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Funny Paper

I Bet You Say That to All the Hacks

Nov. 19-25

By Scocca & MacLeod | Posted 11/28/2001

WITH US OR AGAINST US DEP'T.: Thanksgiving Day brought a mass mobilization by the comic-strip artists of the U.S. of A. According to Associated Press scribe Gretchen Parker--whose account of the national effort was, for some mysterious reason, datelined BALTIMORE--100 strips, spanning six syndicates, all agreed to dedicate this year's Thanksgiving funnies to the Sept. 11 attacks, and to direct readers to a Web site that's raising funds for the victims. "The effort is the first coordinated tribute by comics artists since the death of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz in April 2000," Parker wrote.

But the fate of Western Civilization didn't rise or fall on whether someone gave a tip o' the pen to the late Schulz. This time out, the cartoonists were taking a stand, speaking up for America in our time of national crisis. As George W. Bush has warned us, if you're not playing on Our Team, you're playing for the Other Team. So when Funny Paper leafed through our Thursday paper, we were keeping score.

Some of the results startled us. In Rex Morgan, M.D., June and Berna were chatting about old plot developments, with nary a mention of Sept. 11. Make that Rex Morgan, Traitor! Likewise Apartment 3-G and Mary Worth went about their business. You'll have a hard time running your little soap-opera productions when the Caliph makes your whore women cover themselves from head to toe, people.

What other strips were refuges of unpatriotism? We spotted self-centered, non-flag-waving Thanksgiving observations in The Middletons, Garfield, The Lockhorns, Curtis, Sally Forth, and Gasoline Alley--and One Big Happy, where Joe and Ruthie were appalled by the sight of a plate of prosciutto and refused to partake of swine meat. "We're anti-sciutto!" Joe declared. Why, you treacherous little fanatic!

Then there were the ones that ignored both the national crisis and the regular holiday: Dilbert, Hagar the Horrible, Herb & Jamaal, Mark Trail, The Phantom, Zippy, and Marmaduke. And For Better or For Worse, that propaganda tool of the Canadian far left. And, of course, Kudzu and Non Sequitur. Doug Marlette and Wiley Miller strike Funny Paper as classic Fifth Column types. We encourage John Ashcroft to round them up and put an end to their wartime subversion. Don't be reluctant to torture them either. You don't even have to ask them any questions. Just torture them.

And then there was Doonesbury, which just continued its pre-existing Afghanistan plot line, with Roland Hedley and a CIA operative holed up in a cave. Why is Garry Trudeau attempting to depict the events of the war? That's a clear violation of our national policy.

So that's the Enemies List. Who's on the Friends List? Dennis the Menace, Hi & Lois, Cathy, Momma, Luann, Jump Start, Ziggy, Barney Google & Snuffy Smith, Shoe. In B.C., the Midnight Skulker painted a Jesus quote about laying down one's life, using paint buckets labeled NYPD and NYFD (sic). Twin, towering volcanoes smoldered in the background. Willy 'n Ethel painted an American flag on the roof of their building. We couldn't read what their paint buckets said, but we peg Joe Martin as a PAPD man. In Family Circus, PJ wept over a fallen tower of building blocks, only to be told by Dolly, "Don't worry, PJ, we'll rebuild! It's the 'Merican way." How much more 'Merican can you get?

In our heightened state of awareness, though, a few of the ostensibly patriotic offerings seemed less than satisfactory. We liked Beetle and Sarge riding on the back of a giant, weeping bald eagle in Beetle Bailey--but why the cloud labeled "peace"? It ain't peace-time, least of all for our men in uniform. That eagle shoulda been crapping out daisy cutters over Kunduz. (Hey: "Kunduz" looks a lot like "Kudzu," doesn't it? John Ashcroft, take note.) Meanwhile, in Blondie, Elmo paid lip service to the brave firefighters and police officers--but only as a setup to a gag about Dagwood burning the turkey.

The foot-draggers should have followed the example of The Boondocks, which did the most emphatic and heartfelt job of stitching together the holiday and the national interest. Aaron McGruder did no pussyfooting around the topic. "In this time of war against Osama bin Laden and the oppressive Taliban regime," Huey said, starting in on grace, "we are thankful that our leader isn't the spoiled son of a powerful politician from a wealthy oil family who is supported by religious fundamentalists, operates through clandestine organizations, has no respect for the democratic process, bombs innocents, and uses war to deny people their civil liberties. Amen." Amen.


DILBERT: Scott Adams may have skipped the Thanksgiving Across America observance, but he gets his patriotic credentials in order by sending Dilbert to spend the week in Elbonia. Less than two months ago, Associated Press scribe Gretchen Parker--again, datelining the comics news BALTIMORE--had reported that the Elbonians were a casualty of the war and the accompanying New Seriousness. "Adams is taking slapstick out of his cartoons for now, along with characters from the country of 'Elbonia,' distinguished by their Arab-like beards," Parker wrote. "'People just don't want to look at that right now,' he said." But that was before Operation Enduring Freedom started laying its Infinite Justice on the Taliban in earnest. Now Adams has no fear of offending America's jangled sensibilities. Foreigners with beards are funny again! Viva Elbonia! We win!

FAMILY CIRCUS: Warming up for Thursday's show of national pride, Billy spends Monday doing a chalk-talk trick, converting "911" to "9-11" in a rare split-panel Circus. "A number all Americans remember," he says in the first panel. "A date we'll never forget!" he says, glowering at the audience. On Wednesday, he's wearing a little Pilgrim costume, wondering how the Pilgrims got through metal detectors with all those buckles on. Then on Friday, just as we're fearing that Bil Keane has dragged the strip irretrievably into the cold world of current events, we get Jeffy plaintively asking if there's "any chicken left on that turkey."

Sunday, the Circus leaves us baffled. Daddy, in the door of his study, greets Thel and the kids as they come home from a shopping expedition. "Hi! Car running okay?" Daddy asks. "Well, yes," Mommy says, "except for a funny giggling noise that seemed to come from the back seat." The children, trailing behind her like ducklings, seem weirdly impassive--except for Dolly, who is showing a little smirk and making with a mischievous upward-peering comma-eye. Why would Dolly be giggling to herself? Why is Dolly wearing white go-go boots? Looking closer, we see that Daddy is holding a half-finished sketch of Dolly. Now we're studying the other kids--Billy with his little blue blazer and new sneakers, Jeffy with his cuffed jeans. It's like staring at the Abbey Road cover, except nobody's barefoot. The gag is dead. Bil Keane buried the gag.


APARTMENT 3-G: Cap'n Greg takes Lu Ann dancing. Margo frets over the Professor's budding romance with Gabriella.

GARFIELD: Monday, Garfield short-circuits the food chain, devouring an insectivorous bird and then wantonly murdering the bug that the bird never got the chance to eat. Hilarious.

BLONDIE: Dagwood wonders why a fellow bowler doesn't want to hit the snack bar. "Gees," he says, "why did you even bother to join a bowling league?" "Gees"? As in more than one gee? It's spelled J-E-E-Z, Dagwood, short for "Jesus." Short for "Jesus Christ." Short for "Jesus H. Christ on a popsicle stick," for fuck's sake. What's with the euphemism for a euphemism? Or does the Bumstead family not want to remind anyone of Jesus? Maybe they're against Jesus. Maybe they're a radical Wahabbist sleeper cell.

MOTHER GOOSE & GRIMM: A cow in a straitjacket, tongue lolling, is escorted into a "Beef Jerky Factory." Caption: "What happens to mad cows." Is there a Cartoonist Jerky Factory?

NON SEQUITUR: The ever-daring Wiley goes after talk radio again.

HERB & JAMAAL: Herb puts a radio device in Jamaal's ear, à la David Letterman with Rupert Jee, so he can feed him advice on his date with Yolanda. Hilarity ensues when Yolanda starts picking up the signal on her walkie-talkie. As Funny Paper writes this, we are receiving cross-talk from a Baltimore Department of Public Works garbage crew on our AM radio. Life imitates art.

ZIPPY: Monday, a giant troll sculpture does the "Hey, Mr. Taliban, tally me banana" gag. Gag. We'd like to take this as a meta-comment on the wretchedness of our national free-floating musical pun*. But we fear it's a sign that Griffith lamed up the Zippy. He lamed it. He lamed the Zippy. He's a fucking lame**.

(* Funny Paper has been cringing at every appearance of this pun since October, when Washington Post TV columnist Tom Shales tried to assert intellectual-property rights over "Mr. Taliban"--in excruciating, pedantic detail--after Saturday Night Live used it in a sketch: "A joke was also stolen from me. In a piece for another publication, I criticized network news for having under-informed Americans about the significance of Afghanistan as a terrorist haven before the attacks. The term Taliban was so unfamiliar, I wrote, that people may have confused it with a line from Harry Belafonte's 'Banana Boat Song': 'Come, Mr. Taliban, tally me banana.'" A flurry of recriminations followed, as dozens of outraged humorists all weighed in to claim authorship of the jape. Note to Shales et al.: Next time one of your gags pops up in someone else's mouth, consider the possibility that it's because you did an incredibly cheap and obvious gag.)

(** Right here, for instance, Funny Paper is copying the ersatz colloquialisms of the movie Heist by David Ma-MAY***, not because we think they make us sound like tough and streetwise gangsters, but because we're making a meta-comment on how uncolloquial and prissy they are. Oh, no! Now Funny Paper sounds like Tom Shales! We lamed the asterisk! We lamed the fucking asterisk. We're walking. We're walking away.)

(*** Funny Paper does not give a piss-soaked cotton ball how Mr. David Ma-MAY thinks his name is pronounced. It's "Ma-MAY," tough guy. Deal with it.)

WILLY 'N ETHEL: Joe Martin breaks dramatically with the one-day-at-a-time tradition of W'nE, doing almost a solid week of connected gags after Wiley brings home a new dog. "The pet shop said his name was 'Rusty.' But that was too depressing . . . so I changed it to . . . 'Bondo'." Bondo then fights with Dogmeat the cat, applies for a job guarding Leon's Tap, and wows Wiley with his sheer perfect laziness. "Before I met you, I thought I was the laziest thing on the planet," he says, sitting in his recliner with the dog sleeping on his belly. "But, Bondo, you don't do things I never even dreamed of not doing."

REX MORGAN, M.D.: Rex takes golf lessons. "I like what I see," the instructor says. "I bet you say that to all the hacks!" Rex says, clutching a divot the size of an adult human's spleen.

LUANN: Gunther's misconnection with Luann at the movies is transformed, via the Pitts School grapevine, into word that he blew her off to make out with his secret girlfriend.

FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE: Elizabeth learns that Eric lied about visiting his mother. "She's in Montreal, an' that's a 6-hour drive from here," Rudy says. Montreal is a six-hour drive from Canada? By Friday, we see Eric with another woman. By Saturday, Liz is begging him to forgive her for suspecting him of deceit. Sadly, for better.

GASOLINE ALLEY: Clovia basks in the adulation of her old classmates at the reunion. Depressed, Slim goes back to the hotel and floods the bathroom.

MARY WORTH: Ian lies to his wife and sister-in-law to convince them that Woodrow Pine the III exists. Dawn Weston agonizes over the note that Forrest "Woody" Hills' friend left him. "'Nice-looking girl! . . . Try not to foul up this time!'," she quotes. "What does he mean by that?!?" She pounds her head with both hands. Dawn is mentally unstable.

MARK TRAIL: The sheriff's deputy finds stray money left by Sarah the Incredibly Coincidental and Sloppy Dog, so the sheriff tells old Matt Crawford he's got to take him in.

Sunday's featured plant: delicious garlic! "Research shows that the very component that gives garlic its strong odor is the one that destroys or inhibits various bacteria, fungi, and yeast! The antibacterial action is equivalent to that of 1 percent penicillin!"

THE PHANTOM: Directly contradicting last week's promise of "Next week: a new adventure!," the Falk Memorial Cartoonairum turns around and rehashes the Phantom back story yet again. Then the Phantom and his wife ride to the golden sands of Keela Wee and reminisce about their honeymoon there. That's not a new adventure, either Then they go swimming naked, and the Ghost Who Skinny-Dips spear-fishes some dinner. Spicy exploits, but still, paddling around bare-assed does not a new adventure make.

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