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Funny Paper

Lower the Bucket

Aug. 6-Aug. 12

By Scocca & MacLeod | Posted 8/15/2001

FOREIGN CORRESPONDENCE DEP'T.: A Funny Paper delegation took a grand tour of the Midwest last week: driving for hours on corn-lined interstates, marveling at the TOM RAPER WORLD'S LARGEST RV DEALERSHIP signage, and discovering that hick-town Indiana cops now troll for speeders in unmarked Camaros -- and, when we could, leafing through the local blatts. The Indianapolis Star, we discovered, runs one page of full-color funnies every single day. It's the standard daily four-panels, rendered in Sunday-color-supplement hues. Forget your "Piss Christ" and your "gangsta rap" music and all the rest of the bicoastal culture-industry provocations. This, this, is the real transgression. It's exactly this sort of elastic-waistbanded excess that makes Middle America the true source of corruption in this great nation. Color funnies are a once-a-week treat, not something you get every day. Keep holy the sabbath, you bovine infidels.

What else? Through the oddly appetizing odor of the soy-processing plants, we smelled the familiar stink of Wiley's Non Sequitur -- presented, for Midwestern readers, in a classic square-panel format. It's clearly not a graphic-resizing thing, like The Sun uses to squish in more strips, but a whole nother version of the strip. Who knew Wiley worked so hard?

But, too, our readings reminded us of how much worse things could be here. There are strips out there, gentle readers, that make Non Sequitur look like Krazy Kat: In one paper, for instance, we saw the execrable Mallard Fillmore presented as counterpoint to Doonesbury in the special section for too-hot-to-handle Commentary Comics. Mallard Fillmore, for those of you who've been spared the experience, is basically Duck Limbaugh -- a daily, laugh-free Two Minutes Hate featuring haglike Feminists, nebbishy Teachers' Unionists, and sundry other weak-minded Evil Liberals. It has all the humor and ideological sophistication of Midas and Max, that old Socialist Youth gag panel in which every episode featured Midas, a fat little capitalist in a top hat, squatting on the brawny shoulders of worker Max.

And then there was the Comic Strip of the Damned: Mr. Potato Head, a commercialriffic offering from the hack pen of Garfield's Jim Davis ("the world's most syndicated living cartoonist," as one online blurb puts it) . We kid not. Mr. fucking Potato Head, by Hasbro and Jim Davis (and some other schlub whose name we deliberately forgot). Starring, you know, Mr. Potato Head. One of the other characters appears to be named "Chip."

(When we got back to the Eastern Seaboard, we should note, we found an e-mail from alert Funny Paper reader Ian Blecher of New York, NY, tipping us off to the existence of Mister Potato Head. Mr. Blecher's message was composed the same day we stumbled over the strip on our own. What can we say? Funny Paper doesn't write the Funny Paper column. Funny Paper channels the Funny Paper column.)

Anyway, we've seen this kind of advertorial crud before -- a Disney's Little Mermaid strip here, a Nickelodeon Presents Rugrats strip there -- and it never ceases to disgust us. We'd rather read the Sears Optical ad. At least that isn't trying to sucker the kiddies into thinking it's entertainment.

But it wasn't all reading displeasure in the Heartland. We also ran across underrated sitcom strip Fox Trot, a nationwide institution that The Sun has never seen fit to add. Hey, Sunpapers: WHY WE NO HAVE? Fox Trot is generally funny. Sunday, it included an insanely meticulous people-waiting-in-line-at-the-airport scene, panel after panel of different types of suffering travelers, lightly and schematically drawn. Good stuff.

Last, we note that even in the boondocks, they run The Boondocks.

YOU CAN SAY THAT AGAIN! DEP'T.: Friday, Non Sequitur presents a scene of two kids on a tin-can-and-string phone rig, with a third kid -- at a desk that says TECH SUPPORT -- tied in on another, perpendicular line. August 5, the Sunday Family Circus did the exact same gag, only minus the sign, drawn in better perspective, and with Billy, on the third can, saying, "Your call may be monitored for quality of service . . . " It's official: Head to head, Bil Keane is funnier than Wiley Miller.



Subject: Funny paper

My name is Rainey Hayes. I sincerely hope that this correspondence reaches the person in charge of writing the funny page articles. I was visiting the "comics i don't understand" page and one of the comics was Wiley Miler's Non Sequitur strip involving the hip hop crossword puzzle.

From that page there was a link to the funny page web page which had information on the strip. First of all, you wrote that "non sequitur" was Latin for not funny. This is not so. I looked up both "sequitur" and "non sequitur" in the dictionary. "Non sequitur" means an interference that does not follow from the premis or situation. The conclusion to such an interference is called a "sequitur". The Latin definition for "non sequitur" is "does not follow". This is probably because Wiley Miller draws his comics based on what he sees happening always and does not wait for a specific event to comment on.

Concerning the strip itself, it does not matter if the crossword fits together properly. The idea is the same. Hip hop music very often uses naughty words or "four letter words". If Wiley simply wanted to make the crossword puzzle look like a moron's crossword puzzle, as you are accusing him of, he would have some words with less than four letters. Your treatment of Wiley in general was highly unreasonable. The name calling you did was absolutely childish. Wiley Miller comes across to me as the "Mark Twain" of the comic's page in that he goes heavy on his commentary on society and every day life. He attempts to open people's eyes to things they really should be seeing every day. In almost all his strips, he is 100% right. The only strips of his I do not agree with are the few I have read portraying teenage persons as being lazy and worthless.

Finally, he is one of the few cartoonists that draws strips not just for entertainment and wasting time but because he is communicating ideas and actually trying to make his readers think. His style is like a cross breed of "Far Side" and "Doonesbury".

I also did not appreciate your negative comments about Mother Goose and Grimm and George Lucas.

DENNIS THE MENACE: OK, it wasn't just our imagination. Dennis is feeling . . . urges. Monday, the perennial five-and-a-half-year-old sits down on the bedroom floor with Joey to leaf through what appears to be one of Dad's old Swank magazines. "Hmmm," Dennis says. "I think the stork idea makes more sense."

HERB & JAMAAL: Herb spends the week worrying about his grammar, while Jamaal correctly uses the subjunctive in a thought balloon. And they say jocks are the dumb ones.

Wednesday, Stephen Bentley once again pads out an aphorism, spending 47 words to say, "Keep your words sweet -- you may have to eat them later."

FAMILY CIRCUS: It's a Big Apple Circus, as "[t]his week, we join The Family Circus on a memorable past vacation." What? Reruns? Look, it's one thing when some overextended kid like Aaron McGruder has to go to the archive because he got behind. Bil Keane is supposed to be a pro. He's been cranking these things out for years. Now he's even got Jeff Keane to back him up. And he can't meet his schedule? Then get him off the damn page and find someone who can. Snooze and lose, old man.

In Sunday's 1977 strip, the family, drawn in color, strolls through a dim and confusing blue-and-black haze of people: foreigners, longhairs, a lady showing leg -- and, crossing stage right, a black man wearing tennis whites and carrying a racket. Is this supposed to be Arthur Ashe? What, he's about to take the subway out to Flushing?

HI & LOIS: The family goes on vacation -- not a rerun, but it's hard to tell. Fishing? Check. Spectacular sunset? Check. Rainy day? Check. Swimming gag? You bet: "The seaweed isn't going to hurt you, Dot!" Chip says. "It's the crabs you have to look out for!"

MARK TRAIL: Love that internal monologue. "I wonder why Mom wanted to keep this note a secret from Grandpa!" idiot child Taylor Hillwilliams says brightly to himself Tuesday, as he goes looking for Mark and Rusty. But Taylor's not going to find out yet -- Trail, reading the warning ("I overheard my father-in-law and his two sons threaten harm to you and Rusty . . . "), opts to tell a lie to the kids. "What's the note about, Mark?" Taylor asks. "Uh . . . nothing important," Mark says. Mark Trail fibs! This is like when we saw Queen Elizabeth pick her nose.

Sunday's featured animal: the hollow-haired Dall's sheep of the far North. "It is the only [subspecies of sheep] that has an all-white coat, and it is believed, instead of camouflage, its color is more important to help reflect the heat from nearly 24 hours of daily summer sun." Waitaminute. Hold up. Crappy syntax aside, it is believed by whom that the Dall's sheep is white to reflect heat? Let's see: polar bear, arctic hare, short-tailed weasel, arctic owl, arctic fox, baby harp seals -- all white, all apparently for camouflage. So who told Jack Elrod that the Dall's sheep was different? God? Charles Darwin? We are not buying this. It's not like the North gets 24 hours of blazing summer sun. Hell, the hare and the weasel turn brown during this alleged heat wave. No go, Jacko.

CATHY: Cathy slowly finishes buying a car.

FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE: April, back from camp, prates on about Native American cultural traditions -- prompting yet another round of Canuck pride from Lynn Johnston. "What do we have here that makes us truly Canadian?" April asks. "Eh?" says Grandpa. For worse!

LUANN: Gunther retrieves Mrs. Horner's pills from the ravine. Luann falls off the cliffside. Gunther, kneeling over Luann's limp body, cries for help in terror and anguish. Oh, what a bonny adventure Mrs. H. sent those kids off on!

APARTMENT 3-G: Lu Ann, steering Greg's boat, goes off course and loses the wind. Bad week for people more or less named Lu Ann. But Greg doesn't seem to mind.

Back ashore, hoity-toity bitch Margo throws a fit about not being the one who gets to go boating.

REX MORGAN, M.D.: Graham Nolan gets all Burne Hogarth and shit, as Rex and June have a dynamic discussion about the perils of the mold Stachybotrys atra. Sweeping gestures! Dramatic shadows! Epidemiology! Sunday, Rex gets his wife in the mood for love by talking about the mold-harboring properties of the French drain.

BOONDOCKS: Huey objects to the fact that Michael Clarke Duncan plays a big black ape in Planet of the Apes. Funny Paper thinks Helena Bonham Carter looks a lot more like an ape than Michael Clarke Duncan does. And Tim Roth looks like a rat. We know it's not Planet of the Rats, but that Tim Roth sure would be king of Planet of the Rats, wouldn't he? Yeah, he would. King Rat. Tim Rat. Dig it.

CURTIS: Ray Billingsley gets on Aaron McGruder's bad-black-movie-hatin' bandwagon. "'Grab Me Some Booty'," Curtis reads off a poster. "This summer's hippest movie, starrin' Wynton Marsalis and Darryl Strawberry." Starrin' who? Booty? What? The movie with Wynton Marsalis and Darryl Strawberry isn't Grab Me Some Booty. It's Young Man With a Horn . . . and Some Crack. Or Mo' Better Crack.

MARY WORTH: Ian keeps scheming against Liz's supposed schemes, while Dawn confers with the "dumpy but cute" Wilbur about the dangers of Liz's gold-digging. Wilbur seems to be taking the situation in stride: "I'm prone to believe Mrs. Hoag's interests in me are . . . shall we say . . . more fiscal than physical," he says.

But Wilbur has a game plan of his own. "To quote a proverb I just made up," he says, "you can't tell the depth of the well till you lower the bucket."


B.C.: Thor tries to sell Peter a jumbo-sized wheel. "How much gas does it guzzle?" Peter asks. "I hate that cliché," Thor says, addressing the audience. We, the audience, no get. Is Thor just speaking for Johnny Hart here, with Johnny complaining about the use of the term "gas-guzzler"? What's wrong with "gas-guzzler"? Where does Johnny Hart get off complaining about other people's cliches? The car-dealer gag is as big a cliché as they come.

BEETLE BAILEY: More nude bathing by the boys from Camp Swampy, with Sarge and Lt. Flap -- both fully clothed -- looking on.

THE PHANTOM: We get an unsettling glimpse of the Phantom's hair as he changes from his standard Mr. Walker trenchcoat-and-snap-brim ensemble to a more nautical sweater-and-watch-cap combo for pursuing the "ghost pirates." We have never, ever seen the Ghost Who Walks without either his purple hood or his fedora before. The hair is almost wavy, in a 400-years-of-hat-head way. And it seems to have a Susan Sontag skunk stripe running down the middle -- that, or he's bleaching the front like all the kids do these days.

But while Mr. Walker sheds his lid, he does not -- even when he's pulling on the sweater -- remove his sunglasses. Even though he's standing on the deck of a ship at night. Way to infiltrate the crew, Corey Hart. They'll never suspect a thing.

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