For as long as I can remember, we got the Birmingham News delivered to our house. It was nice of the editors to add all the extra pages to keep you busy while you were waiting on your turn to read the comics. I doubt if I’d have known who Moshe Dayan was if I hadn’t been looking for the funnies. I guess reading the headlines and the blurbs beneath the pictures became part of my routine over time. The static photographs in the Newspaper were probably more effective in arresting my attention that any talking head could dream. I really learned how to keep up with current events by reading the newspaper, and what got me interested in the newspaper was the comics.
There were two pages of comics in the Birmingham News in the era of my childhood. I read them all, even the ones that I never seemed to catch on to the storyline, like Mary Worth, Rex Morgan M.D. and Judge Parker. I later realized that some people had been following these characters for 40 years. Sometimes I saved my favorites for last: Phantom, Zits, Pickles, Peanuts, Baby Blues, Wizard of Id, Beetle Bailey, and Hagar the Horrible.
After years of reading the comics it became apparent which comics were no longer being drawn and written by the original artists. It didn’t stop me from reading, or even enjoying those cartoons, they just seemed like reruns. It made the strips currently being written by the original artists stand out a bit, like Zits, Pickles, and Buckets. There was a freshness about the humor. Then again, some of the strips just weren’t as funny to me no matter who was writing them. Not everyone’s humor is the same. I’ve never been a big Garfield fan, so I’m always a bit wary of people who think that Garfield is hilarious.
Some comic strips resonate with you. As a kid I liked cartoons that made me laugh usually because it was silly, like Sarge pounding Beetle Bailey into a little knot of assorted body parts. Other comic strips made more sense as I got older. Like Peanuts, which can be much deeper than it’s seemingly sparse art would imply. And Dilbert, which really comes to life after you’ve worked in an office. The comics gave me an appreciation for wit, and really how to understand a joke.
I find it interesting to read other Newspapers because each one is unique. The AP articles were all the same, but the character of the Newspaper is in it’s local news coverage, and it’s comics page. Reading another Newspaper’s comics page is like going over to a friends house and playing with his toys. I discovered Cul de Sac this way. Having worked in an after-school program for a number of years, this strip resonated with me. Whenever the comics page was rearranged and old strips shuffled out and new strips shuffled in, it caused a stir in our house. It was similar to getting a new student in class, and you read it with interest testing the waters. I learned to like Get Fuzzy so much that I forgot what it replaced.
Gary Larson and Bill Watterson had both retired, the cause of much sadness among my adult relatives, by the time I had learned to read well enough to enjoy the comics, so my introduction to The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes was through the printed collections. These two comic strips were popular for a reason, they’re extraordinarily good, and they are probably my favorite. Most everyone would enjoy Calvin and Hobbes, but I’ve met more than a few people who did not like The Far Side. I’ve always been a little wary of people who fail to see the humor in the Far Side. They’re usually Garfield fans. We had several volumes of The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, Zits, Baby Blues, and Get Fuzzy at home. What’s nice about reading a comic collection, is that you don’t have to wait until the next day to find out what happened. You can consume a lot more than the daily prescribed dose of comic strip. It’s kind of sad to consume a year’s worth of work in an afternoon. Part of the beauty of Newspaper comics is that you have to wait a whole day before you can pick up the storyline. You also think more about a single strip that way instead of blowing through them in the books.
Sarah got me the Complete Far Side collection when we were dating. Which reaffirmed my plan to marry her. But the Complete Calvin & Hobbes has evaded me for years. I found it over the weekend in a Thrift Store for a deal too good to pass up. I don’t think that it had ever been opened. I’ve been introducing Wesley to Calvin & Hobbes since then. Let’s hope it helps his joke telling.
Comic strips, not to be confused with comic books, have always been a big part of my humor. If you ever catch me laughing aloud by myself, there is a good chance that in my mind I’m rereading a comic strip from years ago. The humor is lost in me trying to describe the strip to you. But if you had read the strip as well, then all I have to do is say the punchline and then you can laugh too. I sometimes answer the phone with a punchline from The Far Side. “Oh yeah? Chief say your horse ugly too!” or, “Ooh, this not be cheap.” The result will be a belly laugh from my Mom or Brother.
As I became an adult, it became apparent that the highlight of everyones day had not been reading the funny pages. It’s a wonderful thing when you do find someone with the same humor as you. I seem to get along quicker with people who grew up reading the comics as if we share a common language. With all that, I’m a bit ashamed that I have not subscribed to the paper since I moved away from home. I hope my kids don’t turn out to be Garfield fans.