For as long as I can remember, the Sunday comics have been about 80 percent crap. The culprit, mostly, is the glut of syndicate staples drawn by now-octogenarians or passed down to sons that, week after week, churn out the same hackneyed shitheap of lame character gags and dumb life observations -- Garfield still loves lasagna/hates Mondays, Dagwood still eats a lot of sandwiches, Beetle Bailey is still trying to avoid work, Marmaduke is still more or less incomprehensible.
And never is the stink of reheated sentimentality more pungent than on holidays, when comics' most egregious offenders trot out the whole cast and have a moment of crassly dewy-eyed togetherness and reflection. Apparently, though, it could be worse -- and it will be a week from Sunday, when a consortium of that includes turds like Hagar the Horrible and Dennis the Menace will unite to commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
Don't get me wrong: I love the Sunday comics. In fact, I even love the weekday comics, and I've been reading them both almost every day since probably about the time I could read -- even still, when I open a newspaper, they're the first thing I turn to. I love that combination of art and jokes, the different drawing styles, the clean lines and simple shading, the little day-to-day plots they invent. To some extent, I even love the predictable punch-lines. And I'd basically have to -- I don't know a single other adult who still reads the comics faithfully.
I think there's probably a couple of reasons I do. One, my mom loves Peanuts (she feels a kinship with Lucy Van Pelt, I think), and turned me on to that strip at a young age. Two, I was around that same age when Calvin and Hobbes debuted, and even now, more than fifteen years after Bill Waterson inked his final installment, that strip is still close to my heart. To me as a kid, it was a set of funny characters I could relate to, even if I didn't understand the philosophical problems I had no idea they were tackling. To me now, it represents the pinnacle of what a comic could be: beautifully rendered, imaginatively realized, insightful and hilarious. I recently picked up a new copy of It's a Magical World, the strip's final collection, for my soon-to-be-born second son, and you know what? It's still fucking magical.
I don't expect every comic to be Calvin and Hobbes -- if I did, I would never have read a single other comic after 1995 -- but Waterson understood something about the comics that few other cartoonists have before or since: Comics can be deep -- as can all forms of humor -- but first of all, they have to be funny.
That's the first thing wrong with Cartoonists Remember September 11, a project that unites Creators Syndicate, Universal Press Syndicate and a handful of other big corporate comic distribution services in getting 93 of their cartoonists to memorialize the anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The reasoning: "Readers look to the comics page to reflect the national conversation and, on Sunday, Sept. 11, that's going to be the conversation. I think the impact is going to be profound," said Brendan Burford, comics editor for King Features Syndicate, in a recently released statement.
Yeah, Brendan, people don't look to the comics page to reflect the national conversation. They look to the comics page to be mildly entertained. But just for the sake of conversation, here's what apparently passes for profound: Try Blondie and Dagwood saluting the American Flag. Not vomit-inducing enough for you? How about Hagar the Horrible thanking "the heroes?" Beetle Bailey's tribute is basically unspeakable.
Look, I'm not some freedom-hating commie who thinks the tenth anniversary of 9/11 should pass unnoticed -- it's an important symbolic date worthy of some reflection, and I fully endorse its observance. What I don't endorse is the tragedy-sploitation vortex of product placement and media pandering it's already beginning to engender, and what I especially don't need is Dennis the Menace having some stupid fucking ticker-tape parade to teach Joey, Margaret and everyone else how the brave soldiers died, because that sentiment perfunctory and corny, and I daresay an insult to anyone for whom that date hits close to home.
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This last Sunday, as I often do because they have the paper and sometimes waffles, I was hanging out at my parents' house reading the funny pages. And they were particularly awful. Setting the page down, I commented to my dad that I didn't even know why I read that shit anymore. "I don't, either," he said. "I've never understood that about you."
On 9/11, maybe I'll stop.