Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Not-So Funny Pages

The comic section is going be a bit less comic next year. Fox Trot is cutting back to Sunday-only and For Better or Worse is rumored to be ending later in the year.

There aren't that many strips that are consistently good and these two are in a short list at the top.

A few other strips continue to be funny. Zits and Sherman's Lagoon are the most consistent. Get Fuzzy and Agnes are uneven but stand-outs when they score (which is more often than not). Stone Soup can get a laugh.

Then there are the strips that used to be funny. Doonesbury was really funny when it started in the early 1970s but turned into a liberal rant before the end of Nixon's administration. It's hard to believe but Garfield was really funny when it started. For the last decade or two it has been the laziest strip in comics. The repeated jokes about boredom mirror the content of the strip.

Dilbert continues to be amusing but narrowed its focus to office humor a few years ago. When it first started it was broader and funnier.

Then there is Funky Winkerbean. This started out as a kids-in-high school strip with formulaic jokes. Many jokes were repeated in different forms. Often a week was devoted to inanimate objects such as the school rock, a school wall, or the last leaf of autumn. Then, following Doonesbury, it suddenly jumped ahead a few years. The regular cast was now older and had jobs. It became a continuity strip, often covering uncomfortable territory. The title character got married then divorced and developed a drinking problem. Other characters married and coped with problems such as cancer. One character is slowly dying. It's not that much fun any longer.

Then there is the strange case of 9 Chickweed Lane. For years it was about a Juliette, a university professor who lived with her mother and daughter, Edda. Other characters included Milo, the daughter's nerdy friend and the staff of the Catholic school where Edda and Milo went. Then, two years ago, everything changed. Edda and Milo moved to New York and started making out. Juliette stopped teaching, bought a farm, and married her long-time boy-friend. Unlike Funky Winkerbean, the tone of the comic never changed.

For an object lesson there is Bloom County. One of the best strips of the 1980s (it won a Pulitzer Prize) Berk Breathed, the creator became tired of doing it and replaced it with a Sunday-only strip called Outland. This started out completely new except for one or two characters from Bloom County but eventually morphed back to the original. Then it quit. More recently, Breathed felt that he missed having a voice so he revived it again, this time as "Opus" but still Sunday-only.

I can't canvass the comic strip without mentioning Peanuts. Currently, at least in my paper, they are reprinting strips from the late 1950s. Many of these have lost their punch. Things have changed over the last half-decade. The last weekly and Sunday strips were memorable because they carried on the tradition of bitter-sweet comedy that was Peanuts' trademark.

And finally there is Calvin and Hobbes. It was always funny and it ended too soon.

No comments: