And th' COMICS Were Printed so HUGE!!
Ah, those were the days. In a coincidence worthy of Jim Scancarelli, the pinhead's lament appears on the same day that The Sun introduces its new comics-page format--the better, of course, to serve You, the Reader (that is, to serve Funny Paper, in our mission to Read the Comics So You Don't Have To). It's all part of the paper's redesign, engineered to make the paper smaller, thereby helping the Tribune Co. to spend less money on its Baltimore franchise. Which, and here we quote The Sun, "will help us maintain our standards of journalism, commitment to news coverage and customer service. And for some readers, the narrower width may make The Sun easier to handle."
Easier to handle! Truly, Tribune has our interests at heart. What makes the paper easier still to handle is that you don't need to turn pesky pages to get your full RDA of cream-filled cookies: The Sun Crossword is now joined atop the right-hand comics page by the New York Times Crossword.
Of course, progress has its price. To fit a new crossword on the page while simultaneously making the pages smaller, certain, ah, adjustments had to be made. A judicious amount of shuffling and resizing. At first, beholding the new layout, we thought strips had been cut--for one hideous, heart-stopping moment, we couldn't find Willy 'N Ethel. You bastards! we thought. You filthy, filthy bastards. Then we found it, tucked away on the opposite page. And for a few giddy minutes, we couldn't locate Kudzu. But there it is too, the bad with the good, all squeezed together: smaller lettering, smaller pictures, a smaller Comics Experience. Classic Peanuts looks especially pinched, somehow. And despite the readjustments, Rex Morgan, M.D. is still laterally deformed.
Compounding the effect is the fact that the newsprint reduction is lagging behind the new layout. So for this first week, the compressed comics are floating in a sea of white--fat, clean margins, yet untouched by the knife, taunting us with the memory of the space we used to have.
We feel quixotic even complaining about this anymore. The shrinkage comes again and again, year after year, like the jumps in the postage rates. Sometime in our lives, we will see Henry actually printed on a first-class stamp, all four panels stacked together, and that stamp will cost $7.42. But it will be self-adhesive.
JUMBLE: "DOG" TIRED, IN THE "HOT" SEAT, A LEAP OF FAITH, UPLIFTING, A SMART "COOKIE," "SINGLED OUT."
THE LOCKHORNS: Entertainment-product placement time: The Lockhorns name-check CSI on Monday and refer to The Sixth Sense on Wednesday (as "that movie where at the end you find out he's been dead all along").
MARY WORTH: Woody/Forrest bids farewell to Liz, agreeing to meet up with her in Chicago. "Let's seal that with a . . . er . . . dignified . . . kiss?" he asks Wednesday. Saunders & Giela, in a spasm of modesty, omit the actual lip action, moving Thursday to a panel of Liz panting, "If that was a 'dignified' kiss, I can only imagine what happens when you let your hair down!"
Hey, we can only imagine any of it. Why the self-censorship, S&G? Or were you just unable to successfully draw two people kissing? We suspect that might be it, given that in the Wednesday pre-kiss panel, with Woody embracing Liz on the parking lot, the hug is so awkwardly rendered that Liz looks like a mannequin Woody's loading into the front seat to cheat the HOV lanes.
LUANN: Brad and T.J. continue their firefighter training with EMT class. Sunday, Luann writes a poem about her acne.
THE PHANTOM: Acting on behalf of a Phantom-branded criminal mastermind, a fake prison guard springs Phantom-branded federal prisoner Labonte from captivity, bringing him to the boss' headquarters on Long Island. "The man who hit you," the white-haired boss criminal says, "was he as old as I?" "You kidding, mister?" Labonte says. "He's strong! Around my age." "I met him decades before you were born," the old man says. "He was strong then, too!"
Sunday, the promised "New Adventure" is put off so that the Phantom's kids can clamber around, exploring the wonders of their house. "The Skull Cave is a fascinating place," the captions venture lamely, "especially for kids." Fascinating? Only for kids who don't know how to read. All the other kids have plowed through this Skull Cave-tour routine a half-dozen times before.
CATHY: Cathy lacks the self-discipline to handle tax season.
MARK TRAIL: Monday, Mark gloats about his victory over would-be poacher Moss Moses. "If Moss would stop drinking so much, he could probably get a steady job," Cherry pipes up. The rest of the week, government prosecutors make plans to hide an endangered witness "in a wilderness area"--with the help of Mark Trail.
Sunday's featured animal: the "110 or more species" of bashful stingrays. "The unwary bather walking in the surf may step on a stingray with painful results. To help prevent being stung, it is best to slide your feet along the bottom, giving the shy ray a chance to beat a fast retreat." We keep waiting for those goofy children handling stingrays in that Royal Caribbean cruise-ship spot on TV to get what they deserve, but they never do.
FAMILY CIRCUS: It's another week of Billy filling in for Daddy--as rendered, these days, by the hostile pen of Jeff Keane. "We can't use this, Billy," Daddy says Monday, contemplating a cartoon with "four give and four get" as the caption. "It's nothing but a pun!" What, that's a rule now? A pun is not enough to justify a strip? Somebody tell Mike Peters. And Stephen Bentley. And Johnny Hart, and Doug Marlette, and Bunny Hoest, and Jim Scancarelli, and Tom Wilson. Oh, yeah--and Bil Keane.
As the crudely drawn days go by, other inferior offerings from "punster Billy" include a "hairy putter" and a "reign check." Finally, on Saturday, as Daddy continues rejecting Billy's work, "Billy depicts Jeffy coming in from the bullpen as Daddy's new reliever." Which is to say, Jeffy depicts Billy depicting Jeffy coming in from the bullpen.
DOONESBURY: Mr. Slackmeyer is dead. None of his ex-friends, ex-colleagues, or ex-wives want to go to the funeral. Call Funny Paper. We'll go. We'll put on our dark suits and everything. Mr. Slackmeyer has been the funniest character in Doonesbury for at least five years now. Maybe we'll throw Garry Trudeau on his funeral pyre.
APARTMENT 3-G: Louts heckle Marcella as she makes her major-league debut. "Girls can't play ball! Yeah! Go home!" "Where are your tassels, baby?" "Give us a show--!"
Wednesday, the G's and other women in the crowd speak up. "Sit down!" someone says. "Who's gonna make me?" a lout demands. "Me!" Margo says. "I am!" Lu Ann adds. "We will!" Tommie says. "Me!" someone else chimes in. "My army boots!" adds a big, husky woman, with finality.
Marcella repays their loyalty by legging out a bunt single, then coming around to steal home. So Marcella is the Ichiro Suzuki of gender-bending, fiance-stealing Cuban refugees. Sunday, she tops off her day with an inside-the-park home run, belting it over the outfielder and then racing around the bases, sliding daintily into home.
THE BOONDOCKS: Monday, Huey and Caesar marvel at the fact that they enjoyed Blade II. "Just when you think times can't change--" Caesar says. "Wesley Snipes goes and makes a great movie," Huey finishes. Yeah, a movie all about dispatching pasty white devils to hell.
BEETLE BAILEY: Asked for a "jumper cable" Tuesday, Zero returns with a jump rope.
GASOLINE ALLEY: Joel and Rufus curse the darkness in the fireworks factory. "What yo' doin' in there Rufus?" "Tryin' t' light a couple o' these long-stem Roman candles!" Sigh.
MOTHER GOOSE & GRIMM: Tuesday, Mike Peters uses his trademark boldface to get a subtle gag across: "So, Frankie, why'd you have to stay overnight at the vet's? . . . And why is your bark so high-pitched today?" See, it's because Frankie got castrated.
"What's wrong with you," a woman asks a man on Wednesday, "cat got your tongue?" The man is clutching his mouth and standing next to a piece of heavy equipment labeled "CAT," which appears to have something dangling from the jaws of its earth-moving scoop. See, the CAT got his tongue. We can't use this, Mike Peters--it's nothing but a pun!
SHOE: "Uncle Cosmo," Skyler says Friday, "you've been staring at that phone for hours." "What, you've never heard of call waiting?" We can't use this, MacNelly Productions--it's nothing but a pun!
ZIGGY: Ziggy exits a door labeled "Support group meeting tonight." "They're talking about socks!" he says. We can't use this, Tom Wilson--it's nothing but a pun!
FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE: Liz has a late-night girl-chat with Ruby about her breakup with two-timing Eric. "You're not a loser, my dear," Ruby says over coffee. "You are now a 'woman with experience.'" Oh, "experience." For worse!
REX MORGAN, M.D.: John Clement, driving around brooding about the possibility of having Alzheimer's, is startled by a deer in the road and veers off into a swamp. "Must get clear!" he thinks, crawling from the wreckage. "Ahhh . . . My leg! he screams. Aw, it's just in your head, you old coot.
Melissa, meanwhile, rises above the Bird family's squabbling and hunts down Merle's ballbuster power-achiever daughter Helen outside the hospital. "I think your heart is breaking," Melissa says Saturday, "and I'd like to help." "He doesn't even want to see me!" Helen groans, her hard face suddenly crumpling with grief. By Sunday, she's lifting her rimless glasses to dab at her eyes with a tissue. "I can't remember the last time I cried!" she says.
JUMP START: In nursery school, young Doctor is confused by the sight of boys and girls alike wearing cornrows. "So Tyler is a girl too, huh?" he asks Sunny. "No! Tyler is almost certainly a boy." Hey, shouldn't you be able to figure that out for yourself, Mister Doctor?
CURTIS: Michelle--wearing sunglasses and a big hat, with a scarf wrapped around her face--cold-cocks Curtis Wednesday. Then, on Thursday, she peels back her disguise to reveal a wild shock of hair, a bristling mustache, and a long beard--thanks, of course, to Curtis' gift of Flyspeck Island hair tonic. "'Try this hair lotion, Michelle!' you said!! 'You'll love it, Michelle!' you said! Well Michelle tried it, and now Michelle looks like Rip van Winkle!!!" Funny Paper appreciates Ray Billingsley's use of the Rickey Henderson-style third person to demonstrate Michelle's alienation from her newly hirsute self. "I hear they're ready to cast the part of Chewbacca's* little sister in the next 'Star Wars' installment!" Curtis ventures.
Sunday, Mr. Wilkins hops in a cab driven by a grumbling, maintenance-deferring, cataract-suffering, rum-swilling cabbie.
(* The Microsoft Word auto-spell-checker, Funny Paper can't help noticing, recognizes and approves of "Chewbacca's"--not just "Chewbacca," mind, but the possessive form. Whereas we get the red warning squiggle on "Snoopy's," "Ziggy's," and "Marmaduke's"--also on "Balanchine's" "Kandinsky's," "Stanislavsky's," "Ashbery's," "Mondale's," and "Deion's." Not that we're drawing any conclusions here about the people who wrote MS Word. Nosir.**)
(** Also: "Spock's" is good [though not "Nimoy's"]. "Skywalker's" is good. "Kryptonite's" is good.***)
(*** MS Word is not, however, down with "Leia's," "Kenobi's," or "Jabba's." Go figure.)
BARNEY GOOGLE & SNUFFY SMITH: Thursday, Silas offers Snuffy a bottle labeled "Hot Soss" to deal with his fire-ant problem. "Ya can always try givin' 'em a li'l taste of thar own medicine!!
ZIPPY: After bidding farewell to William Randolph Hearst, Zippy runs into Mutt and Jeff on his way out of San Simeon. "Tell me how to appeal to a much broader readership demographic!" he pleads Thursday. Sunday, Zippy discusses string theory and the toroidal model of space-time with a statue of a steer.
CLASSIC PEANUTS: Snoopy, having quarreled with Woodstock over the proper way to read War and Peace, starts having regrets. "I wonder where Woodstock went," he thinks Wednesday, after having read that day's single word of Tolstoy. "That stupid bird . . . He shouldn't be out alone . . . He'll probably get mugged by a gang of worms." Thursday, Linus runs up screaming, "The cat next door has got Woodstock! Save him! Save him!" By Friday, Snoopy has sprung into action. "Cat fight! Dog fight!" Linus cries. "Cat and dog fight! It's a massacre!!!" "Just what I needed," Snoopy thinks, staggering away from the fray, "a fight with a fifty-pound cat over an old yellow glove."
THE MIDDLETONS: Thursday, a passing bird craps on Mom's baseball cap in mid-game.
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