A couple of weeks ago a friend emailed me commenting that it had taken her a week to read the Sunday comics. Her exact words were, “I couldn’t find anything in the six pages that was funny or comical or uplifting at all. And some of it I couldn’t even understand.”
In other words, when did the funny papers stop being funny?
First a disclaimer: She specifically remarked that she was reading that “other” Sunday paper from the big city that is distributed lavishly on the Peninsula. The Clarion Sunday comics, for the most part, are at least benign, if not always laughable.
My friend is about my same age, so we grew up on Nancy and Sluggo (by Ernie Bushmiller), a couple of elementary school-aged kids whose antics were typical and funny. Nancy lived with her aunt, Fritzie Ritz, and Sluggo was from the “wrong side of the tracks,” but who cared? They romped through typical third-grade adventures with an assorted cast, including the town bully, the rich kid and cute animals. Apparently the strip is still active today, but with a different artist. Although some of the old strips have been rerun from time to time, I haven’t see Nancy around locally for awhile.
On Sundays, everybody in the family took their turn at the funnies. Kids first, because Mom and Dad were busy with the news part of the paper. Then Dad, and finally Mom, after church and dinner when she could relax and not be disturbed for a few minutes. The Katenjammer Kids, Gasoline Alley, Popeye, Blondie, some of which are still going these days, were staples in local dailies and the Sunday color pages.
And L’il Abner! Al Capp would be tarred and feathered these days! The so-called feminists would be marching on United Features (the distributor) protesting the portrayal of Daisy Mae as a voluptuous, moon-struck young woman (the strip ran for over 40 years and she didn’t age a day) and some group would for sure be up in arms about Dogpatch and its hill-billy citizens, never mind that they always prevailed (“Good is better than evil, becuz it’s nicer”). Capp’s commentary on social and political life was so on point at the time that “Fearless Fosdick,” “Schmoos” and “Lower Slobbovia” became common in conversation. Everyone understood the references and it was still funny! Who can forget Mammy Yokum and her corncob pipe, or Pappy Yokum with his jug of Kickapoo joy juice? Funny, iconic characters whose creator would be vilified in today’s politically correct atmosphere, more’s the pity.
The Funny Papers (that’s “comics” to you “other guys”) in my younger days had a few serious strips, too: Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, Terry and the Pirates, but they were a straightforward serialized story, maybe a little less social comment, but still entertaining with good vanquishing evil, eventually.
Today we have several ambiguous strips trying to relay the social conscience of the day with comments on teenage angst, dying parents, woman power, and politics generally. For comic relief we go to Dilbert, Ziggy or Mother Goose and Grimm. Thank heaven we can rely on Blondie, Garfield, and reruns of Peanuts for a smile now and then.
The same day I received the email from my friend, I listened to a conversation with a comedian on NPR about the status of comedy in the U.S. He said it’s difficult to be a stand-up comedian these days because no one is allowed to laugh at anything. “Liberals are too offended and Conservatives are too angry.” And everything is political.
Who the heck cares? I’d rather hear a good blonde joke (and for the first two decades of my life I really was a blonde) than hear again some worn out unfunny replay of “Trumpkin” or “I can see Russia from here.” Funny how the presidential jokes stopped when the comedian was in danger of being labeled a racist and a bigot if he (or she) spoke comedically of Forty-four and family, but picked up in vitriolic earnest when the target wasn’t one of the chosen political few.
If I had my d’ruthers (as L’il Abner might say) I’d d’ruther open the Sunday Funnies and have the option of laughing, or not, at a not-so-politically-correct cartoon than have to muddle through several panels of dark humor just to come out the other side depressed. (And you can’t convince me you didn’t laugh when a blonde walked into a bar because she forgot to duck!)
Humor depends on our ability to laugh at ourselves. Unfortunately, that attribute is fast being replaced by who can be most offended by a really benign reference to something so obscure as to be invisible to most of the world. In the words of Pogo (who, incidentally we haven’t heard much of lately), “We have met the enemy and he is Us.”
“Nuff sed,” Loretta?
Virginia Walters lives in Kenai. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.