Please direct all congratulations and lamentations to A Squid for another Cephalopod Coffeehouse post.
This month since I've been reading the Bible (yes, that Bible) and am nowhere near finishing (although if you really want you can read along with me as I muse on my experiences here), I don't have a book like usual to talk about, but rather a different kind of reading experience entirely.
Comic strips! Specifically, Over the Hedge: Stuffed Animals, which was originally released and I bought back in 2006, when the movie adaptation was also in theaters (Bruce Willis has one of his overlooked but always amusing voiceover roles in it). I've actually been reading this collection off and on since that year. This is not a judgment on the cartoon strip, but rather a sad indictment on the state of comic strips in general. Because without this collection, or the Internet, I would never have read Over the Hedge at all. I've never seen it in a newspaper, and that's one of the many criminal things to talk about today.
(Incidentally, one of the more popular posts I've done on any of my blogs was all about building a new comic strip line-up from obscure and familiar favorites, which you can read here. I suspect that some of the visits have been from bookmarks people have returned to as they read my digital compilation.)
I love comic strips. My all-time favorite, as it is for many other dedicated fans even though it ceased publication way back in 1994 (twenty years ago!), is Bill Watterson's Calvin & Hobbes. I have many other favorites. My current favorite is Pearls Before Swine. It's the main reason I don't want crocodiles for neighbors. (They're idiots.)
Big Nate was created by a Maine native, but isn't popular enough in Maine to have stuck in my local paper. It's since been extended into Diary of a Wimpy Kid-esque books, and that's been fun to see. I enjoy that one. I love Red & Rover, which is a perennial contender for Calvin & Hobbes-esque. I love Zits. I love Sally Forth. I can't believe that FoxTrot has never become a beloved cultural institution, even though it basically invented our current event culture thanks to reliably nerdy Jason, who embodied The Big Bang Theory long before The Big Bang Theory ever existed.
I think the idea of the comic strip is an endangered species. Yes, comic strips can exist on the Internet. There are many comic strips that were born on the Internet and have made names for themselves. But they are inherently a newspaper institution. They're the last best social commentary we have.
That's what Over the Hedge is all about, by the way. It features a band of woodland creatures who are forever commenting on the saddest aspects of American culture, all the stuff everyone else always complains about, but with fuzzy creatures who have lives and obsessions of their own (RJ the raccoon made a artform of obsessing over Twinkies long before Zombieland).
Maybe it was Watterson's principled fight against commercialism, but no comic strip since, except for Dilbert, has managed to pierce the heart of popular culture the way Garfield and Peanuts did and still do. It's not a matter of stagnancy, as some observers are always saying. You can ignore the likes of Family Circus, by all means!
I wish Dilbert were as successful in an overt way as it has in a subversive one, but as much as it lampoons everything, basically, that led to the Great Recession, it hasn't changed anything. Yes, I take the funnies seriously.
And I wish more people were aware that an Over the Hedge movie exists, and that an Over the Hedge daily comic strip exists.
Although I would also be content to see Bill Watterson enshrined as one of the 20th century's great artists, where he rightly belongs...That's the strength of comic strips at their very finest. That's worth preserving. Newspapers don't seem like they will be around much longer. How much longer still until comic strips disappear? I don't think I want to see that day...