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The Life of Riley and Calvinist Discipline

The Life of Riley and Calvinist Discipline published on No Comments on The Life of Riley and Calvinist Discipline

It’s a defunct comic about a precocious young child, plagued by an adult world that doesn’t understand him. It’s about his wisecracking friend in a sea of inane suburban banality. It’s about searching out chinks in the armor of implacable authority.

I’m talking, of course, about the Boondocks.

Actually, I’m talking about Calvin and Hobbes.

Actually factually, I’m talking about both.

I was looking through some of my favorite old collections when I realized how deeply these two comics talked about the same issues from a similar but very different perspective. Calvin lives a life of sheltered indulgence he never really appreciates. Considering the amount of… well, criminal mischief he has perpetrated, his parents never really actually provide much in the way of punishment for him. Sure he gets yelled at a lot, but really he’s subjected to even less discipline than Bart Simpson.

I believe this comes from the ‘phoning it in’ section of the parenting book. I think the first caveman uttered it when his kid said he was too young to catch his own wildebeest. I got the sense in this strip that Calvin’s dad enjoyed the turnabout of handing off what his father handed off to him. I don’t know if this is universal to all fathers, but since it’s my dad’s birthday today, I will extend the benefit of the doubt and assume this really was something he told me For My Own Good.

Contrast this to the world of Huey Freeman. Huey, like Calvin, lives in the suburbs. Unlike Calvin, he was born in the city (Chicago, if you were wondering- you know, that war zone two steps away from military intervention [at least Fox news tells me so]) before relocating with his brother and grandfather. It’s not established where the boys’ parents are, but given Huey’s radicalism and Riley’s unabashed devotion to thug life, it’s a safe bet they’re nowhere good.

I don’t get the sense of helplessness from Huey’s grandfather that I get from Calvin’s dad. His boys get up to mischief. A lot of mischief. Though not, I would argue, the amount of criminal mischief that Calvin does. I mean, he accidentally stole his parents’ car. But granddad Robert is having none of it. He’ll fill those boys days with punishments and chores, not for any sense of discipline (if you ask him), but because sometimes a brother gotta watch his shows in peace. Lip of course does not equal peace.

Huey is not a boy who is going to protest at the unfairness of anything. Partially because he’s more clever than that, but mostly because he already knows this, and he’s probably come to that realization more honestly than by an early bedtime. But maybe it’s not fair to contrast Calvin to Huey. Calvin is six years old and Huey is a more worldly ten. Anyone who spends time around young kids can tell you there are a million years between six and ten. I don’t even mean that figuratively. Kids change time. Seriously, Einstein did a whole field of study on it. Google it.

A more just comparison might be made between Calvin and younger brother Riley. At eight years old, Riley has more of the exuberance and abandon that Calvin has. He hasn’t entered the cynical world of double digit life. While the biggest challenge of Calvin’s social life is Moe the bully and protecting his toys from Moe’s chubby fingers, Riley has the entire culture of toxic masculinity working against him. Calvin will do his best to disappear into the landscape. Riley will dominate it. Calvin is trying to escape the notice of a system that expects too much from him. Riley is trying to crush a system that expects too little. I think the difference is best exemplified in how they approach Santa Claus.

These are basically the same letter. Calvin writes his for therapeutic purposes and dares not send it for fear of offending the powers that be. Riley doesn’t consider not sending his for a second because he knows he is the powers that be. Different sides, same coin.

The sad irony of these strips is that Calvin probably turned out ok. My bet is that he squeaked through school to the relief of his ineffectual parents and made his way into college where he continued his criminal shenanigans where he was perpetually indulged with a boys will be boys attitude, As for Riley and Huey, I assume that Huey’s FBI file and Riley’s gangstalicious lifestyle led Grandpa to an earlyish grave. Huey calls Riley when he can at the supermax he ended up in, but it’s not as often as he would like because he travels from one undisclosed location to another while living under the anarchy street artist moniker ‘Wakanda’.

I love both of these strips and they inspired me to want to be able to communicate visually and concisely. Superficially, they may not have much in common but if I had a chance to re-christen them, I would call them White Privilege and Black Pride. I only hope that Huey and Calvin have crossed paths out there somewhere in after comics land, I think they would be friends.

Things in Squares

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Things in Squares is a genius name for a comic. What could be more elegant, more elegantly true? For decades, the panel comic has used the things in squares format in the development of a common language widely understood by all of comic reading society.

But Things in Squares, by Cale, refuses to be limited by anything so mundane as reality or common language. In the very first comic the character, nameless faceless every guy, refuses to be constrained by his square and quite literally burns it to the ground. You know from the start you’re in for something very special, and the creator very modestly titles the post lame joke.

Over the course of the series, every man makes incredible journeys through time and space as the result of a a very singular creative mind. He also takes his dogs for walks and goes to the pharmacy and those strips are also the result of a singular creative mind. Everything Cale, the artist, does imbues his work with a soft, dreamy magical realist style that reminds me of Nemo in Slumberland conceptually if not stylistically. The style I find more reminiscent of some animated series. The line weight and colors seem Clerks the Animated Series. The soft, curvy shapes like the Powerpuff Girls.

Cale also in the Things in Squares site publishes the Once I Dreamed comics which are a great social collaboration. His readers share with him their literal sleepy time dreams and he illustrates them in his signature style. The more surreal the dream, the better it works, again just like Nemo in Slumberland.

Beyond the actual comic, the artist does some lovely things at his site. If you’re an aspiring web cartoonist (like, say, me), there are worse places online to make yourself at home. He has a blog where he clearly outlines the formulae that have lead to his online success and does his best to help you duplicate those steps. In the best tradition of artists, he is both constantly pushing forward and paying backward.

If you’re having one of those days and in need of a laugh, I recommend this as a place to go to get that microburst to get you through the next five minutes. Even the dark humor will make you feel ever so much lighter.

Garfield Plus Martin

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I don’t know what the weather has been like in your neck of the woods, but here in Utah we have snow and cold and more snow and cold. It’s been a good week to crawl in bed and stay there. So I did. It made me think of the snow days of yore. The days where just looking out the window made me go ick and I would curl up with a pile of comics. The start of my love affair, if you will.

I was addicted in those heady days, to Garfield. Maybe because as a housebound minor those books were the easiest to get my hands on. I had a huge stack of them you would always get from Scholastic book fairs. It was from Garfield that I learned the art of a snappy retort, along with the efforts of one Mr. Al Jaffee. It was from my parents that I (reeeeally) eventually learned to put a sock in it.

For my whole childhood, I thought I was Garfield. The no nonsense Monday hating cat who was continually bested by life but too jaded and lazy to really care. It wasn’t until I saw the work of Dan Walsh that I realized that I had never known how much Jon Arbuckle lived in my head. That was the magic of the world of Garfield Minus Garfield, a comic strip starring Jon Arbuckle and only Jon Arbuckle.

It would be easy to dismiss Walsh’s efforts as not art as the legwork is initially produced by Garfield author Jim Davis, but that overlooks the genius of Walsh’s brilliant theme as well as his attention to detail in the seamless removal of all traces of the feisty feline. By removing the titular character from such a succinct medium, he produces a surreal and existential view of life you might expect from a Tom Stoppard or Samuel Beckett.

In this digital age, it’s hard to draw the line between what is art and what is appropriation. For every Walsh with a supportive backing of a muse like Davis, there’s a Bill Watterson that has to look at a bootleg Calvin peeing on a pickup every time he leaves the house. For every thousand boring memes there’s a James Fridman who surprises us all with a view on a world where symbolism and literalism collide with hilarious results. For a while I toyed with the idea of a Garfield Plus Garfield where I replaced the main characters in strips like the Boondocks, Bloom County etc. with Garfield so there was something of a post modern ratiocination going on, but I decided that sounded like an awful lot of work. Maybe someday in the future when I’m spread less thin.

In the meantime, if you have a snow day in your future and you’re looking for something good to read, you could do worse than to curl up on the couch with Garfield Minus Garfield.

The More Things Change…

The More Things Change… published on No Comments on The More Things Change…

…the more they really change. Can we agree that 2016 has been a really weird year?

Yup. This weird.


I’ll start by saying that cartooning is something that I enjoy. A lot. I’m not the best in the world at it, but have you seen what Garry Trudeau’s early work looks like? Have you seen what Scott Adams looks like now? I will get better. It’s a promise from me to you and, more importantly, from me to me.

Speaking of Scott Adams, I don’t know how many of you noticed this piece he wrote regarding this hellstorm of an election, but he has formally endorsed Donald Trump after stating that he knows nothing about the issues but that he does know that Hillary’s supporters are bullies.

As a certain type of successful white man, he then goes on to talk about how his books are now being downgraded on Amazon as a result of his political uncorrectness (I know it’s incorrectness but I’m fighting back against PC thugs telling me how to wurd). Writers are speaking out against him motivated only by a desire to diminish his authority because of course that and jealousy are the only reason that any writer ever writes about another writer.

A Graveyard Smash
And we all know jealousy makes monsters of us all.


This is honestly the kind of writing I would expect from the apologist balladeer of the crappy workplace (my two cents are ‘it’s funny because it’s true!’ is the same logic that gave us Hogans Heroes).

Contrast this with something that I read recently in the book Only What’s Necessary: Charles M. Schulz and the Art of Peanuts. I would go so far as to say Charles Schulz was the most commercially influential cartoonist in American history. All of the plushies, lunch boxes, coffee mugs and assorted desiderata (I love that word so much) of all the cartoonists working today might approach the level that Snoopy and the gang reached. I assume so, without bothering to research- but it feels right doesn’t it?

In this book there is s0me correspondence between Schulz and a teacher named Harriet Glickman. Harriet very kindly writes Schulz and tells him his comic is so wonderfully received and influential, could he please see his way to add a black character to help with integration? Schulz, again very kindly, writes back that he wouldn’t dare as he would be afraid to come across as condescending to people of color. He writes back and forth with some of Harriet’s black friends expressing his concerns, they share with him some of theirs and eventually Peanuts sees the introduction of Franklin, its’ first black character.

My point? Success comes with privileges and responsibilities, just like being a spider powered superhero. Fifty years ago there was a cartoonist so beloved that he probably could have been president himself who modestly and circumspectly approached the controversial issues of the day- and to be fair I did get a whiff of the protection of his commercial interests at play. Fast forward to today and a niche cartoonist whose niche is not politics and who claims to know little of the issues asks us to upvote his books on the interwebs as a political statement.

I don’t judge or claim to understand either of these men because I have walked nowhere in their shoes. To that end I would like to propose that a well endowed ivy league school give me a LOT of money from their sociology department (first dibs to Princeton so I can meet Paul Krugman) and I promise to fully document all the effects overnight success imposes on a bleeding heart liberal. I look forward to discussing my views on the capital gains tax with you.



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