BALTIMORE CITY PAPER | 7/11/2001

Funny Paper

There Are Many Ways Out of the Cloaca Maxima

July 2-8

by Scocca & MacLeod

WORKIN' THE FIREWORKS DEP'T.: At the risk of our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor . . . ah, throw another kielbasa on the Weber. On the whole two pages of Sun funnies July 4, only the ancient Gasoline Alley gave Independence Day the full drop-everything commemorative-splash-panel treatment: tricorn hats, muskets, bombs bursting, etc. First runner-up is Mell Lazarus, who puts the full family of Momma in a single panel, gathering around the grill to discuss the meaning of the holiday. Second runner-up is Wiley (hey, Wiley's highest ranking in anything, ever!) for offering a Non Sequitur dialogue about fireworks and freedom.

But most everyone else just alludes to the holiday: Daddy is watching "old wars" on TV in Family Circus (Funny Paper pegs Bil Keane as a "W-W-Two the Big One" fella), Dennis the Menace is playing the bugle to ruin Mr. Wilson's hammock nap, Johhny Hart is making a pointless and out-of-date Jim Jeffords pun in B.C., Irving and Cathy are bitching about "holiday fat." Charlie Brown, in Classic Peanuts, simply says, "Here it is, the Fourth of July," as he keeps doing what he was doing July 2 and 3.

And then there are the cartoons that fire up the Match-Light without even mentioning the occasion. Curtis hogs the burgers in Curtis; Dagwood straps on the barbecue-chef gear in Blondie. Ziggy features a mouse tending a tiny grill (about which see below).

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS DEP'T.: Remember back when Garry Trudeau was funny, before he became an artiste, when he would just draw the same panel three or four times in a row and change the word balloons around? For variety's sake, he would tweak the drawing just a tiny bit in one panel, giving the faithful something to look for: a changed book title, or a plant suddenly wilting, or something. Now the whole strip is pointless tweaking, all silhouettes and close-ups and cinematic angles and graduated fills. But at least we've got Curtis! Ray Billingsley supplies an extra July 4 treat, as Mr. Wilkens' barbecuing apron subtly changes from saying KISS DA COOK in panels one and two to KISS DA CHEF in panel three. Why bother? Because it shows you care about the reader, that's why.

SUN CROSSWORD OREO WATCH DEP'T.: Monday, 42 across, "Oft-dunked cookie." Besides OREO, this week also sees action for OSAY, OLIO, ORAL, OHNO, ODOR, OPTS, OMEN, OKRA, OKAY, ONLY, OOHS, OTIS, OLEO, and OBOE. What, no OFAY? OTAY!

SCARY COINCIDENCE DEP'T.: Sunday's KidCity feature is "Shark Attack!" Friday, a bull shark off the coast of Pensacola, Fla., ripped an 8-year-old boy's arm off.

ZIGGY: Life imitates art about art imitating art. Half the Funny Paper team, looking at Wednesday's Ziggy, remarked that Tom Wilson and Tom II had produced a visual gag--a mouse using a miniature grill on a little mouse-hole balcony above its regular cartoon-style mouse hole--that was precisely the sort of gag you see in The New Yorker. The other half of the Funny Paper team then recalled Seinfeld episode 169, "The Cartoon," in which Elaine gets a cartoon published in The New Yorker and it turns out to be . . . a recycled Ziggy. The first half of the Funny Paper team had never seen that episode. There is some deeper truth here that neither half of Funny Paper can quite pin down.

CLASSIC PEANUTS: Charlie Brown waits alone in the dark--"Life sure is strange . . . and they say we only come this way once. . . . What did I come this way for?"--waiting to see if his dreadful visions of the sun as a giant baseball will continue with this sunrise. Instead, the rosy fingers of dawn creep across the sky, and our haunted everyman beholds the rising . . . head of Alfred E. Neuman. This is the most bizarre and jarring crossover in the history of crossovers, even if it is two decades old. We spilled our POTZREBIE in consternation.

DILBERT: Dilbert grapples with unreliable contractors. Once again, Scott Adams takes a whack at describing a universal American experience but ends up reminding us of the huge pile of money he's made off this strip, its corporate licensing deals, and its failed TV cartoon. What are Scott Adams' contractors working on, a revolving indoor/outdoor rooftop jacuzzi/wet bar/bidet/squash court?

MARK TRAIL: Hey, how about a little more exposition? Monday and Tuesday bring a torrent of information about the Williams clan of Western Maryland: "My daddy is in the Navy," wide-eyed child Taylor tells Mark. "My wife ran off with a city slicker several years ago," the cagey paterfamilias Mr. Williams says. "City slicker"? Gotcha, Hillwilliams. "I have three sons," he continues. "Tom, who is in the Navy. . . . My other two sons are mountain folks like me." Right--the mountain folks who were just killing a black bear last week and stealing its gallbladder. As we'll be officially notified, like, five weeks from now.

Sunday's nature-related explanation: How hurricanes and tropical storms get named. "If you are in an area where hurricanes or other related storms are likely to occur, be sure to keep your NOAA weather radio close by."

THE MIDDLETONS: Morris experiments with hair-in-a-can.

THE LOCKHORNS: The Lockhorns dine on blood pudding.

FAMILY CIRCUS: Monday, Dolly tries to get topical about tennis and serves up a racial double entendre: "I'll never be as good as Venus Williams," she laments, holding a racket that's as tall as she is. "I don't have a sister to practice with."

Thursday, Jeffy fears that his Jell-O is alive because it's "wigglin'." Jeffy is a dumb-ass.

FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE: We are startled out of our usual closeness to the FBOFW clan when Candace happens to refer to Liz's workplace as "one of the biggest grocery stores in the province"--thereby reminding us that they're a bunch of Canadians.

MOTHER GOOSE & GRIMM: Monday, Mike Peters actually stoops to using "Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't" as a punch line. Do those commercials even run anymore?

Saturday, panel number one: "Ha, squirrel, I've got a hard hat," Grimm yells up a tree. "Now your acorns can't hurt me." Panel number two: A safe falls on Grimm. Panel number three: "I didn't know squirrels had safes," Grimm groans. "Where do you think they store their nuts?" Atilla asks. Panel number four: "In their scrotums." OK, we added that last panel.

THE PHANTOM: The Ghost Who Walks escorts Victoria Carter, still woozy from "powerful Bandar medicines," into the inner sanctum of his cave. "Ohh . . . light-headed," she says. "Hold onto me now," the Phantom replies. What's she on, Bandar roofies? In the main treasure room, the Phantom shows her his jewels (squirrels use safes; Phantom uses museum-style glass cases), tells her he's more than 400 years old, and gives her a necklace (snicker) as a keepsake. The Phantom is a sleaze.

JUMBLE: POINT-LESS, THE BLAME, "BROOM-MATES," UP FOR "SAIL," THE RIGHT MOVES, AT THE TABLE.

LUANN: After Bernice leaves wheelchair-bound suitor Zane's phone number in Luann's car, Luann decides to assist Zane's courtship by giving him Bernice's digits. We're not sure it's a good idea to hook Bernice up with her steady rollin' man, since she's still suffering pooch postpartum depression after turning Royce over to Canine Companions. Wasn't turning the dog over to Canine Companions the whole point? This kind of undermines Greg Evans' whole public-service-announcement thing--hey, train a dog for the disabled, so you end up feeling really miserable. Nor does it speak well for Bernice's future emotional stability. At this rate, she's going to grow up to be Momma.

YOU CAN WITH BEAKMAN & JAX: Beakman & Jax explain how to make fog in a jar. "What you need: jar with lid--hot water--ice cubes. . . . Fill the jar with hot tap water . . . dump out the water, leaving about 1/4 inch in the bottom. Add two ice cubes. Put the lid back on. Twirl the jar around a bit and let it sit still for 3-4 minutes."

But what to do with all that fog once you've made it? Cribbing from www.tradervics.com, Funny Paper explains how to make a Samoan Fog Cutter: Shake together 1/2 oz. orgeat syrup, 2 oz. light rum, 1 oz. brandy, 1/2 oz. gin, 2 oz. lemon juice, and 1 oz. orange juice with ice cubes. Put in a glass with more ice, and float a teaspoon of sweet sherry on top. Serve with straws.

MARMADUKE: Brad Anderson name-checks Antiques Roadshow in a gag about all the crap Marmaduke has dragged back to his doghouse.

HI & LOIS: An obscure old comic reference becomes seriously weird, as Brian & Greg Walker (or Chance Browne, in this confusingly bylined world) use the names of the neighborhood sanitation engineers, Abercrombie and Fitch. Lo and Hi say it best: "It's our garbagemen, Abercrombie and Fitch." "I hardly recognize them!" Us neither. Funny Paper knows they've been named Abercrombie and Fitch since the days when the company was just a niche hunting-and-fishing outfitter, but now that A&F is the nation's leading purveyor of mall-teen sweaters and homosexual pornography, maybe they ought to retire the names. Like when the Greatest American Hero stopped being Mr. Hinkley after Reagan got shot.

REX MORGAN, M.D.: Chef Tito and artist Wendi both feel the onset of their mysterious symptoms.

WILLY N' ETHEL: Beer n' gluttony. "I'll pour it myself, Leon," Willy says Friday. "There's an incredible feeling of pride when you create something with your own two hands."

APARTMENT 3-G: The mismatched matchmaking party continues, with the inadvertently snubbed Joyce watching as the Professor courts Gabriella, and the semi-advertently snubbed Blaze watching from afar. "I thought I'd be placed next to Joyce," he whispers to Lu Ann, using a dotted-edged whisper speech balloon. "Sorry, Blaze," she whispers back. "Margo put the Professor in your seat." Man, it is raining double entendres this week.

GASOLINE ALLEY: Joel says "heck" in the cathedral, in front of his cousin the bishop. And in front of God, come to think of it. "Say 3 Hail Mary's [sic]" the too-genetically-close-to-Joel-for-comfort prelate tells him. "But I don't know but one!" Joel protests.

PRINCE VALIANT: The Prince and company continue to explore the Cloaca Maxima. "There are many ways out of the Cloaca Maxima," the Roman Merchant Quintus explains.

KUDZU: Saturday, Doug Marlette tries to crack a joke at Carrot Top's expense, with the Rev. Will B. Dunn referring to the renowned prop comic and discount-telephone-service pitchman as a "repulsive force." Funny Paper would like to go on record right now: We think Carrot Top is pretty funny. A lot of cheap-ass would-be comedians get a lot of cheap mileage out of cheap jokes about Mr. Top. None of those jokes make us laugh. Some of Carrot Top's jokes make us laugh. That's where it's at, bozos. Carrot Top's barber sweeps more talent off the floor after a routine trim than Doug Marlette has in his entire miserable body. Unless Doug Marlette starts licking up Carrot Top's hair trimmings. Where do you store your nuts, Marlette?

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