Wednesday, May 04, 2005


I've always loved reading the comics in the newspapers. I'm old enough to remember "Pogo" and the original writers of "Steve Canyon", "Dick Tracy" and even "Prince Valiant". While I might not have always gotten the humor or the point of subtle commentary, the artwork and effort placed into the funnies were always appreciated, especially sitting around the breakfast table in the mornings with my father, as he ate his usual two fried eggs, bacon and toast, before going to the Pontiac garage. We actually subscribed to two newspapers, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and the Tampa Tribune, so I got to see a pretty wide variety of comics (now, I couldn't begin to tell you why an auto mechanic's family on one income bothered to subscribe to two different newspapers, but we did).

However, I've noticed over the last few years a disturbing trend has cropped up on the comics page with the rise of the "comic strip with a message". I suppose that comics have had political leanings for years, going all the way back to the Hearst "Yellow Journalism" days; even "Pogo" with its "We have met the enemy and he is us" back in the Vietnam war years can probably take some blame, but it has gotten much worse since "B.C." turned ultra-religious in tone and the introduction of "Mallard Fillmore" as a supposed balance to the left-wing tone of "Doonesbury". Yeah, "Doonesbury" has had a particularly political tone to it for years (remember the infamous "Reagan's Brain" series?) but at least it has gone after sacred cows on both sides, as well as satirizing other aspects of our society and been pretty funny in the long term. "B.C." started out as relatively funny, but after its main writer got religon sometime in the 1980s, it has gone downhill fast. A couple of characters show up from time to time, a strange looking Indian and a guy who looks vaguely Italian, and they usually are spouting off something about the Creator and Jesus. You can count on "B.C." to have heavy religious propaganda during the Christmas season and during Easter. I realize that the evangelized among us probably enjoy it to some extent, but frankly, it's boring and heavy-handed.

But compared to "Mallard Fillmore", "B.C." is high art. "Mallard Fillmore" is the creation of a guy named Bruce Tinsley (I've got Tinsleys on my father's side of the family and it terrifies me to no end to think I might actually be related to him), who apparently got tired of the left-wing views of most comic-strip characters and felt compelled to draw his own right-wing polemic-spouting alter-ego of a duck who works at a Washington D.C. TV station as a reporter. Our local newspaper decided to start running the strip, I suppose, as a counter-weight to "Doonesbury", but all it has done is establish beyond all doubt that Tinsley is a Johnnie-One-Note, whose daily whine about all things "liberal" is tiring to the extreme. I can only imagine who actually reads "Mallard Fillmore" and laughs (and not from the stupidity and shallowness of the writing); it is probably the same folks who buy Ann Coulter's books and Bill O'Reilly's "O'Reilly Factor for Kids!" (after the telephone sex scandal, I can only shudder at that one!) and who call up our local newspaper's "Zinger" anonymous insult/commentary column and recite the right-wing Big Elephant line off of the GOP website verbatim.

Tinsley's approach to humor (and I use that word advisedly) is to say that all "liberals" (and I think he means anyone who is to the left of Ghengis Khan and Vice-President Cheney) believe in spending tax dollars without any limit, getting the government into tremendous debt and overlooking all sorts of wrongdoing in moral matters. Well shoot, that sounds like the modern Republican Party to me, once you look at the current budget deficits, spending on all sorts of foreign adventurism and the Tom DeLay business. However, as I pointed out in my earlier blog about fanatics, Tinsley and his ilk have begun to think that THEY are the majority and that their narrow-minded ideas and goals are what everyone else with any sense must believe. I'd much prefer "Mallard Fillmore" to be on the editorial page, if it has to be in our local mullet-wrapper at all. It's about as funny as reading a George Will column anyway.

And what is it with rerunning "Peanuts" ad infinitum? Yeah, it was interesting in its day, but "Peanuts", run apparently as a constant memorial to George Schultz, is right up there these days with "Family Circus", "Dennis the Menace" and "Andy Capp" in terms of interest. Take my word for it, they ain't Shakespeare. "Zits", "Get Fuzzy" and "9 Chickweed Lane", which I generally get from the Internet these days, are much more creative, much funnier and entertaining than poor old Charlie Brown, even in his best days after being rerun to death. I wish that more comic strips would follow the example of "Bloom County" and "Calvin and Hobbes": When you run out of ideas, kill the strip, don't keep it around, recycling ideas over and over like "Garfield" until some Hollywood producer decides that it is time to make a movie out of it with Kenneth Branaugh playing the lead. Wouldn't that be something, some day, to see maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger playing "Mallard Fillmore--The Movie"? THAT will be the sign of the Apocalypse, the end of humanity and civilization as we know it.

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