning about his past and blocking him out. (And for all my snark, I agree both Brandy and Tommy have reasonable fears that they act on appropriately.)
But Tommy remembers what comic strip he’s in. He lays out the situation for Mary Worth. She offers the reasonable advice that she would have to learn of his past. But also that Tommy is not Brandy’s father. But this is serious stuff, so she kicks the problem up a level, to God. Tommy goes to confession, revealing that I guess he’s Roman Catholic too. And he gets some decent talk about growing through your sins.
So that’s the standings as of early August, 2018.
Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!
“The greatest test of courage on the Earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.” — R G Ingersoll, 13 May 2018.
“There was never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope.” — Bernard Williams, 20 May 2018.
“Find a place where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” — Joseph Campbell, 27 May 2018.
“My friends are my estate.” — Emily Dickinson, 3 June 2018.
“To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.” — Marilyn vos Savant, 10 June 2018.
“Don’t fall in love; rise with it.” — Amit Abraham, 17 June 2018.
“Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for.” — Dag Hammarskjöld, 24 June 2018.
“The simple act of caring is heroic.” — Edward Albert, 1 July 2018.
“Gamble everything for love if you are a true human being.” — Rumi, 8 July 2018.
“We all have our secrets. We all have our vulnerabilities.” — Brett Dalton, 15 July 2018.
“Fear is the mother of morality.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, 22 July 2018.
“When in doubt, tell the truth.” — Mark Twain, 29 July 2018.
“Repentance means you change your mind so deeply that it changes you.” — Bruce Wilkinson, 5 August 2018.
So MyComicsShop.com has decided my love needs to buy something from them. And they’re advertising characters my love kind of knows without ever having read, like Casper the Friendly Ghost, or other members of the Harvey Comics A-Team that my love has never heard of, such as Little Lotta, Hot Stuff, or Baby Huey [*] and I’m doing my best to explain any of them. (“Well, Little Dot is a girl who likes things to have dots on them, or have things that look like dots, and she had three books with her name in the title that ran for a collective 279 issues, each with like three or four stories in them, and she was in other books with her own stories too. Yes, she’s one of their best characters.”) And this got me looking into their theoretically available Harvey Comics and this lead me to a series that I guess that I knew existed but had never looked at, which is this:
Hey, is it sometime near the end of May or any of June 2018? If it is, great. If it’s sometime around, oh, August 2018 or later you might want to look here instead. If I’ve written a more recent update about what’s happening in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., it should be there.
Maybe not; he’s cool with seeing how this plays out. Kelly asks Rex Morgan, M.D., what to do about this. Rex can’t diagnose anything, of course; you need someone who does medicine for that. But he does suggest trying small bites of peanut butter and honey sandwiches until Justin can get seen by a doctor. Justin can eat the peanut butter and honey, solving one immediate problem. But he’ll need a doctor’s note to bring peanut butter in to eat at school. The school participates in the “Let’s Have Angry Old People In The Comments Section Tell Us How Food Allergies Are A Made-Up Thing” program. He finally gives in to peer pressure, and lets Kelly make an appointment with the Morgans. If there’s a promise of no shots and not getting his knee hit with that little hammer. Also if the Morgans make that promise. “Oh never fear,” chuckles June, “we don’t use the little hammer anymore.”
So it turns out Justin has a real actual medical condition that really actually occurs in the real world. It’s called achalasia, in which the muscles of the esophagus don’t work right. It’ll take surgery to treat, so Rex Morgan calls in a friend who practices medicine for it. In non-snarky fairness, I would expect the procedure — a “Heller myotomy” — to be something you get a specialist for. And, come early April, we get some word about why Justin was so weird about seeing a doctor. His mother’s terrified of hospitals. This follows the family story of how her great-grandfather died on the operating table in 1923. This seems ridiculous to me, but ridiculous in a way that people actually are. So I’m cool with it. She’s cool with it too, once Justin gets a haircut and, I trust, promises to wear clean underwear for if he dies.
And as for Justin, who did not die, he would go on to disappoint his friends, who hoped he would do something dopey while recovering from anaesthesia. No; he simply survived a weird medical problem without incident. End story, the 15th of April.
The 16th began the next focus, about the marriage of Buck and Mindy. They’re having it in Las Vegas. They sent invitations to the other player-characters in the comic. “Horrible” Hank Harwood, rediscovered 50s-horror-comics artist, and his son, rent an RV to road trip to it. They’re hoping to make a grand tour of the country. They’ll stop at all the great roadside attractions and see whether Zippy the Pinhead is talking to any of them about Republicans or meat.
(By the way, this week my love and I were at meals reading collections of Zippy the Pinhead comics from completely different decades. And reading individual strips out loud to each other. We’re delighted by early examples of later Bill Griffith obsessions and jokes that could run in normal comics too. There are many more accessible Zippy the Pinhead strips than the comic’s reputation suggests.)
Interwoven with Buck-and-Mindy’s wedding and Hank-and-Hank’s road trip is a less giddy story. Milton Avery, multimillionaire industrialist, died, the same day that his wife Heather Avery gave birth. Heather Avery flies back to Glenwood, where the strip’s set, partly to console herself with the company of the Morgans. Partly to work out how the expected succession crisis at Avery International plays out. This promises great excitement. The last time the succession of Avery International was addressed was when Woody Wilson wrote the strip. Back then, Heather Avery got Rex Morgan to lie. Morgan claimed Milton Avery was mentally competent and in full possession of his faculties and all. So there’s good reason for the Board of Directors to be up for a good rousing fight.
Heather’s opening salvo is to explain how she’s thrilled with the way they’ve been running the company. And she doesn’t see any reason anything needs to change. Corporate/Economic historian Robert Sobel in his 1972 The Age of Giant Corporations: A Microeconomic History of American Business identified this as the ol’ “Not the face! Don’t punch me in the face!” boardroom maneuver. But she also explains how if they screw this up she’ll feed them to a June-Morgansaurus. Should be exciting.
While we wait to see how that plays out might you consider reading up on mathematically-themed comic strips? I’ve got a bunch on my other blog that you might like to hear about. This week I get to show off the Maclaurin series for the cosine of an angle measured in radians! You’ll understand why that’s a thing by the end of the article.
George Herriman’s Krazy Kat. You might have heard of it; it’s one of the most highly-regarded comic strips of the 20th century. There’s occasional references to it in comics to this day; it’s the thing a comic strip you like is referring to if it suddenly drops in a panel of Painted Desert geography and a rolling building labelled “JAIL” and one character throwing a brick at the other. I like it, but if you’ve read it and don’t like it, I can’t say your tastes are bad. The comic strip is weird, even for 1915-era humor, and the writing exotic and elliptical, the characters just strange. Its most accessible jokes are old minstrel show routines.
The core of the strip is: Krazy loves Ignatz, and takes the bricks he throws at the Kat’s head as a sign of love. Officer Pupp takes the bricks as violent battery of someone he dearly wishes to protect and throws Ignatz in jail when he can. Krazy seems to understand this as Pupp and Ignatz playing. Take that mix, stir in supporting cast and some modernist wryness — at times the characters go through that apparently as all agree that’s what they’re there to do, so why not enjoy the ritual? — and you have something legendary.
It was never a popular comic strip; it survived for the three decades it did largely because the syndicate boss, William Randolph Hearst, was a fan. There’s a curious echo to this in our day: Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead is another practically alien, intruder on the comics page, brought there because William Randolph Hearst III liked it. That’s also a comic strip I like, but that I can’t fault you for finding too obscure and weird and fond of nonsense to actually be enjoyed.
But Krazy Kat was a comic strip in the 1910s, and therefore, it became a cartoon. Actually, it became multiple series of cartoons, which gives us a neat chance to look at how a comic strip that barely makes sense in its original medium could be translated.
The first adaptations were done by the International Film Service, the animation wing of Hearst’s International News Service. They did adaptations of all the King Features Syndicate comics they could think of, although the project collapsed as a result of debts Hearst’s news service ran up during the World War. The cartoons were very short — Leonard Maltin’s Of Mice And Magic says they were limited to a third of a reel in length, to better fit in the newsreel package — and, well, At The Circus here gives something of the flavor.
There’s none of the tension between Krazy and Ignatz that gave the strip (only a couple years old when the cartoon was made, although prototypes to it had been appearing for years in George Herriman’s other comic strips) dramatic flow. The gorgeous Arizona backgrounds that are the most striking element of the original comic strip are absent. For that matter, even the circus in the title isn’t really part of the cartoon. I sympathize with the animators for not knowing what to do with the original comic, given the constraints of time and language — the original comic depends a lot on densely written wordplay — but was this the best they could do?
It was a commercial break on The Price Is Right. They were advertising that show CBS has that’s The View, only on CBS, so given some other name I can’t remember. Their guest star was to be Christopher Meloni. A woman, I trust one of the hosts, says, “Meloni? Me likey!” and is met with raucous laughter from an audience that I have no doubt exists, and that listens to this sort of word play or single-party flirtation or whatever it is exactly, and approves. I stared back at the television, wondering, what has brought things to this?
I’m left to suspect this is how the guy who draws Zippy the Pinhead feels all the time.