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Funny Paper

Rabbit Fever

Dec. 23-29, 2002

By Scocca & MacLeod | Posted 1/1/2003

IT'S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE XMAS INDEX DEP'T.: The last two days of Advent, Monday and Tuesday, bring Yuletide material (one or both days) in 23 of the 39 Sun cartoons.

Number of titles in which kids are caught peeking at gifts after hours: two.

Number of titles in which the actual Santa Claus makes a guest appearance: three.

Number of titles in which Christmas is somehow linked with pizza: two.

XMAS SPIRIT DEP'T: Participation is up to some 28 out of 39 cartoons on the 25th, including Jumble ("What Mom tied up on Christmas Eve"). Notable moments: Dagwood gives himself a gift of "Bratwurst, kielbasa, Italian sausage, hot mustard, and peppers." Snuffy Smith gets the parson tipsy on "rum logs" ("80 % Christmas spirit!!" he boasts). Marmaduke knocks over the Christmas tree. In Family Circus, Bil Keane does a daddy-is-obsessed-with-getting-the- perfect-snap-with-the-digi-cam routine nine days after Luann did the same. And in The Boondocks, Aaron McGruder continues to roast Trent Lott's chestnuts.

HURRY-DOWN-MY-CHIMNEY SPIRIT DEP'T.: In Zippy, Marcel Duchamp gives Zerbina "a . . . staircase!"

ONE-PANEL COMEDY XMAS SPIRIT DEP'T.: Momma, Hi & Lois, and Beetle Bailey all do special splash-panel Christmas gags, including a panel of Santa peeling potatoes on K.P. duty at Camp Swampy.

TWO-PANEL COMEDY XMAS SPIRIT DEP'T.: Unable to fit his late-to- the-game daddy-with-the-digi-cam gag into his usual one-shot format, Bil Keane bisects the ring of the Family Circus for a two-stroke routine.

ONE-PANEL NON-COMEDY XMAS SPIRIT DEP'T.: The following strips greet the birth of Baby Jesus as an excuse to abandon any story line and/or obligation to make funny (depending on genre): Luann, Rex Morgan, M.D., Mary Worth, Gasoline Alley, and Sally Forth. "Season's Greetings from our family to yours," says the caption over the Forth family, sans terminal punctuation. "From my 'family' to yours," says Mary Worth, "the happiest of holidays!" From Funny Paper's "family" to all of yours: Get back to work!

ARGUABLY XMAS SPIRIT DEP'T.: In Willy 'n Ethel, Ethel picks through sale items and talks about buying Willy a music box, probably as a present. In The Lockhorns, Leroy kicks up his heels with two curvy honeys at what could well be a Christmas party. And Ziggy sits forlornly clutching the phone, saying, "Something's wrong when the high point of your day is a phone call from an aluminum siding salesman!"--which might be a reference to his spending the holiday alone.

INDECIPHERABLE OR HERETICAL XMAS SPIRIT DEP'T.: In B.C., Peter follows the light of a star to find . . . a sheep lying in the manger. We know Jesus is the Lamb of God and all, but we still can't quite reconcile this with normal Christian theology.

HOLIDAILY DOUBLE SPIRIT DEP'T.: In the aforementioned Boondocks, Sen. Lott wishes "Big Tigger" Merry Christmas and Happy Kwanzaa.

DO THEY KNOW IT'S XMASTIME AT ALL? DEP'T.: Heading out for beef lo mein at the Chinese buffet are the holiday conscientious objectors. Dilbert does office humor about what a bad boss the boss is. Mark Trail continues its saga of domestic violence and animal cruelty. Shoe makes a joke about leftovers, which is funnier as a meta-joke, seeing as it's Shoe and all. Herb rummages through Jamaal's medicine chest. Kudzu does a marriage-counseling gag about Superman. Apartment 3-G sticks with its agoraphobia plot line. The Phantom presents its "epilog" in lieu of a Yule log. And Doonesbury--which didn't even send its college kids home for Christmas break--does a Trent Lott gag. Again: Aaron McGruder wrapped Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Trent Lott into one tidy holiday package. Therefore today's Doonesbury is one-third as funny as Boondocksbury.

BOXING DAY SPIRIT DEP'T.: Jumble answer to yesterday's puzzle: LOOSE ENDS. That's right. Eat another gingerbread cookie. Drink another cup of that there wassail. Do another seasonal gag. Fifteen strips keep on giving. Highlights: Clarence in Jump Start chews out Santa (who looks like a cross between Ziggy and the Schmoo) for never giving him a "GI Joe with the Kung-Fu grip." Lukey in Barney Google & Snuffy Smith yearns for the day he can take the stockings off the mantel and wear them again. Dennis the Menace checks up the chimney for stray presents. Hagar the Horrible wears festive bows on the horns of his helmet. Billy in Family Circus cherishes the gift of cash money. "Sure, I'll save it for the future," he says. "I won't spend it 'til tomorrow." Right on, Billy-boy.

KWANZAA SPIRIT DEP'T.: Curtis celebrates the 26th by putting the cast "on hiatus" for another of Ray Billingsley's annual Kwanzaa tales, this one titled "What Matters Most": "Maya and Jontuse had no husbands, nor did they have children, nor relations, but they had each other, and life was far from empty." Who knew Billingsley was so broad- minded?

FRENCH HENS DEP'T: Sally Forth and Ted plan to put away their artificial tree on the 27th. Why stop now? Ten other strips are still going strong. Highlight: Garfield covers Odie with leftover ribbons.

CALLING BIRDS DEP'T.: Saturday, the 28th, Santa gets in a "super- stretch Hummer limo" in Jump Start and drives away. Not so fast, fat man. You've still got nine strips that need your services.

GOLDEN RINGS DEP'T.: 'Tis the day after the day after the day after Xmas, and . . . Blondie is still celebrating. "Blondie gave me this DVD of a favorite old movie for Christmas," Dagwood tells Herb as they settle in to watch. Two panels later, they're rolling around on the floor, raising puffs of dust and shedding droplets of exertion. "Stop it! Stop it! My sides are splitting wide open!!" Herb hollers. "Ha ha ha! Snort! I need air! I need air!" Looks like Dagwood got a copy of Office Space, just like us.

KARTOONS AS KRYPTONITE DEP'T.: In Wednesday's Kudzu, Superman tells the Rev. Will B. Dunn that he's jealous of Lois Lane's success in journalism. In Sunday's Mother Goose & Grimm, Superman is slouched in an easy chair, reading a copy of the Daily Planet (with the banner printed on the back page instead of the front, thanks to Mike Peters' superb composition skills) and resenting Mighty Mouse. What could possibly drive Doug Marlette and Mike Peters to fantasize about the emotional and psychological inadequacies of a super-being? Funny Paper couldn't possibly guess.

MOTHER GOOSE & GRIMM: Monday, it's "Hitchcock's 'Uncle Remus,'"* in which a flock of birds menaces an old man singing "Zip Ah Dee Doo Dah." You know, the "Mr. Bluebird on my shoulder" part. Get it? Not withstanding that the large, dark birds--you know, The Birds--look not one bit like happy little bluebirds. Why not "Hitchcock's 'Wizard of Oz'"? That's got a song with a bluebird in it, right? Hey, we just took care of one of your gags for next week, Mike Peters!

And Thursday, Peters shows Funny Paper just what good comes of coddling offenders. Week after week, we've been letting Peters slide on technicalities as he mangles one cartoon character after another. Has he learned a lesson and mended his ways? Of course he hasn't. Hence "A constant problem for Wile E. Coyote," in which Warner Bros. canid fall guy--drawn without a neck because Peters is such a crummy artist--is flinching in a movie theater as a sack next to him starts going "eep eep." See, because Roadrunner goes "beep, beep," and pagers go "beep," and it's annoying when a pager goes off in a movie theater. How did Wile E. Coyote get Roadrunner in a sack, anyway? Who cares? It's a shitty drawing of someone else's cartoon character. Time for your punishment, Peters!

Plus another one for that awful Sunday Superman cartoon, in which, Funny Paper must add, the Man of Steel is sitting in a posture--head forward, feet flat on the floor, newspaper* open between his knees--that makes it look like he's taking a Super-dump. You are avenged, son of Jor-El!

(* Technically, the caption ought to be "Hitchcock's 'Song of the South,' anyway, since Peters is using Walt Disney's Uncle Remus rather than Joel Chandler Harris'.)

(** Funny Paper can't get over the fact that Mike Peters can't even draw a newspaper facing the right way. We once read in The New Yorker an account of how the magazine's fact-check desk had spiked a cartoon showing a freeway with an overhead sign marking the lanes "Fast - Faster - Fastest"--because it showed the left lane as the slowest. The English language reads left-to-right, but the American highway system speeds up right-to-left; the gag was impossible to execute without violating one rule or the other.*** The rejection struck Funny Paper as persnickety but just: There was no other way. We bring this up because Mike Peters faced no similar restriction in drawing the cartoon. The gag doesn't depend on Superman facing the right-hand side of the panel, so his newspaper is put together wrong. Peters was just too sloppy or lazy to draw it the other way around.)

(*** Funny Paper has logged enough tens of thousands of miles on I- 95 to be familiar with a condition that we think of as a "traffic inversion," in which drivers witlessly overcrowd the hammer lane and the hammer-minus lane, while leaving the right lane comparitively empty. For the handful of non-stupid drivers who can tell what's going on, the right lane then does become the "fastest" lane. Unfortunately for the rejected cartoonist, this is strictly an extra-legal solution.)

GASOLINE ALLEY: Joel and Rufus discover that while they were helping Santa, Santa arranged to decorate their shack. Now the sleet can blow in through the roof on a fancy Christmas tree, while they lie in a drunken slumber. Rufus is so pleased by the sight on Thursday, his eyes venture further from under the brim of his cap than ever before.

ZIGGY: Tuesday, Ziggy confronts a 75-cent candy machine offering an "easy payment plan." Two jobs ago, half of Funny Paper worked at a place where the candy machine occasionally would declare a jackpot-- officially, on its display screen--and deliver the candy and a full refund. It was like the world's friendliest slot machine.

Saturday, Ziggy is speaking to a loan officer. "That all sounds very nice, but I don't have a variable-rate job!" he protests. Tom Wilson seems to be working an economic-suffering theme here. Except that the interest rates are the kindliest part of this economy, for most of us. Maybe Tom's greeting-card millions are tied up in CDs and bonds.

REX MORGAN, M.D.: Sasha the faithful, storm-lashed cabby keeps trying to get John to the hospital through the Philadelphia blizzard. In the back seat, June Gale Morgan, R.N., comes up with a diagnosis Saturday: "I'm thinking rabbit fever . . . tularemia!"

APARTMENT 3-G: With the aid of FBI Pete, Lu Ann fights off her agoraphobia and successfully buys ice cream from the beaming Asian merchants at the corner bodega. "I ask your roommates how you are . . . " says Mrs. Lee. " . . . All the time she's asking!" says the mister. Now Lu Ann's sights are set higher. "But this is practice," she declares Tuesday. "I really want to go to my cousin's opening night." Sunday, over ice cream, the G-Man finally makes his move on Lu Ann. "Until now, I haven't been free to talk to you about this," he says. "Please don't tell me, Pete," she says. "I don't want to choose between you and my roommate." Lu Ann is definitely mentally ill: Margo has been more than prepared to choose between her and FBI Pete. But that's OK: "The FBI is sending me overseas," Pete says. He doesn't speak Arabic or anything, but he's no homo!

THE PHANTOM: Gloat, gloat, gloat. The Phantom tells Guran how he outwitted the "undercover knights." Um, by accidentally getting your pistol in the way of the sword blade when one of them got a clean try at lopping off your head? Clever stuff. "Next . . . a new adventure."

Sunday, "Raz" Rakowski takes sacrilegious target practice at the idol of the snake-goddess Anuga, causing a huge snake to crawl out of its mouth. "Just a coincidence!" Rakowski blusters. "Doesn't mean a thing!"

MARK TRAIL: The domestic brutality gets even more raw. "You can't be that jealous of a little deer!" Judy says Monday. "I'll show you who's jealous!" Tom roars. "Every time I come home you're with that stupid deer," he continues Tuesday. "Well, I'm going to fix that!" With that, he grabs a rifle and heads back outside. "TOM, NO, YOU CAN'T DO THAT!" Judy shrieks. Christmas Day, he knocks his hysterical wife to the ground and levels the rifle. Thursday--WHAM--Sweetie the pet deer takes one to the dome. Jack Elrod, being more committed to fair play than Lee Falk and his heirs, doesn't play coy with the readers like the Phantom would: On the first and only take, it's clearly a grazing blow behind Sweetie's right ear. Hey, Country Boy, ain't you supposed to shoot for the heart?

Sunday's featured national phenomenon: the scourge of Asian dust storms--and the Asian air pollution that can ride clear across the Pacific with them. "It just shows we're all interconnected, and weather conditions in other countries can affect our own," Trail says. Hence the opportunity to do landscape shots with a soaring bald eagle and a rope-haltered camel.

KUDZU: Tuesday, Will B. Dunn presides over a "May-December marriage," between Santa Claus and . . . who? We have no idea. Someone shown from behind, veiled and bedecked with a not-unreasonable amount of flowers for a florally inclined bride. Is this the May Queen? Daisy Mae? Mae West? Saturday, the Lord zaps the Rev. Will B. Dunn for trying the "or the terrorists win" line on him. Take a hint from yourself, Doug Marlette.

JUMBLE: JUST NOISE, HAND-ILY, "I'M CONNECTED," LOOSE ENDS, DEFLATED, "RE-TIRING"

DOONESBURY: Monday, Zipper Harris reports that campus plans for post-football-game mayhem were deflated. "Since the game ended in a tie, there was some confusion over what we were rioting about," he explains. Someone please wake Garry "HARVARD WINS, 29-29" Trudeau from his nap and tell him the NCAA legislated tie games out of existence years ago. On second thought, let him sleep. We're kind of glad that someone is still innocent of the knowledge of the moronic shootout system.

ZIPPY: Saturday, the pinhead gives a shout-out to Family Circus for "[playing] constantly with time & space and linear narrative!"

FAMILY CIRCUS: Saturday, the Circus kids give a shout-out to Lincoln Logs and LEGO brand building blocks.

LUANN: For Christmas, the new, mended-her-selfish-ways Luann goes around giving her friends gigantic empty boxes of "sorry." Greg Evans gives the readers gigantic boxes of "not funny."

MARY WORTH: The Widow Tully plots to reconcile Silas Smedlap with his estranged daughter Connie.

CLASSIC PEANUTS: Saturday, Woodstock gets high on bread crumbs. Truly. "Woodstock is the only person I know who can blow his mind on bread crumbs . . . " Snoopy muses. Snoopy can tell Woodstock is tripping: he's babbling incomprehensibly!

BARNEY GOOGLE & SNUFFY SMITH: Monday, Sheriff Tait belittles the size of Snuffy's string of illegally caught fish.

MARMADUKE: Thursday, Marmaduke struggles, like Jamaal, to eat spaghetti. Marmaduke doesn't have thumbs. We still don't know what Jamaal's excuse is.

BEETLE BAILEY: Sunday Gen. Halftrack enjoys a little nip in the morning.

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