The Funnies Page: Your Five (or Three or Two) Must-Read Strips

In Uncategorized on November 11, 2007 at 12:24 pm

Like most people, I imagine, I’ve always been a selective reader of the funnies. Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly desperate for distraction, I’ll take on the entire comics page as if it were the TLS–as if, that is, I’m getting bonus points for reading THE WHOLE THING. In such moods, I valiantly slog through Garfield, Gil Thorp, and the aptly named Hagar the Horrible, a task made bearable only by the leavening presence of reliable stand-bys, those strips that I may not read every day, but whose drawings and gags immediately draw my eye as it passes over the page.

When I was quite young, my favorite strips were Garfield, For Better or For Worse, Blondie, and Beetle Bailey. Garfield was explicable by three notable facts: mine was a cat-owning family, it was the favorite strip of a girl that I wanted to impress, and of course, back then, Garfield was funny. My For Better or For Worse fixation had similarly autobiographical origins–though it was also drawn so differently from other strips at the time that its “realistic” detail was immediately attractive to a boy who, in adolescence, would worship the pencils of George Perez. I also liked the art in Blondie–so much that the strip’s rather old-fashioned jokiness didn’t bother me–in fact, it may have been part of the appeal.

And Beetle Bailey? Well, what can I say? It was a funny strip, too, back in the day. But I suspect that, once again, it was a love affair born of identification with the luckless, bossed-around protagonist. In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud notes that the simpler the drawing, the fewer its individuating details, the easier it is for a reader to identify with it. Highly detailed portraiture obviously repels our unconscious processes of identification for the same reason that Charlie Brown or a stick figure invites them. Hapless Private Beetle Bailey was an image that spoke particularly to me, perhaps because we never see his most individuating feature–his eyes. Sad case, wasn’t I?

At any rate, my tastes changed. Some of them, anyway. When I was about twelve or thirteen, I began to keep a scrapbook of three amazing new comics that I cut out of the newspaper every night: Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes, and The Far Side. I was still avidly reading For Better or For Worse, so it made it into the scrapbook too. The scrapbook (an old telephone book, actually) was, in effect, a primitive sort of comics blog. And like a blog, it immediately developed encyclopedic ambitions. Before long, I was cutting out many more comic strips–in some cases, pasting them in with my ink smudged fingers and my Uhu glue stick without even reading them!

One curious side-effect of my snipping and hoarding was that, because I read the comics page religiously, I began to follow the serials: Spider-Man, Gil Thorp, and Annie. I was already a comic book fan, so it might seem odd that I hadn’t been reading Spider-Man already. But remember how dull those strips looked–barely a supervillain in sight! It was just panel after panel of Peter Parker talking to Mary Jane. Still, I got into it. Even the gothic world of Annie began to seem interesting, though I was never really able to fool myself into thinking that the jock drama of Gil Thorp was cool.

And now? I barely recognize the comics page anymore. Zits? Get Fuzzy? Grand Avenue? And these aren’t even the cutting edge, fresh off the truck strips. (I don’t even know what those would be!) Are they funny? I don’t know. I can’t seem to compell myself to read them. This will come as a shock to regular readers, I’m sure, but my eye just keeps drifting back to those older, more recognizable strips:

Despite the ritualized viewing of tv specials like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Christmas as a kid, I didn’t “get” Peanuts until much later. Now it is the first strip I read. I especially enjoyed today’s:

One often feels this way when reading parenting manuals, I’m finding.


My home town paper The Winnipeg Free Press used to run Doonesbury on the editorial page, so I didn’t discover it until quite late either. It’s still sharp as ever–and though it’s not a political gag, today’s comic is priceless. One of the great surprises of my adult life was how much I enjoy teaching, and don’t get me wrong–I love my students. Except these ones:

For Better or For Worse
I won’t go on about this one any more than I already have, except to say that Supert Teddy rules. Deal with it.

I miss the exquisite nostalgia of Mutts, and keep intending to read Opus online, which is where I sometimes catch Sylvia as well. I still enjoy Dilbert, though not as much as I once did.

These are, I suppose, my favorites. What are yours?


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