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Funny Paper

What's My Number?

April 30-May 6

By Scocca & MacLeod | Posted 5/9/2001

This Ain't No Holiday Dep't.: Not content with Cinco de Mayo, somebody somewhere declared Saturday to be Cartoonists Day, thereby giving the comics trade yet another gag peg--a peg so gratuitous that even the cartoonists mostly ignored it. None but the chesnuttiest of comics stooped to the occasion and included the black-circle holiday logo in their art: Beetle Bailey, Family Circus, and Dennis the Menace. Funny Paper thought we saw one in Rex Morgan, M.D., but it was just a black wall clock.

And the ones who did use the logo could barely think of anything to do with it. Hank Ketcham just stuck it down in the corner of an ordinary Dennis panel. Mort Walker used it as a jeep tire. Only the Keanes really sank their teeth into it: With the logo on a wall plaque in the background, Billy ambushes his dad in bed, offering to take over the drawing duties for the holiday.

This is a little too deep for Funny Paper. How can Billy volunteer to draw today's strip when today's strip is already today's strip? Billy has always been a lad of action: When it's Fathers Day, or Daddy is under the weather, he just steps up and puts a crudely drawn strip into the paper. Now we're trying to remember the last time we saw one of those scrawled, punny Billy specials. Has there been one since Jeffy--er, Jeff Keane--started sharing the byline with his father? Or is Jeffy freezing his big brother out, and now taunting him in the bargain?


FAMILY CIRCUS: This Saturday's Cartoonists Day meta-strip, last Saturday's message of shame and lust ( . . . there is a definite undercurrent of danger in the Circus lately. And Sunday's strip is the H-bomb. Billy peeks around a corner to see Bil and Thel kissing, then runs out to the yard, where the other three kids sit under a gray cartoon cloud of despair. "Everything's OK!" cries Billy. "They made up!"

They made up? Sorry, Billy, but everything is definitely not OK. We're talking actual marital strife here--strife that sends the kids out in the yard to huddle together in grief and fear. This is some serious Ernie Pook shit, laid out in the Sunday color supplement like it's . . . like it's . . . jeez, like it's the Family Circus! Look, Keanes, the Circus gets by because it is one-dimensional and perpetually upbeat. It's like Barney or the Teletubbies--something simple and unthreatening for the kiddies to rest their little eyeballs on. There are no bullies, no trips to the emergency room. Everybody gets hugs. I love you, you love me. Showing domestic trouble in the Circus is like having Tinky Winky sing "Cock in My Pocket." It's harmful to the audience. And if the Keanes want to start reaching a more grown-up audience, well, then we're going to start applying real grown-up standards to their work. Trust us, Bil and Jeff--you don't want that.

DENNIS THE MENACE: Friday, in a rare classroom scene, Dennis steals a trick from Jeff Spicoli and orders a pizza.

Sunday, apparently poisoned by the fumes from Family Circus, Hank Ketcham presents a primally terrifying episode of his own. "Mom! You know what Mr. Wilson just said?" Dennis demands, with the indignant arm-waving he usually applies to Margaret's tea parties. "He said when I'm grown up, they won't be here." Mrs. Mitchell gently tells him that's true, that the Wilsons are probably going to heaven. "He said I can't go until my number's up!" Dennis says. "Mom? . . . What's my number?"

THE BOONDOCKS: Huey and Riley spend the week shopping, fruitlessly, for a birthday present for their grandfather. Monday, the lads invert the old practical-education proverb as they price fishing poles: "On second thought," Riley says, "we can just go to the sto' and buy the fish." Thursday, Huey gets in a swipe at the ex-frontman of Cream: "Eric Clapton?! I said blues!! Don't make me come down there and smack somebody."

On Sunday, Casear continues to attempt to teach Huey about the dozens.

HERB & JAMAAL: Jamaal finds his masculinity threatened after he buys a girly car, "a darling little thing called a 'Frisky'"--which comes with a built-in flower vase, in case anyone didn't get which car Stephen Bentley is talking about. (Hint: Frisky's initials are "V.W.") After a week of mounting humiliation, he finally gives his Frisky to Yolanda and storms off.

FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE: Speaking of frisky . . . Grandpa and Iris, widower and widow, go out on their first real date--and take it back to Iris' apartment afterward.

CATHY: Five more days of Cathy Guisewite cranking out workplace jokes that strain for topicality--hey, layoffs! pay cuts!--and leave Funny Paper wondering why Cathy's boss and Dilbert's boss have the same hair. Then comes the weekend: Saturday, Cathy is unable to organize her life; Sunday, Cathy snaps under her mother's emotional blackmail. Ah, there's the timeless Cathy we all know.

KUDZU: On Friday, with Cathy still stuck at the office, Doug Marlette comes out of the bullpen to offer a strip about Doris the Parakeet gorging herself on chocolate.

JUMP START: Beat cop Crunchy reveals he's a Julliard-trained pianist.

LUANN: Luann demands that her parents buy her a car.

REX MORGAN, M.D.: Baby Sarah says "mmmmmmm," "burp," and "pppfffttt!" Tito feels unwell and reports a rash on his behind. Funny Paper awaits the diagnosis. Space sickness? Wrong Tito.

APARTMENT 3G: Margo starts living in her office.

PRINCE VALIANT: The ever-informative Yuan Chen explains the erosional effects of excessive logging on the Roman landscape. "'I have made a study of this,' Yuan Chen says, to no one's surprise." Funny Paper notices that Yuan sounds a lot like "yawn."

BLONDIE: Blondie reminds Dagwood to wear his galoshes.

CURTIS: Michelle finishes beating up Derrick and "Onion," breaking a nail in the process. Barry and Curtis bicker. Barry lets it be known that Curtis used the words "humongoid hooters." On Sunday, Curtis offers an impassioned debunking of the notion that rap is a bad influence. "We kids are way too savvy t' be influenced by music, movies, or TV!" he tells his skeptical dad.

MARY WORTH: Toby's thrice-divorced sister shows up and immediately suggests that Ian, floating corpulently in the pool, should be harpooned. Then she disparages Carlos the gardener with the cryptic ethnic slur "Charlie Aloha." Aloha? ¿Como?

MARK TRAIL: Andy, rescued from the deer trap, lingers in failing health. Mark broods. Sunday: principles of tree growth.

THE PHANTOM: Lady reporter Victoria's interest in the Phantom's story takes a, ah, personal turn, as she lounges in her hotel in a filmy negligee, thinking humid thought balloons about the "man who CANNOT die . . ." In the Sunday plotline, Prince Bakhmet wanders, dazed, from the wreckage of his bombed plane.


IN THEIR OWN WORDS: Sunday's kids-page capsule biography features Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, who "has managed to avoid the spotlight of publicity that has followed the rest of her family." Until now.

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Dec. 22-28, 2003

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