Friday, December 27, 2013

#658. The Cephalopod Coffeehouse December 2013

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...

12 comments:

The Armchair Squid said...

I grew up with the Washington Post and only later grew to appreciate its comics section - largest in the English language. In addition to C&H, I loved Bloom County and The Far Side. All three artists burned out early. No strips since have measured up, in my opinion.

Pat Dilloway said...

All I know about Over the Hedge is that there's a Ben Folds/Bill Shatner song on the soundtrack.

Maurice Mitchell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maurice Mitchell said...

If you read the Bible in a month then you're not doing it right Tony. :) I had an extensive collection of comic strip books growing up and my two favorites were Calvin and Foxtrot. Great stuff.

Trisha F said...

I admit I've never read the Bible - but my mum did tell me that reading the Old Testament is kind of like reading a really gruesome action story. So maybe someday I'll get to it. :)

MOCK! said...

Bloom County and Calvin & Hobbes were go to strip for me back in the day....they debuted during junior high and lasted into college. Foxtrot was the only thing to take their place. But reading Foxtrot in collections now I begin to notice repetition I never saw in the other strips.

Stephanie said...

Wow, the list of comics takes me back! I haven't subscribed to a physical newspaper in years, so the Sunday funnies are a thing of my past. I used to love almost all the ones you mention. And a few of those collections happen to be a Kindle Daily Deal on Amazon, for those interested.

Two of my favorite new web comics (which have new physical book collections) are The Oatmeal and Hyperbole and a Half. Very funny, very irreverent ... the Oatmeal in particular is most definitely for adults only.

Tony Laplume said...

Squid, you certainly hit the hat trick of sorely missed genius strips right there.

Pat, Ben Folds also does a cover of The Clash's "Lost in the Suburbs" for the movie, which I really like.

Maurice, or I'm doing it really, really right!

Trisha, your mum is not lying. If some of it were published with a different title it would be indistinguishable from any number of other books I could think of.

MOCK!, I'd say FoxTrot repeats no more often in its running themes than Peanuts or Garfield.

Stephanie, Hyperbole and a Half is certainly one of the biggest Internet successes of recent history. I can say one of my 2013 accomplishments was discovering it just before the news of the book contract broke. It's good stuff.

The Armchair Squid said...

I occasionally use Binkley (of Bloom Co.) as an avatar. I kind of looked like him as a kid.

Remembering Grace said...

Calvin & Hobbes is my favorite comic strip ever...I was devastated when it ended. I cancelled my subscription to the paper. There was no point anymore.

Dilbert is the only other one I read, and that's if someone brings it in to the office. We suspect one of our co-workers of writing it, it's so accurate to the cubicle-land we work in, LOL!

I always told my youth group girls at church to start with easy reading on the Bible, like with John, Acts, Timothy. Really, sticking with the New Testament. Once you venture to the Old Testament, Psalms I would go first, then books like Ruth, Job, Jonah, stories, history, prophets...and read Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy last!

And I tried to never talk about them reading Song of Solomon, because then I would have had to discuss it, and my delicate sensibilities definitely weren't up to that task! :)

Lisa Southard said...

I read the bible some years ago, and two things stuck in mind: firstly that there were a lot of lists and secondly that the sermon on the mount was really very lovely. Comic strips are lacking from my life, definitely.

Tony Laplume said...

Grace, I've discovered that reading the Bible in its entirety can reveal all sorts of things. One of them is that the whole thing seems obsessed with echoing figures, which for Christians at least should come as no surprise at all.

Lisa, genealogical work does seem extremely crucial in it, but that's true of any isolated culture trying to preserve its historical purity. Although that certainly sounds at best awkward when you consider what happened to the Jews because of some other people with notions of purity last century...

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