Friday, January 04, 2013

Comics crushed on the wheel of time

Déjà vu with Lucy Van Pelt

In place of the “eternal feminine,” Lucy from the Peanuts comic strip provides us with the “eternal fussbudget.” This week she spoke a truth laden with irony from the funny pages of the newspaper. The irony was new, generated by the fact that Lucy's words were not. Here is the installment from January 2, 2013, where Lucy is fussing about the supposedly “new” year.

The year, of course, is not the only thing that was “used.” For the uninitiated, the giveaway could be found in the label Classic Peanuts, the sign that Charles Schulz may be long gone but his undead comic has been sucked into the endless time-vortex of the modern comics page. Classic Peanuts had plenty of company. Lynn Johnston's For Better or Worse was shocked back into life with a brisk slap of the defibrillator paddles. The rebooted strip went into reruns, recycling the original strips (ostensibly with some modest editorial oversight and emendations by Johnson.)

At least these recycled comic strips are the actual products of the bylined cartoonists. The late Schulz and the retired Johnston really did write those gags and create those drawings. If you're fortunate(?) enough to have The Wizard of Id in your local paper, you'll see that it still carries the bylines of its late creators, Brant Parker and Johnny Hart, although it has long been in the hands of the uncredited Jeff Parker. It's not really a secret, of course, but it's still a little weird that the current Parker prefers to work without attribution. Perhaps he prefers that today's readers blame the original creators for today's pallid and deracinated version.

Johnny Hart's other brain-child, B.C. is similarly being kept alive by a distribution syndicate willing to settle for the imitative work of the creator's descendants. It works, right? Otherwise, we would not be seeing the cavalcade of strips that will not die: Dick Tracy has outlived Chester Gould, Blondie lives forever although Chic Young is gone, Mark Trail continues his trail-blazing without the help of Ed Dodd, Dennis the Menace still bothers Mr. Wilson in the absence of Hank Ketcham, and Frank and Ernest were inherited by the son of Bob Thaves. This is by no means an exhaustive list, even if it is a bit exhausting.

I admit that I usually smile when I see Classic Peanuts, even though I often recall having seen the strip before. The work of Charles Schulz holds up to repeated readings. In fact, it's usually better than the “new” strips cobbled together from the remnants of the work of the original creators. These latter offerings are often vigorless revenants that stalk the comics pages, their Frankensteinian stitches showing. If you listen closely, you can hear their sad pleas: “Brains! Brains!” But those brains are long gone.


Eamon Knight said...

The demise of Johnny Hart's once-brilliant strips long preceded that of their creator, as they degenerated into frequent vehicles for Hart's mean-spirited sanctimony. Keeping them going as zombies is beyond grotesque.

Zeno said...

I completely agree, Eamon. Hart's humor predeceased him, poisoned by his religious conversion.