It’s Memorial Day weekend. I’m not in a serious mood. Nobody else is either. So, similar to my post on the comics I read, I thought I’d celebrate another form of sequential art: the comic strip. My house is filled with comic strip books as they’re my preferred laziness reading. Goofy, light, easy to drop in and out of. They’re perfect kicking back reading. So, in no order, my favorites past and present. Sadly the majority are past. I could do a thinkpiece but…nope. Look elsewhere.
Calvin and Hobbes: I’m putting this here so nobody wonders where it is on the list. I’m saving discussion of C&H for December and the 20th anniversary of the strip’s finale. Calvin and Hobbes is my favorite work in any medium ever. I’ll say more in a few months.
FoxTrot: My backup choice behind Calvin, which is funny since it’s so much less profound and artful. What it has instead are hard laughs. For many geeks, Jason Fox was the first time we saw ourselves in the media. The jokes come hard and fast in this portrait of ordinary life and Bill Amend is a genius at conveying the goofiest details. The characters are so very strongly etched. I miss the dailies but Amend’s Sundays rock.
Pearls Before Swine: Stephan Pastis is currently the king of the daily strip. Pearls might be the funniest, most boundary pushing mainstream strip going. The strip is shot through with bleak, pitch black comedy and it weirdly works. Pastis gets major credit too for actually keeping it up. That specific tone is hard to hold up for so long but he has.
Peanuts: This one I put here more for the golden age than the years when I was reading it daily. In its prime, few strips were as great as Peanuts. The strip captured the sadness of childhood better than anything before or after.
Cathy: Wait, what? Yeah, let me explain. The library near me didn’t have have very ,any comic strip books growing up but they had a ton of Cathy books. And I’m happy to list the strip here. Quite simply this strip cracked me up then and cracks me up now. Cathy Guisewhite laid the groundwork for a lot of the comediennes who followed in the format and she did it with wit. More than anything else, she tapped hard into the zeitgeist and nailed it. In its way, it’s as important a cultural document as Bloom County or Doonesbury. So, um, yes my next two entries are obvious.
Bloom County: Let me be clear, Bloom County is the strip I’m listing here. Once Outland started, Breathed lost it hard. But in his prime, man was this great. I admit I’m not quite as high on the strip as the next entry but there’s a nice surrealism to it. Breathed went for the ugly and the bizarre sides of the 80s. The curdled state of culture was captured wonderfully here.
Doonesbury: This is what I’m calling my lone dramatic strip in the list. Yes, Doonesbury is a humor strip, but so much of it covered the trials the characters endured. This was truly a dramedy strip if ever one was and I really felt a deep investment in it. Garry Trudeau steadfastly refused to blink from looking at serious issues and the work gained from it. The finest modern fiction novel ever to be serialized a few panels at a time.
Sinfest: It’s funny how inaccurate the title to this strip is. Tatsuya Ishida’s magnum opus sounds like an irritatingly blatant shock strip when it’s actually a powerfully moralistic, feminist strip. Honestly this is probably even more political than the strip above, certainly angrier. But don’t let that scare you away. It’s also hysterical. This is one I haven’t read enough of. It’s time I fixed that.
Big Nate: AKA the strip that only launched big when the books started. Big Nate is most closely associated with the chapter books which I’ve read every single one of. I’m not reviewing those, though they’re as awesome as the strip. Big Nate is middle school humor done right. It’s not deep but it speaks to a common experience. Middle School was an awkward, hectic time. This captures it.
Pooch Cafe: Why do dogs always get painted as innocents? Perhaps because they lack the open plotting of cats. Pooch Cafe exists to right the balance and it’s hysterical. The strip captures the lunacy of dogs wonderfully. Poncho is a vintage schemer, manipulative though loyal to those he cares about. There’s a great bite to the strip. One all too under distributed.
Get Fuzzy: I sigh. This should still be up there in my pantheon but this strip suffered from something unique: it technically never ended, going into endless repeats. I’m still angry about that. But I’m basing this on strips that were great in their day. This one was. Satchel and Bucky were the greatest rivalry you could hope to find in comics. A perpetual nice guy vs a nasty idiot. I love this strip. I just wish it had ended.
Phoebe and her Unicorn: The new kid on the block but so awesome I had to note it. This strip about a girl and her pet unicorn manages to touch on the best tropes of magical realism, playing mercilessly with them. My Little Pony/Steven Universe fans will love this one. Still feels early here but I think this one’s a winner.
Cul de Sac: The illness that removed Richard Thompson from comics will forever turn this into the grand what if of comics. Thompson was working at a level that should’ve ensured him as on the level of Bill Watterson, who loudly supported him. Unfortunately, Parkinson’s Disease cut his career short. However, what exists of his work is of a rare quality. I urge all reading this to seek it out.
BUT WHAT ABOUT–I can think of three iconic strips notable in their absence. So let me address them. The Far Side is indeed great but I just can’t quite jump to putting it here. If you want it there, great. Dilbert would be there but A) It outlasted its welcome and B) Scott Adams has done much to kill the good will I had. As for Garfield, I hate to offend even my younger self but Garfield was never very good. Garfield and Friends? Yes, Mark Evanier was a genius. Not Garfield the strip or Jim Davis.
Owing to the awesomeness of the net, I’ve linked every strip above. Get reading.