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TO-CLIMB-THESE-CLIFFS ...?!

Aug. 13-Aug. 19

By Scocca & MacLeod | Posted 8/22/2001

SUMMER RERUNS DEP'T.: "The New York vacation continues," says the Phantom-style exposition-box atop Monday's Family Circus. On the face of it, this seems kind of pointless - the Circus Family is milling around an INFORMATION kiosk, the kids loaded down with NEW YORK CITY merchandise. Even Jeffy could probably understand the scene without help. But what the caption is really trying to say, in its coy little way, is "Bil and Jeff Keane's vacation continues, so here's another week of previously-viewed cartoons from 1977."

Down at the bottom of the other page, Mike Doonesbury, drawn with an unusually crisp line, is setting up a TV set in Doonesbury -- a TV set on which, in panel three, someone is talking about President Reagan. No wonder the drawing style was more appealing. This week's strips are from back before Garry Trudeau got bored. Hello, 1985!

And then, of course, there's Classic Peanuts, in which Snoopy is spending the week as "Joe Motocross." Joe Motocross. Charles Schulz had his finger on the pulse of pop-culture when he wrote that one. In 1975.

Again, why is The Sun wasting space on its overcrowded comics pages to run retreads? Of the three comics-page stalwarts - the Keanes, Schulz, and Trudeau - only Schulz has a valid excuse for digging his strips out of the morgue.

SUN CROSSWORD OREO CLUE OF THE WEEK DEP'T.: Thursday, 12 Down, "It may be pulled apart before eating."

YOU CAN SEE THAT AGAIN! DEP'T.: In Saturday's Luann, Gunther hoists the injured Luann on her back to climb out of the ravine and get help. In Sunday's Phantom, the Phantom hoists the hapless Prince Bakhmet on his back (along with the mystical king-making magic monkey) to climb the cliffs into Dharmistan. Graham Nolan's panel is, not surprisingly, more dynamic than Greg Evans'. But it's pretty much the same composition.

GASOLINE ALLEY: Walt and Phyllis conclude their training session with Life Ring salesman Hercules Ogle, the man with the Carmen Sandiego / Ghost Who Walks fedora-and-belted-trenchcoat combo. Walt is showing clear and distressing signs of senile dementia: "What's a Life Ring?" he asks Monday, after having sat through the demonstration. Tuesday, he tries to give Ogle back the alert pendants that he and Phyllis are supposed to wear. Jim Scancarelli thinks this is funny. Funny Paper thinks this is sad and frightening. What's next -- incontinence gags, with Rufus and Joel mopping up Walt's spillage?

B.C.: Speaking of senile dementia - and stuff that's not funny - Johnny "Somebody Kill Me Now" Hart offers a head-scratcher on Tuesday: One of his prehistoric ants goes hurtling out of the anthill, trailing smoke. "I fell asleep in the toaster," he explains after he lands. Funny Paper is using the word "explains" loosely here.

Wednesday, the anteater watches the sun rise and set with a giant sleeping Snoopy on top of it. "Dog days," says the anteater with a sigh. Huh? So it was too hot for Johnny Hart to open the mail from his gag men and buy a real joke?

SHOE: Wednesday, the corpse-reanimators at MacNelly Productions - Chris "No Relation to Mary" Cassatt and Gary "No Relation to the Institute" Brookins - whistle past the graveyard in an amazing display of chutzpah. "Garfield was assassinated in 1881," says the anthropomorphic birds' TV set. "Wow!" Skyler says. "And his comic strip is still running?!"

Fun bonus death fact: While Garfield's Jim Davis belongs to the ever-dwindling population of not-dead cartoonists, Lorenzo Music, the voice of TV's Garfield, died August 4. In addition to voicing the lowest-common-denominator cat, Music was also a writer for The Bob Newhart Show and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and played the disembodied voice of Carlton the Doorman on TV's Rhoda.

BEETLE BAILEY: Lt. Fuzz bedecks himself with flags. Sarge has a multicultural-bonding moment with Cpl. Yo, telling the Japanese-American soldier, "Mexican, Italian, Chinese . . . I like all kinds of food." And once again, Mort Walker finds an excuse to draw Pfc. Bailey's ass crack, as the nude private, dripping from a shower, searches in vain for a towel. He ends up drying off on Sgt. Snorkel's coarse, heavy uniform shirt. Ow!

HI & LOIS: "Kids today have a lot of you-know-what dumped on them!" teenager Chip complains. "Oh, I see," Hi says. "And that's why you need to take a 45-minute shower!" Funny Paper can think of another reason.

MARMADUKE: Monday: Marmaduke jumps on the couch. Tuesday: Marmaduke's weight has caved in an armchair. Friday: Marmaduke hides from police behind the couch. Saturday: Marmaduke lies on Mr. Winslow, pinning him to the couch. Next week: Marmaduke humps the couch!

MARY WORTH: Ian rambles on about his sister-in-law's various divorces.

BOONDOCKS: Aaron McGruder hasn't gotten the word that the Sears, Roebuck catalog is out of business. But we enjoyed Saturday's strip anyway. Huey fields a phone call for his granddad, offers to take a message, and then berates the caller. "What kind of message is that? Where's the love? Where's the solidarity in the struggle?"

Finally satisfied, he delivers the message."Grandad," he says, "Frank from Sears called to say 'Stay strong. Soon we will rise as a people.' Oh, and your catalog order is in."

APARTMENT 3-G: Ahoy! Sailor-boy Greg invites the 3 G's to join him on a voyage to deliver a sailboat to its new owner in the Bahamas. After a brief preliminary sail, Lu Ann has somehow ended up wearing Greg's hat. "The boat sleeps six," Greg says. Yeah, but in how many berths?

REX MORGAN, M.D.: While he gets dressed and has a cup of coffee, Rex joins June in researching mold-poisoning cases online. Sunday, June breast-feeds the baby, with Graham Nolan carefully showing just as much as necessary to make it clear that a natural mammalian process is occurring before our eyes. Graham Nolan: soap-opera cartoonist for the 21st century.

FAMILY CIRCUS: The 1977 tour of New York continues, with the kids fretting about being spotted as tourists, being mugged, or falling through a subway grate. Get back to the burbs, before someone gets hurt.

SALLY FORTH: In a carefully coded adultery plot line, Ted covets a neighbor's "robot mower," then decides he prefers "cutting grass" the way he's always done it. But he tells Sally he wouldn't mind it if they got a "riding mower."

NON SEQUITUR: Wiley draws cats that look like the cat in Willy 'n' Ethel. Don't remind us of Willy 'n Ethel, Wiley. It just makes us hate you more.

HERB & JAMAAL: Out-of-control aphorist Stephen Bentley presents a quotation from Booker T. Washington in lieu of a punchline on a battling-siblings strip.

BLONDIE: Dagwood, loitering in a pet store again, encounters a parrot crying "All right, men, move out!" and "Hi yoh, forward . . . on to Ft. Apache!" "His last owner watched lots of John Wayne movies," the pet shop guy says. John who?

JUMBLE: AN EXTENSION, IN THE SOUP, A FLIGHT OF "FANCY", A BETTER BETTOR, A "TURN OFF", IN A "DRAW."

DENNIS THE MENACE: During the week, Dennis' pocket-watch-toting grandpa comes to visit. On Sunday - actually, we're not sure what happened on Sunday, because we were too distracted by the fact that this week's Sunday color supplement version of Dennis has no neck. We don't mean he has no neck the way a fat slob like Tony Siragusa has no neck. We mean Dennis doesn't have a neck. His little towheaded head is floating in space, a good three cartoon inches above his shoulders, with the background showing in between. Hank Ketcham's head must be spinning in its grave.

KUDZU: The Rev. Will B. Dunn breaks off in mid-wedding ceremony to greet the bridegroom. "Oh, hi, Warren - I didn't realize you're the groom," he says, smiling. "I do all Warren's weddings!" he thinks to himself. We think Marlette is trying to do a Warren Beatty joke here. Yeah, the preacher's done all Warren's weddings - all one of them.

Maybe it's supposed to be Warren Buffett. Or Warren Moon. Or Warren Zevon. Or Chief Justice Earl Warren. If you added them all up. That would be a lot of Warrens. That sure would be something.

ONE BIG HAPPY: James runs away from home. After Ruthie bosses him around for a while, he runs back.

LUANN: Luann comes to after her fall. Gunther blots the blood from her forehead and helps her stand. Her ankle buckles. "I think I broke it!!" she says. So Luann straddles the heroic Gunther and rides him to safety.

FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE: John drools at the chance to buy a "completely rebuilt 1962 Bushwhacker 4X convertible," courtesy of Gordon. Funny Paper research says this make of car is either Canadian or fictitious - not that there's a difference. For better.

MARK TRAIL: Snapping pictures of a waterfall, Rusty and idiot child Taylor Hillwilliams see Taylor's ginseng-and-bear-parts-poaching uncles disappearing into a cave. "Let's go inside and ask my uncles what they are doing!" Taylor suggests. Even Rusty isn't dumb enough to endorse that plan.

Sunday's featured animals: Anurans, the frogs and toads, "the most successful living amphibians." But not all that successful: "Something out there is deforming and killing frogs," Mark says, "and scientists are trying to figure out the reason."

CATHY: Saturday, Cathy Guisewite crams seven panels into a four-panel space - but then stretches one panel's worth of material (Cathy can't fit into her clothes) over the seven. Funny Paper almost always appreciates extra effort from our cartoon scribes. Note the "almost," Cathy G.

CURTIS: Curtis hurries to Michelle's house, eager to meet "Puff Daddy" -- only to find that Michelle had said "Puff Tabby." "Sort of a clever play with words, don't you think?" asks Michelle. We're going to give Ray Billingsley a little credit, and attribute that point of view to her character, not to her cartoonist. "'Puffy' and I have been together since I was a toddler," Michelle says the next day, as she asks Curtis to pet-sit the obese feline. Isn't Michelle like 10 years old? Even if she had the foresight to name the cat back in the Craig Mack / Notorious B.I.G. era, she still should have been done toddling by then.

Tuesday's strip showcases Billingsley's knack for off-topic sight gags, as Curtis - while telling Barry how Sean Combs is "'P. Diddy' only to white newspaper an' TV reporters" - peels off his dirty socks, and the socks hover, quivering and dripping, in mid-air.

THE PHANTOM: The weekday Phantom, still wearing his sunglasses, finally spies the ghost pirates' ship. "Her colors! -- Great gods!" he thinks. "The ghost ship flies the emblem of the Singh Brotherhood! They murdered my ancestor 21 generations ago!" Oh, boy . . . time to tell the Phantom origin story again!

Sunday, the Phantom and the milquetoast Prince Bakhment of Dharma&Gregistan find soldiers blocking the mountain pass into Dharma&Gregistan. "We have to get past these soldiers!" the Ghost Who Walks says. "There's just one way! To climb these cliffs!"

"To-climb-these-cliffs...?!" the Prince bleats. Ah, the hyphen: punctuation mark of fear! Recognizing the weakness of character and physical inadequacy of the nobility, the Phantom volunteers to do the climbing himself, tying the prince's hands together and strapping him on like a human rucksack. With Prince Backpack firmly in place, the G. Who W.'s starts clambering up the sheer rock face, with one last command to his lupine and equine sidekicks: "Devil and Hero . . . wait here!"

"Wait here"? He's talking to a fucking horse. And a wolf: Yeah, sure, got it, boss. I'll just hang out here and lick my balls, while the horse stands around and poops. We await further orders, Mr. Walker. Page us when you get to Dharmistan, you purple-hooded control freak.

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