Monday, January 08, 2007

Where's the Funny in the Funnies?

As a daily reader of the comic pages since I was five, I noticed many changes in the pages over the last 30 years. When I first read the comics, the adventure/serial strips were in its waning days. The Star Ledger back then had a half page devoted to these type of strips, now there are zero.


So, that means the two pages of comics are all of the "humorous" variety. They're either "gag-a-day", narratives, or bad puns. They each are occasionally amusing, but rarely get more than a chuckle out of me. But I'm not here to judge the merits of their attempts of humor, no, I'm disturbed at the intrusion of "issues" in what is suppose to be a funny strip.

Take Funky Winkerbean. This strip came out shortly after Doonesbury and was "youth" oriented. However unlike Doonesbury it didn't tackle issues for most of its first twenty years. These days they deal with breast cancer, characters in Iraq, one armed pregnant woman giving birth in comic stores (Actually that WAS funny in an unintentional way), and date rape. Funky Winkerbean goes into uncomfortable detail with the issues to shame you to pay attention. You'd think it was a serious strips but almost everyday a character gives in to a permanent smirks over bad puns and wry knowingness. This gets the strip attention in the press about how noble it is to take on serious issues that confront us in the real world. No, the strip should get praise on how funny it is, or at least how Funky it is, which of course it isn't.

One humorous strip that has taken on issues that for a longer period of time is For Better or For Worse. Lynn Johnston's strip was new when she went from gag-a-day to a more narrative approach. She wasn't heavy handed with drama in the early going, she dealt with divorce and Liz gets glasses. Lynn Johnston took the "Gasoline Alley" approach to her characters in that they aged as the strip progressed so the kids became teenagers, then adults and dealt with the trials and tribulations of growing up. (Thank God we never had a "Liz gets her first period" storyline) One of these story lines involved a neighbor, Lawrence (oh,oh, full name alert!) coming out of the closet. It was a brave storyline at the time especially when the character is a teenager. Lynn Johnston got praise in the press for this and I think it might have gone to her head.

Okay, all characters age in For Better and For Worse, that means dogs who have been in the strip for 15 years are very old dogs and should be dead. Johnston realized this, and made a storyline out of it. This is where the strip made a transition to drama overkill. 15 year old Farley could have just died in a bedroom or stopped eating and that would make for a touching storyline. But NO! Farley had to save little April Patterson from drowning in a flash flood and die from exhaustion! Super Farley!

The grandparents of the kids have died off one by one in rather appropriate efficient ways, until we get to Elly Patterson's father who had a stroke. He didn't die, no, we get to go through the trials and tribulations of a man going through therapy, including his inner thoughts, yippee! Another recent storyline has been a fire in Michael Patterson's apartment in which Michael risks life and limb to save his precious manuscript of his first book. This storyline reveals an annoying trend of having the main characters being super-saintly.

Liz, meanwhile somehow has three men lusting after her despite for all appearances they have never gotten any from her and will not until marriage. She somehow has time to go on helicopter rides with one, gets visits from a noble cop who went all out to accommodate her when she went fickle on where she wanted to live, and of course grizzled-before-his-time, Anthony, who effed up his marriage by pining for Liz during his wedding. He invited his ex-girlfriend to his wedding! So who will have Liz, me I'm hoping for a helicopter crash will forever link her to Warren, the errant pilot like Princess Di is linked to Dodi Fayed for eternity.

Anyway, I want my comics to be funny unless it's Mary Worth, which actually is funny.

By the way, I mentioned Gasoline Alley a few times, theirs was the first comic strip to have their characters age. Which was cool back in the day, but now the comic strip is nearly 90 years old. Skeezix, a character found as a baby on the door stoop of Walter Wallet is over 85 years old. Walter Wallet was a full grown adult long enough to be a committed bachelor in 1919. That would make him at least 108 years old! He's outlived at least two of his creators.


And kill Elly's dad, and cancer woman from Funky too! Their presence and cancer woman's smirks are too much to take!

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