M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Friday, September 06, 2002  

When you’re trying to wring out a thousand or so words of semi-readable prose every workday, it tends to develop your powers of observation. You notice things more thoroughly, because everything that happens to you is potential material. You do it for a matter of months, and nothing will get past you, ever.

Or so I thought.

I have a Far Side desk calendar at work. It’s the page-a-day kind, and from what I’ve read, it’s an annual best-seller. If you don’t have one, you probably either have a coworker who does, or you don’t have coworkers.

Anyway, I noticed something about it yesterday. A pattern, if you will.

Every day of this year’s calendar features a Far Side cartoon in which someone is dead, dying, or about to die. Sometimes it’s a human, sometimes it’s an animal, and sometimes it’s the entire human race. Naturally, those last ones are the funniest.

I don’t have the box any more, but I’m pretty sure the copy on the packaging didn’t say anything about that. The title is “Last Impressions,” which I thought meant this was the last year of Far Side desk calendars. A reasonable assumption, since I think those calendars have been getting published for more years than the cartoon was in the newspaper. They have to be running out of material. I thought it was a little odd that such a mainstay was disappearing with such little fanfare, but it’s not like I pay much attention to this sort of thing, And it’s not like Gary Larson does fanfare anyway.

And, also in my defense, what does it say about Gary Larson that he killed people in the daily funnies so frequently that I didn’t even notice the pattern until two-thirds of the way through the year? I’ll tell you what it says. It says Gary Larson is a sick, twisted bastard, that’s what. I sure miss him.

The fact that this year has had my favorite Far Side calendar ever now makes a lot more sense. But it doesn’t mean that I’m a sick, twisted bastard. No, not at all.

* * *

You know who I don’t miss? Bill Watterson. Yes, Calvin and Hobbes gave us four years of brilliant, hilarious, groundbreaking daily comics. Then it ran for six more.

It’s not just that his Tenth Anniversary book was saved from cover-to-cover self-congratulation by unattractive screeds about the economics of cartoons and the bloodsuckers who published his work all over the world and made him rich. It’s not that I’m down on people who get to a certain point and then coast, because, hey, look around. What bugged me about Watterson was how he took comics so seriously. And none more seriously than his own. He spent a ridiculous amount of time and energy complaining about how strips had shrunk so much in daily papers, which in turn was leading to the death of comics as an art form.

Someone tell me if I’m wrong, but back in the day of Pogo and Gasoline Alley, did comics take up two whole pages in the daily paper? Because they do in mine. If the funnies had a section of their own seven days a week, then I’ll shut up. But if they didn’t, there’s something I’d like to point out:

Bill Watterson wasn’t complaining because there wasn’t enough space for comics. He was complaining because there wasn’t enough space for his comic. One of the by-products of the incredible shrinking comic strip was that more people got to be on the comics page. And I’m sorry, but I can’t possibly see that as anything but good. I’m okay with a little forced minimalism in Blondie if it means I also get to read Boondocks, The Norm, The Duplex, and any number of others that nobody would ever get to see if Walt Kelly was still alive to draw a freaking mural every day.

You know what else I wouldn’t mind? I wouldn’t mind if we stopped seeing daily comic strips by DEAD PEOPLE. Peanuts is just the most prominent tombstone in a section that’s turning into a giant graveyard. If a strip doesn’t go away when its creator dies, when does it go away? Never? I’m not even talking about the artists who should have retired decades ago here, although there are any number of those. Even little Billy from Family Circus, who at thirty-plus is well past “precocious” and deeply into “catastrophically stunted,” is creatively tapped out in his increasingly frequent turns in the artist’s chair. Make a clean sweep and get strips like Red Meat, Tom the Dancing Bug, and This Modern World in front of the bigger audiences they’ve been earning for years.

And while we’re at it, all you newspapers who stick Doonesbury in the Op/Ed section? Don’t pretend you’re not hypocrites until you print B.C. right next to it. That dude’s losing it.

Yikes, he’s not the only one. Look at me. I’m turning into Bill Watterson or something over here.

posted by M. Giant 3:54 PM 0 comments


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