Tagged: Dilbert

John Ostrander: Strip Grade

Calvin and Hobbes

I’m not keen on moving these days. When I switch my homestead to a new location, I have to find all the spots I was taking for granted – food stores, gas stations, mechanics, restaurants and so on. It usually also means I have to find a new newspaper. Yes, I’ve just proclaimed myself to be a dinosaur and I still read the newspaper every morning over breakfast.  Yes, I know they offer electronic editions but I like one I can hold in my hands.

Assuming there is more than one local newspaper (or local-ish), I have to make a choice as to which one I’ll read. I have two primary criterions – where they fall on the political spectrum and what comic strips they have. The latter may be more important to me than the former. I was raised in a Republican household in Chicago so we got the Chicago Tribune which was rabidly conservative at the time. However, I might buy the Chicago Sun-Times from time to time and on Sunday I got the Chicago American; their collection of strips included Prince Valiant. Hal Foster, its legendary creator, was still doing Prince Valiant in the days of my boyhood. That was a treat.

Yes, I know that all the strips I read and more are offered on the Internet but, again, I like having the physical artifact in my hands. It’s a tactile experience. My current paper is the Detroit Free Press and so my comments are limited to the strips I read there. I do read some online because I love them but can’t get them from the Detroit Free Press – the Sunday Doonesbury, Dilbert, Mutts, and Bizarro.

Some I don’t know why I read; I don’t really enjoy them. One theory I heard says that it’s quicker and easier to read them than to not read them. That sounds about right.

One such is Arlo and Janis by Jimmy Johnson. Slow paced domestic comedy. There are days when it is so slow paced I think I’ve fallen asleep and missed something. I know it has a fan base who love it. Not pitched at me, I think.

Non Sequiter by Wiley Miller. This strip doesn’t exist without Gary Larson’s The Far Side (or, sometimes, The Addams Family) but I don’t care. One of my prime reads every day. Sometimes it’s a single panel and sometimes it’s multi-panel sequential. It has a running cast (several in fact) and I admire the variety and Wiley’s versatility.

Luann. Originally I wasn’t that much into the strip but the creator, Greg Evans, has let his cast gradually grow and change. The main character, Luann DeGroot, was in her early teens when I started to read the strip but she has grown older (she’s now in college), a little wiser (but not too much) and Evans has really developed the supporting cast. Continuing narrative plotlines has also become a mainstay of the strip which has helped keep me into it.

Wumo, created by Danish writer/artist duo Mikael Wulff and Anders Morgenthaler. Ugly strip. This is one of those that is easier to read than not read.

Get Fuzzy by Darby Conley. It stars a befuddled anthropomorphic dog named Satchel, a psychotic Siamese cat named Bucky, and their hopeless nerd of a human named Rob Wilco. I read it every day and sometimes wonder why on several levels. Why does Rob keep Bucky who is nasty, delusional, and destructive? Is Satchel too stupid to live? I’m not sure if I like it but I want to read it every day.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson. Phoebe is 9-years old who acquires a unicorn as a best friend named Marigold Heavenly Nostrils. At first, I was put off; it all seemed a bit precious and twee. However, I’ve become a big fan. It is smartly written and well drawn. It can actually make me laugh which very few “comic” strips bother to do these days.

Sally Forth, created by Greg Howard and these days written by Francesco Marciuliano and drawn by Jim Keefe. Ostensibly about a woman, her family, and her adventures at work; these days it’s more about the family unit with Sally, her husband Ted, and their daughter Hilary. I think they all need serious medication. Ted was always kind of a goofball but now he gets obsessive and delusional. The daughter is also in need of meds and, at best, Sally is an enabler. Seriously, Dr. Phil needs to visit them.

There are a lot more strips in the Detroit Free Press but I think this is enough for now. Even with the ones that I seem not to like, I read religiously. I learned much of what I know about writing for sequential art from the comic strips and I am indebted to them.

And on days when I don’t get my comic strip fix, I get cranky.

John Ostrander: Newspapers and their Great Comics

Dick TracyI’m a fossil. I know it. Proof positive: I read the daily newspaper. Not on a pad or tablet or my computer, I go out and actually buy the blamed thing. I read it during breakfast. Yes, I still get a certain percentage of my news from the computer and/or Jon Stewart and The Daily Show but I like having the physical newspaper, just as I prefer actual books to an e-reader. If I don’t get to read the paper, I get cranky. Or crankier.

I think I got that from my father, Joel W. Ostrander Sr. He was always the first up in the morning but, during my high school years, I was up second. We’d both be at breakfast and we would read the newspaper. I’d get the sections he was done with; that’s where I learned to be possessive about my newspaper. If I buy the newspaper, you get it when I’m done. If you want to read it sooner, go buy your own.

Dad and I would have breakfast and read in a comfortable silence unless my mother decided to get up early and join us. Mom was a talker in the morning. Worse, she would expect you to talk back and on the topic she started so you had to listen. You couldn’t just fake it or grunt replies. She expected coherent sentences. I can do that in the morning but it takes an effort and more concentration than I care to give. Just let me read my newspaper and no one gets hurt.

When I move to a new location, I always have to decide which of the available newspapers I’m going to read (assuming I have a choice which is increasingly becoming difficult as newspapers fold up). So I have to choose which newspaper is going to be my regular. While the editorial bent is an important factor (politically left of center is a prerequisite), the determining factor is usually what comic strips they have. I was raised on the Chicago Tribune but I would also buy the Sunday Chicago American because I enjoyed the comics there. Dad would bring home the Chicago Daily News in the evening so, all in all, I got a goodly number of strips.

Chester Gould was still doing Dick Tracy when I was younger (my buddy Joe Staton now draws it) and Harold Gray was doing Little Orphan Annie. Al Capp was doing L’il Abner, Hal Foster was doing Prince Valiant, Walt Kelly was doing Pogo, and Milton Caniff was doing Steve Canyon. I don’t know if music was better back then but, yes, the comic strips certainly were. Perhaps even more than the comic books I read, comic strips were influential in my development as a writer, especially in graphic literature.

Some of the strips are no longer around. Leonard Starr’s On Stage was beautifully drawn and wonderfully written. I would later come across the British strip Modesty Blaise, created by Peter O’Donnell and drawn by a succession of artists following Jim Holdaway, who drew it first. I read those still not only for pleasure but because O’Donnell was a master of the medium. He knew how to pace and drive a story, wasting nothing, with every line forwarding the plot or the characters in a minimum of words. Elegant and compelling.

These days, there are very few adventure strips or strips with a continuing narrative and that’s a pity. Mostly, it’s gag and humor strips although some strips have picked up that narrative aspect. For example, Luann – created, written and drawn by Greg Evans – started out as a gag strip but has developed into a narrative, with the characters allowed to age and change.

Some strips these days are minimally drawn, such as Dilbert by Scott Adams. The drawing is competent although I get the feeling some panels are simply repeated over and over again but the writing is generally sharp and satiric. Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis also has minimal drawing although, again, the writing is generally sharp and funny. Mutts, written and drawn by Patrick Mc Donnell, is a modern classic; better drawn although sometimes the writing is not so sharp. Non Sequitur, by Wiley Miller, is unique – sometimes it is a single panel drawing and sometimes it’s a sequential strip. It has continuing characters but it also has many stand alone installments. This one is also superbly written and drawn and benefits, I think, from Miller’s work as an editorial cartoonist. He packs a lot into a little space.

Some strips, unfortunately, are wretched, badly drawn and almost incomprehensible. That was always true, however, and there’s good reading to be found even today. Almost all of them are also available somewhere on the Internet but I still enjoy reading them in the newspaper if I can. There’s a tactile pleasure in holding the newspaper and experiencing them that way. I recommend it.

As they (used to) say, see you in the funny papers.