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« In Which a Reader Wishes Third Degree Genital Burns On Us The RantsSkeptics' Circle #52 »

Another Reason Not to Read the Funny Pages (Like We Needed One)
2007.01.12 (Fri) 19:24

We don't read the funny pages anymore. In fact, we don't even subscribe to any newspapers — we get our news online, which is faster, cheaper, and far less likely to get ink stains on our fingers (though, regrettably, not quite as Silly Putty friendly). But when we last read newspapers on a regular basis, some years ago, it was already clear to us then that the comics were all but dead. All of the classics — like Calvin & Hobbes, Bloom County, The Far Side — had gone the way of the dodo, leaving pointless, joyless illustrations, plodding and clichéd dialogue, and a surplus of silent penultimate panels in their place. (Print comics are mostly dead; if you want the funny, try some of the wonderfully done webcomics instead. And even if you don't read the strips regularly, don't miss this.)

Well, it seems that the pointless, joyless, plodding, clichéd newspaper strips are all still very much intact to this day. In addition, that old "educational for kids!" comic, Slylock Fox, is still kicking. What the heck is Slylock Fox? It's one of those exceedingly boring, poorly-drawn strips for children that is meant to teach them about a wide array of subjects through the power o' entertainment. Except that it's not very entertaining, even for a six-year-old. And it seems that minor things like "facts" aren't really important in the world of Slylock. Check out the January 3 strip to see what we mean:

In case you can't force yourself to read this affront to Walt Kelly, Will Eisner and Carl Barks, here is the relevant bit:

True or False
1) Therapeutic magnets are used to overcome jet lag.


Answer -- 1) True.

Way to go, Slylock! If you can't educate the kids truthfully, then just lay some utter bullshit on them! Hey, at least they'll know something, right?

But here's a thought. How about using some of those, you know, factual facts to educate kids? There are lots of interesting things about magnets that have the added benefit of also being correct.

Now we admit that, technically speaking, the answer is correct — magnets are used to overcome jet lag. And tendonitis. And cancer. And probably herpes, if that's your thing. But if the strip is going to point out that countless morons do use magnets for any of these purposes, shouldn't old Sly Fox at least mention the fact that magnets don't actually do a damned thing for any of these conditions? We'd be happier with the following text:

True or False
1) Therapeutic magnets are used to overcome jet lag.


Answer -- 1) While it's true that many people use magnets to overcome jet lag (as well as numerous other problems, both medical and personal), the truth is that they are completely ineffective for solving these types of problems. Yes, any number of people may try to use magnets to combat jet lag, but these people are simply deluding themselves. What about the ones who claim that magnets work for them? Well, this might be a good time to go ask a grown-up what the Placebo Effect is. If you're looking to put pictures on the fridge, then magnets are what you need. Designing recording media? Magnets are your man (men?). But if you are suffering from any medical conditions, do yourself a favor and go see a doctor. And as a note, the way to overcome jet lag is to get your body in synch with the patterns of day and night at your destination.

Some might point out that this would probably take up the entire four-panel-wide strip for the day. We would counter that the "art" and "copy" in Slylock Fox is already a waste of space anyway. So why not do something valuable with that increasingly shrinking newspaper real estate? And no, we wouldn't accept replacing Slylock Fox with Cathy as "something valuable."

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[  Filed under: % Bullshit  % Media & Censorship  ]

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Comments (16)

PoolGuy, 2007.01.12 (Fri) 19:59 [Link] »

Well, you're correct, of course, but anyone (and I'm including the target audience for this strip) who reads the funny pages for their factual information (much less for medical advice) is someone who is, or will grow up to be, a few fries short of a happy meal.

I do still read the funnies and, while I agree with you that some of the classics have shuffled off this mortal coil far too soon (including the ones you mentioned), there are still a few silk purses among the sow's ears. Non Sequitur comes to mind.

What really frosts my behind about the funnies in general, and I believe this has been mentioned by most, if not all, of the really funny strips that have given up the ghost, is that the pages are so cluttered with, in your words, "plodding and cliched dialogue" from so-called legacy strips. That is, strips that have been around so long that the cartoonist is dead and someone, usually a blood relative, has continued to put out the strip, thus depriving space in the funnies for anything new and intelligent and provocative. Of course, the ne plus ultra of this genre is Peanuts, which was considered so holy and pure that there was no one who could be considered to continue the strip when Schulz died, so they just repackaged it as Peanuts Classics and started recycling the strips and preventing someone with some talent from getting space on the page.

At least you went an entire funnies page rant without mentioning B.C. and its wacky proselytizing. Due to your consideration I was saved from another attack of apoplexy.

Akusai, 2007.01.12 (Fri) 22:14 [Link] »

The lack of funny in the funny pages has hit me hard as an adult. Hopefully you can find some joy in these two pages:

"Farfield," Garfield strips where Garfield is replaced with a still shot of a non-talking real cat. And:

The Garfield Randomizer, where three random Garfield panels are remixed each time you hit the button.

Both showcase the true horror of Garfield in different ways, and both are wonderfully, absurdly hilarious.

I found a third one once with intentionally remixed Garfield strips, some of which made me cry laughing, but I can't seem to find it again.

The Two Percent Company, 2007.01.12 (Fri) 23:56 [Link] »

Yeah, we definitely agree that people aren't reading the funny pages for their factual content. Or, well, we hope to Zeus they aren't. Let's just leave it at "they shouldn't be." (If we start witnessing meetings of the Historical Dilbert Reenactment Society, we may need to gouge our own eyes out with bent neckties.) That's not really the problem we have with this strip. The bone we're picking is more just about the pervasive nature of bullshit in all media — it's just inescapable these days. Hell, people also shouldn't go to the movies for educational purposes, but we get pretty irked every time we hear the old "based on a true story" canard that is the hallmark of so many recent movies about utter nonsense. (Hell, it doesn't even take a nonsensical claim to get people to believe in the truth of bullshit — even when the filmmakers admit it's not a true story, some people are still fooled.) Occasionally, you get "inspired by a true story," which is somewhat less egregious when you've got a bunch of demon-possessed characters in a movie based on historic claims of the supernatural. In a world of superstitious, credulous, terribly gullible consumers, we just find it irritating that Hollywood takes advantage of that to sell tickets. (No lectures, please, folks — we understand it's business, we just don't like it.)

When you take it all together, what you have is de facto validation of bullshit that literally bombards the general population on a daily basis. This bombardment contributes to the moronification of society because, without any concerted effort being made to teach the facts that counter such bullshit, the bullshit wins by default. In addition, education on the correct facts now has a larger obstacle to overcome in the form of misinformation that is being shoved down everyone's throats. Think about it — the Slylock strip didn't frame this "fact" about magnets as anything other than a mundane piece of obvious information. No explanation, no "amazing fact" exclamatory, just a "true" in response to the question. Pretty casual, pretty straightforward, and just the thing to get children (and adults) to repeat such bullshit as fact. String enough of that kind of mass media validation together, place it on every television, in every newspaper, on the news, and in the movie theatres, and we end up with a society as stupid and misinformed as...oh, right...as the one we live in today.

That said, we can also put this in perspective. This particular validation of crap is coming from a poorly drawn, poorly conceived, and probably abysmally unpopular comic strip in an age when we imagine few kids even bother to read the funny pages. As such, this strip is far less of a problem than, say, a movie peddling the same kind of crap (because the movie reaches a far wider audience), and such a movie would be far less of a problem than, say, an accredited university validating bullshit (because the academic validation lends far more "credibility" to such claims). Anyway, that's why this kind of thing pisses us off more than it might seem it should at first glance.

On another note, you mention:

What really frosts my behind about the funnies in general, and I believe this has been mentioned by most, if not all, of the really funny strips that have given up the ghost, is that the pages are so cluttered with, in your words, "plodding and cliched dialogue" from so-called legacy strips.

Oh, we hear you, PoolGuy. The fact that entry onto the insular and incestuous funny pages is nigh-impossible is, we imagine, why so many of the good strips these days are found online, and not in print. The syndicates are so set in their ways, it's a very rare strip that breaks through the barriers onto the printed page, and an even rarer strip that does it and is actually good. It's a sad state of affairs when an industry is so averse to change they won't allow any kind of interesting innovations whatsoever.

On B.C.: we're happy to oblige. Frankly, we never gave a rat's ass about that strip in the first place, well before we learned that the author engages in frequent asinine proselytizing. We're only too happy to continue to ignore that boring strip and its pointless "message."

And Akusai — oh, man, that's some funny stuff. The Garfield Randomizer is approximately twenty-three times funnier and eighty-four times more interesting than actual Garfield strips. One randomly constructed strip that we got seemed to foreshadow an epic tale of Faustian proportions...quite unlike any actual Garfield strip that Jim Davis' flunkies have concocted.

"Farfield" is a great demonstration of how utterly psychotic Jon Arbuckle must be, considering that it has been established in Garfield continuity that Jon can't "hear" Garfield's thoughts. To say to a cat the things Jon says to his cat, and to then exhibit the reactions that Jon exhibits, when the cat is actually just a cat, tells us much more about the inner workings of Jim Davis' feverish brain than we're really comfortable knowing.

Sean, 2007.01.13 (Sat) 12:13 [Link] »

Can I point people to this really really good strip. I can't ever see this in any newspaper, except maybe Danish ones that is!


Enigma, 2007.01.13 (Sat) 17:09 [Link] »

And then there's always Sluggy Freelance. I mean, come on, who doesn't like homicidal bunnies?

Infophile, 2007.01.13 (Sat) 18:21 [Link] »

Don't forget about Penny Arcade. I think you guys might particularly find this one from just a couple days ago link-worthy in some future post.

Cody, 2007.01.13 (Sat) 19:40 [Link] »

I love Slylock Fox!!!

Leslie, 2007.01.13 (Sat) 20:43 [Link] »

I love Slylock Fox too!

The Two Percent Company, 2007.01.13 (Sat) 21:08 [Link] »

Sluggy will always be a favorite of ours, Enigma — some classic stories and lines in there (we never go anywhere without Emergency Pants). We kind of fell off the train, though, with the "Kitten" storylines and the nigh-interminable and totally unrelated "Oceans Unmoving" epic. Hey, Pete can do whatever he wants with his own strip, of course, but even he admitted that Sluggy might not have been the right vehicle to accommodate his "Oceans Unmoving" story — and we just happened not to like it very much. Perhaps that's more because we always visited the site hoping to read some "real" Sluggy — the wacky, zany stuff, not an esoteric science fiction tale with characters we don't know or care about — and less because of the quality of the story. Since the epic ended, he's settling back into some good old Sluggy humor, but it takes some effort to get back into it, on both his part and the reader's. Still, we'll always love the older stuff!

Sean, we'd seen a few passing references to Jesus and Mo before, but never got a chance to sit down to read them. We just went through the whole run (it's short, folks, and worth it!), and there are some brilliant strips in there. Right up the Two Percent alley. The author regularly skewers the typical crap that spews forth from religious pieholes, pointing out the absurdity and inconsistency of such "arguments" (even including jabs at Ray Comfort and the Two Percent Company's own "favorite" creationist argument). Some strips also address the empty promises of religion, the hypocrisy of true believers, and the prevailing "violent tendencies" of atheists. J&M really does an excellent job, and does it with a great sense of humor. The author also frequently provides links to articles and websites discussing the topic of each strip. Click — bookmarked, finally!

And yup, Penny Arcade's another good one, Infophile. That particular strip made us chuckle — we're surprised it's not public knowledge that Christians take the Hypocritic Oath at their first communion.

dikkii, 2007.01.14 (Sun) 20:48 [Link] »

Hey, how about Ernie/Piranha Club?

Love this one.

Tycho the Dog, 2007.01.15 (Mon) 06:54 [Link] »

I'm not sure about the second fact either. Not all steels are magnetic even though they're all derived from iron. Carbon and alloy steels are magnetic - some stainless steels aren't. IIRC it depends on the exact composition and rate of cooling. The harder ferrritic and martensitic grades are magnetic, while the softer austenitic grades aren't.

...Yes, I know I'm being pedantic.

Esther Dail, 2007.01.15 (Mon) 14:44 [Link] »

Who's this "we"? Oceans Unmoving was great! Not totally unrelated either, it was Bun-Bun's backstory. There was a lot of debate on the boards, but by no means was OU condemned.

"Real Sluggy" to me is Sluggy Freelance produced by Pete. Not what I want it to be, what Pete wants it to be.

Eric, 2007.01.17 (Wed) 16:34 [Link] »

There actually are some good, innovative dead-tree strips out there - Get Fuzzy comes to mind, as does Pearls Before Swine, although at this point both of those are starting to show their age a bit.

The LA Times, normally the stodgiest of papers, has done a really good job of getting rid of the old crap and giving new strips a shot. If other papers would do the same, a classic art form might just be saved.

PoolGuy, 2007.01.17 (Wed) 20:17 [Link] »

Eric, I also read the LAT, and while I will give them some credit, I wouldn't go so far as "a really good job". After all, they still have Peanuts, Heathcliff, Dennis the Menace, Family Circus, Marmaduke, and, Lord have mercy, Rex Morgan, MD.

But the two you mention at least have their moments. I loved the last panel a couple of days ago in PBS when President Lincoln was complaining about having to go to the theater. That was seditiously funny. I'm also starting to take a shine to Lio.

Tom Foss, 2007.03.09 (Fri) 14:21 [Link] »

If you're in the mood for some more Slylock silliness, check out this comic from February.

I suppose it's nice to teach kids that leprechauns and the tooth fairy are imaginary, but damn if that isn't a misleading question.

Plus, they left off "God." Or "the queers," depending on which way the Slylock author votes :).

Åsmund Skjæveland, 2007.03.28 (Wed) 16:57 [Link] »

I thought the Oceans Unmoving storyline was very good fantasy. (I'm kind of a sucker for certain kinds of fantastic (as in magical) universes.) It did suffer from being squeezed into the Sluggy format, though. I kept thinking "this would be so much better if Pete'd stop cramming all those jokes into it and just let a good story roll."

I hope there's more room on the "my favorite comics" wagon:

Schlock Mercenary: a Sci-fi/space opera comic tale of a band of mercenaries. It's been rolling since 2001 and just keeps getting better.

Unicorn jelly: a story about, um, a unicorn jelly and its human companions. Set in that kind of weird universe I love.)

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