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Funny Paper

Also, I'd Like a Viking Funeral

Sept. 24-30

By Scocca & MacLeod | Posted 10/3/2001

MORE IS LESS DEP'T: Funny Paper opened our Sunday color supplement this week to find something that looked like an industrial accident on a fruit-cocktail assembly line. In section one, a whopping 11 cartoons were crowded into the two-page interior spread, most in unfamiliar spots or peculiar layouts. A nine-panel Doonesbury, 50 percent longer than normal, was stretched vertically, Non Sequitur-style, down the left edge of the paper, next to a three-panel abridged version of Mark Trail. A gigantically enlarged five-panel Blondie loomed atop the right-hand page, above a densely compressed three-deck, 11-panel Dennis the Menace. Rarely seen title cards and bonus intro gags were tacked onto strips throughout this strange new world.

What was going on? Had The Sun decided to increase our weekly bounty of color funnies? Was a Sunday color Willy 'n' Ethel waiting for us? Sunday color Barney Google & Snuffy Smith? Sunday color (gasp!) Jumble?

Har! No, The Sun was shuffling the comics to clear room for a full-page Sunday color "Consumer News" item on the back of section two. Said item, attributed to "The Sun Journal Newspapers," reporting how "new research uncovers the 5 causes of lower abdominal bulge and how to flatten it like a board." The fake-news copy--helpfully marked "Advertisement" at the top in five-point* Times Roman--trumpeted the benefits of the BioGenesisSM program, with expert testimonials from "the nation's leading certified personal trainers, Frank Campitelli and David Dearth."** "You will actually be able to eat 300% to 400% more food each day," Campitelli was quoted as saying. The ad offered a 60-capsule bottle of "fat burning nutrients" and a hardcover BioGenesis book for the low, low price of $29--a $20 discount from retail.

Why was this snake-oil pitch displacing Prince Valiant from its customary position? Why were the tender readers of Green Earth Guardians and The Coll-Egg-tible Eggers Family being subjected to drawings of distended bellies and endless column inches of sleazy jibber-jabber? And who's going to buy a diet remedy from an outfit that advertises on the back of the funnies? Sarge? Garfield? Delroy Pogsdale?

(* As measured by Funny Paper's ancient and unsettlingly sticky hand-held Varityper E-scale.)

(** "David Dearth is a former Mr. America and Mr. Universe."***)

(*** Who looks, judging by online photos, like a steroid-inflated Tim Allen, of TV's Home Improvement.)

INSULT OR COMPLIMENT? DEP'T.: Tuesday's Family Circus goes to an old standby. "A lady said PJ is as cute as a bug," Dolly says. "Is that a compliment or an insult?" Tough one. If the lady was referring to one of the 35,000 species of the order Hemiptera, known to entymologists as the "true bugs" and distinguished by leathery forewings and sucking mouthparts, it's a toss-up. The Hemiptera, which include bedbugs, aphids, and stink bugs, are not, by and large, lookers. A relatively handsome member of the order, such as Geocoris bullatus, the large big-eyed bug, might be offended by being compared to the pug-faced PJ; the spined soldier bug, Podisus maculiventris, would probably be flattered by the comparison.

But if the lady was speaking colloquially, and referring a broader set of insects, including all the familiar, roly-poly beetles of the order Coleoptera, the Circus Family should definitely take it as a compliment. The average dung beetle or ladybug is way cuter than the larval PJ.

YOU CAN SAY THAT AGAIN! DEP'T.: Last Saturday, Sept. 22, Gasoline Alley left off with a bridge-hanger: Mayor Melba, having slipped from the span across Snoring Creek, dangled, screaming, while Rufus clutched her wrist. "Hang on, Miss Melba!" Rufus exhorted. "I--I loves yo'!"

"Rufus!" Joel reprimanded his fellow antiques merchant. "This ain't no time t' get romantical!"

Oh, yeah, Joel? Clearly Jim Scancarelli thinks it's time t' get romantical--because on Monday the 24th, he redraws the same strip, with the same confession of love. Panel one: Melba dangling, screaming "Ru-fus!!" Panel two: "Miss Melba! I'll he'p yo! I--I wants yo' t' know--I--loves yo'!" This time, Mayor Melba herself resets Rufus' priorities. "I loves yo' too, Rufus! But couldn't yo' start helpin' now an' let's spoon later?"

BEETLE BAILEY: A tanker truck labeled gobbledygook snakes a hose through the door of Camp Swampy HQ. But is it an oil truck, making a delivery? Or is it a honey dipper, making a pickup?

MOTHER GOOSE & GRIMM: "Unfortunately for Pinocchio, the only thing Geppetto wanted more than a little boy was a Stratolounger." This is sick. Not funny--sick. Sick sick.

JUMP START: Robb Armstrong puts in a plug for TV's The Amazing Race as Joe writes a contestant a speeding ticket on Monday. Later in the week, a new girl challenges Jojo's mob-boss-style control of the preschool.

GASOLINE ALLEY: With Mayor Melba finally returned to the bridge--"Would yo' gen'lemens be so kind as t' turn yo' heads fo' a moment!" she says as she clambers over the railing in her flimsy, eternally falling-off country-gal garb--Joel discovers a new problem: "We's gotta turn aroun' an' go back! . . . We done left th' jug on th' cart!" This is what we need in Gasoline Alley: more of Joel's jug, less of Melba's's.

THE BOONDOCKS: Aaron McGruder introduces a somber post-terrorism tone for the week. "It's hard to laugh, or smile, or be funny," Huey says. "You never laugh, or smile, or say anything funny," Caesar says.

B.C.: Johnny Hart--who we're betting stays further ahead of his deadlines than Aaron McGruder does--presents a pre-terrorism joke Saturday. "What's that?" B.C. asks Thor, contemplating a blobby, six-lobed shape on the ground. "A chalk outline of a corpse." "An asterisk?" "He jumped off this thousand-foot cliff." Bodies fall and go splat. Hilarious stuff, Johnny. That's what comedy's all about--timing.


ZIPPY: Zippy talks to Bibendum, the Michelin Man. But Bill Griffith doesn't use his proper name, Bibendum. That's the sort-of fact--the Michelin Man being named Bibendum--on which Griffith usually hangs the whole strip. Bibendum. We'll just have to do it for him. Bibendum Bibendum Bibendum Bibendum.

MARK TRAIL: Lamar Hillwilliams flees while Mark is busy kicking the fallen Luke Hillwilliams in the face. But, mercifully, Lamar and this endless ginseng-and-bear-gallbladder-poaching plot line are brought to a halt by a deus ex park rangera, as Maryland's own Ranger Chuck Harris reappears to make a flying tackle. Little Taylor Hillwilliams and his mother vow to move to the city as soon as possible, and Mark and Rusty head back to Lost Forest. "My editor won't believe all the things we went through to get the story on ginseng poaching," Mark says. Yeah, like the part where you got tied up in a cave by the armed ginseng poachers, for instance. We keep forgetting that our avenging park-ranger-style hero, the Phantom of the North American ecosystem, is theoretically supposed to be a journalist. What ever happened to not getting involved with your subjects? Mark Trail is so gonzo, he makes William T. Vollmann look like Leonard Downie Jr.

Sunday's featured animal: the American alligator, "the closest thing we have to a living dinosaur." We thought the Carolina chickadee was the closest thing we had to a living dinosaur.

REX MORGAN, M.D.: A wild-eyed Chuck Franks clogs up the drains and smashes a water pipe, hoping to flood the basements where his negligence allowed killer mold to grow. Then, because he's a twit, he pays a visit to Wendi Karol with his shoes and pants cuffs dripping wet.

HI & LOIS: Tuesday, the Walker & Browne cartoonarium gives us Hi at a lunch counter, ordering ham and rye. "You always have that," the aproned counterman says. "Why not try something different? . . . How about bologna on rye?" "You're out of ham, aren't you?" Yeah, he's out of ham . . . and this setup is out of Blondie. Right down to the cluttered scenery, which looks cramped and muddled when rendered with the thick Walker & Browne line rather than the light touch of Young & Lebrun. We're pretty sure we've seen this particular gag, or an essentially identical one, at Dagwood's lunch counter. What's next, Hi running over the mailman?

LUANN: Self-assured handicapped person Zane invites Bernice out to dinner at the ritzy Elmhurst.

HERB & JAMAAL: As our heroes prepare for a reunion of their old neighborhood, Jamaal pines for the days before civil rights, when the ghetto was happily segregated. "Those days, the old adage, 'It takes a village to raise a child,' really meant something." Right on. Carry me back to the ol' neighborhood, where the cotton and the corn and taters grow.

KUDZU: The not-funny parakeet watches "the matchmaking game show . . . for aging Baby Boomers": The Carbon-Dating Game. Cripes, we thought it didn't make sense back when Mother Goose & Grimm wielded the same pun to make a joke about a "carbon-dating service" for single skeletons. But this makes even less sense. Adjust the B-division humor standings: Head to head, Mike Peters is funnier than Doug Marlette.

DOONESBURY: Mark Slackmeyer keeps tending his ailing father. Doonesbury keeps being funny. Funny Paper dreads the day Mr. Slackmeyer finally passes, and we lose the surliest father-son relationship in all the funnies. No bogus reconciliations here in the fight that's been going on for three decades. "You've been a huge disappointment in virtually every respect," Slackmeyer the elder declares. "And you know something, Mark? I think I may have always felt that way. I just never found the time to tell you . . . Hey! That's closure, isn't it?"

Still, he wants a few things from his no-good "fruit loop" of a son. "I am counting on you to make sure none of your ex-stepmothers get their hands on a single dime," Mr. S. says. "Also, I'd like a Viking funeral."

MARY WORTH: Dawn Weston dines with Forrest "Call Me Woody" Hills, and asks for help in interfering with her father's love life. Didn't the characters in Mary Worth used to ask Mary Worth for help with their problems? Where the hell is Mary Worth? We haven't seen Mary Worth in months.

APARTMENT 3-G: The girls and Cousin Blaze set sail for the Bahamas. They've barely cast off before Margo starts getting on Capt. Greg's nerves. That prolonged massage from Ernesto must have really invigorated Margo's bitch-muscles.

THE PHANTOM: The ghost pirates' submarine dives, with the Phantom aboard. "These 'ghosts' who steal are about to meet the 'Ghost Who Walks,'" the Phantom thinks. Old jungle saying: The Phantom never goes anywhere without the personal play-by-play rolling in his skull. He spies on the control room: "When the Soviet Union broke apart, the West had identified 13 Akuna class subs . . . but many suspect there were 14. Maybe one that went missing." Not bad, O Ghost Who Walks, except those 13 or 14 subs were Akula class, with an L. We guess the jungle-drum edition of Jane's Defence Weekly got a little garbled*.

The Ghost Who Walks overpowers a pirate accountant.

In the Sunday plot line, the nefarious Marshal Zebal, brandishing some vaguely feminine, skinny-barrelled Luger- or Walther-type villain pistol, forces Prince Bakhmet into a helicopter.

(* Funny Paper's diligent online research indicates that "Akuna" can be either a variant spelling of "Hakuna," as in "Hakuna Matata," or the name of a club in downtown Canberra, Australia, which according to its Web site attracts customers with "mouth-watering meal[s]," poker machines, "'Happy Hour' prices between 12-2 p.m. & 4-6 p.m. every Thursday and Friday," and something called a "Meat raffle.")

PRINCE VALIANT: "The hatred between Justinian and Prince Valiant . . . blah blah blah . . . unforgivable crime . . . blah blah blah . . . the two peoples are allies . . ." Could we maybe go back to the Cloaca Maxima for a while?

CURTIS: Curtis wins "a year's subscription to the Shaquille O'Neal Sweatsock Club."

GARFIELD: Garfield wraps a band of tape around Odie, from nostrils to anus.

DENNIS THE MENACE: Dennis bakes real marbles into a marble cake. That's not cute; that's actually menacing.

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