With Bill Watterson and Gary Larson out of the pic


With Bill Watterson and Gary Larson out of the picture, Gary Trudeau is the sole practicing mainstream comic strip genius we've got left (yes, I am prepared to defend this statement, or at least try :-). Why bring this up now? A new Doonesbury book is out.

And of course Charles Schultz has retired... But you forgot Scott Adams (Dilbert). While Doonsbury is generally poignant, I don't think I've ever actually laughed at it. I kinda think comics should be funny -- kinda like the idea behind this list.

As an aside, when I first encountered Calvin and Hobbes I thought it was incredibly stupid -- until I realized that Hobbes was a stuffed tiger. Then it all made sense. (My stuffed tiger's name is Clyde.)

Nah, I didn't forget Dilbert. I thought Adams' first few years were marvelous. Cutting and very funny. I have several of his books. But for me he became quite repetitive, and while I do still read Dilbert, it's rare that I find one worth clipping. For me, he didn't even make it to the 10-year cut off that seems to be the creativity-burnout threshold (I think both Larson and Watterson gave up the ghost around 10 years).

But even had he kept his momentum up, I don't think he would have made my trinity (Larson, Watterson, Trudeau) into a quadrinity. While I enjoyed his sense of humor, I expect it will become dated, whereas I expect to reread and enjoy the other three for many years. Then there's his artwork . . . Of my "big three", Larson's artwork is technically the weakest, but its style still contributes a great deal to the overall effect of the panel. Dilbert, on the other hand, rides solely on the strength of the writing, with the art contributing almost nothing.

And while I certainly don't begrudge anyone their money (I often think the term "sell out" is too strong and too broadly applied), the merchandizing of Dilbert spiraled too out of control for my taste. Seeing stuffed animals, books, mugs, full-size cutouts everywhere did end up taking away from my enjoyment of the strip - too much of a good thing. Even at it's peak, I don't recall Far Side merchandizing going so far. Or if it did, I think it still focused on the single-panel strip. The Far Side merchandizing always seemed a repackaging of the strip itself (the strip on mugs, the strip on shirts, etc.) instead of spinning off all kinds of other stuff (business books, stuffed animals, stupid little toys, etc.).

But enough of Dilbert. On to Doonesbury. I tried to pick it up several times years ago, and just couldn't get into it. Wasn't funny, didn't get it. Then a friend of mine loaned me some early books, including The Yale Years (I think). Marvelously funny stuff. Since his early years, he has become more dry and less LOL funny, but he has remained brilliant.

But more important to me in reading the early stuff was finally being able to get into the characters. Once you become attached to the characters, the strip is much funnier and enjoyable. So I read all the large collections leading up to the present, and I've been an avid reader since. Two things amaze me about Trudeau/Doonesbury:

  1. He has a huge ensemble cast of characters that he has woven in and out of the strip and each other's lives for over 30 years, aging them all in real time.
  2. He has managed to maintain such a high level of excellence for such a long stretch of time.

But still, I just didn't get it when trying to read the paper cold. Had to read the history before becoming a convert.

Boy, I really wish I had a preview feature so I could check this post first. :-)