I mean comic strips, a few panels of wit and wisdom, topped with a punch line. There’s something for everybody and thanks to the internet, we have unlimited access to a large variety of comic strips so there’s no need to rely on newspapers alone. Here’s a look at three good ones that were finally selected after much research and indecision.
What is a good comic? It should have memorable characters, a unique style and a world view. Personally, I think a strip should never be very long, it’s supposed to be a quick read, but this doesn’t mean longer dialogues don’t work. At least Qwantz aka Dinosaur Comics (which I’ll also call DC) is quite a trip with the highly intellectual shit-talker T-Rex in the lead. But I confess: I have the attention span of a goldfish, I actually need to focus to read T-Rex’s turns, but when I do, it’s usually worth it. The webcomic has been around since 2003, so it seems a bit hopeless to start listing any of the themes featured in it here because many have to be left out! I simply have to trust you to find out for yourselves. You should enjoy T-Rex’s rants if you’re a language student, particularly a student of English, as language is one of T-Rex’s absolute favorite topics. Others include philosophy and T-Rex, with his sidekick the Utahraptor, makes it seem so cool I almost wish I hadn’t had my philosophical crisis in the middle of my matriculation examination and given the subject up for good. T-Rex also likes to give (bad) advice. Follow it at your own risk and report back whatever the result.
But what about the artwork since that is what immediately springs to mind when you think of comics. DC is a good example of how creative you can be without ever changing the form of the strip. So while T-Rex’s opinions change from one comic to the next (and sometimes from panel to panel), his pattern of stomping on a log cabin and a woman never do. This whole idea of using the same artwork over and over again is prevalent in many Internet memes, but I won’t go into that here. There are many good ones, in fact, so many it would be possible to print them all out and make a pile so high it would probably reach the Moon.
Dinosaur Comics is a Canadian creation and the next one on our list is also based in North America, but on the side of the border belonging to US of A. As the creator of DC is a computer programmer, it’s interesting to note that the man behind the immensely popular XKCD used to work for NASA. Basically, he used to work on robots, now he works on comic strips, and I can’t think of a more interesting career trajectory. In XKCD, the mostly unnamed characters are stick figures with no faces which leaves me, a former art student, in awe of how well they still convey different kinds of emotions. All in all, the comic is very simple and bare, but occasionally features very detailed panels to make a point or to give some food for thought. What partly contributes to the success of DC and XKDC are the constant referrals to popular culture. Everybody can laugh at mainstream phenomena such as gaming, movies, music, and, our pet peeve: social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
Like DC, XKDC features all kinds of topics, namely “romance, sarcasm, math, and language” as it says on the site where it is published three times a week without fail. The strip comes with a warning about strong language, unusual humor and, to the horror of students of the Faculty of Arts, advanced mathematics. (Usually though math is featured in a way which doesn’t require a PhD in astrophysics, not even a puny Bachelor’s Degree.) All of these features come together to create a completely original mix of thoughts, lessons, observations and philosophies. Besides sharing common themes, readers and a completely original view of the world, both XKCD and Dinosaur Comics have plenty of merchandize for their fans. From t-shirts to stuffed animals, you are spoiled for choice. The lessons here is obviously this: with a little initiative and creativity, you can surprise everyone and especially yourself by making a living with something like comic strips. You don’t even have to get your work printed by a publishing company, you can simply put up a website.
So far I’ve simply looked into rather recently conceived strips, and I must mention at least one classic. This comic strip first appeared 1985 and features a 6-year-old boy and his stuffed tiger and partner in crime. It’s of course Calvin and Hobbes, a dearly beloved and sorely missed comic strip which finished in 1992. The strip celebrates the power of imagination as Calvin often deals with his everyday problems (such as gym class, teachers and his parents) by relying on one of his heroic and adventurous alter egos. This kid sure can improvise: among other things he has attempted to get out of a math exam by claiming the question was against his religious principles. Try that with your next linguistics exam if things get rough. Calvin is extremely precocious and he demonstrates this by using big words and engaging in political debates with his father. There is no filter between Calvin’s brain and his mouth, so whatever thoughts he has come out of his mouth, damn the consequences. And there is not a person in the world who doesn’t wish that sometimes, just sometimes they would be able to voice their opinions with no regard for others. Shameless egoism can be found in everybody. Still Calvin isn’t without a conscience: he does apologize to Susie Derkins, a classmate and a crush, after calling her names.
What partly explains the popularity of Calvin and Hobbes and its place in people’s hearts is how easy it is to identify with Calvin. He connects with the child in all of us. He struggles with his grudging respect for his female counterpart Susie, he doesn’t like school and he is much more interested in spending time with his best friend who to everyone else is nothing but a toy tiger. Bill Watterson, the creator of the strip, has said in an interview he wanted to juxtapose the adult reality with Calvin’s reality and it is up to the reader to decide which is truer. As if anyone with a child’s heart is going to question Calvin. Hobbes has a mind of his own which often leads him to pull pranks on Calvin. The prevalence of fantasies in Calvin and Hobbes has led to many academic responses, mainly psychological analysis. This makes this at the surface lighthearted and simple strip very adult, profound even. The mystery of life and death comes up in the strip often, and it’s no accident that the protagonists are named after two philosophers. Of course, the beautiful hand-drawn artwork helps, too.
What to me sums up Calvin and Hobbes, right after flight of fancy, is creative sabotage. You can be a little deviant, just be a bit more original than a whoopee cushion. What all of these three comic strips have in common is that they’re inspirational, original and read by different kinds of people. They are what you might be tempted to call *special*. There’s a lot of bullshit (for lack of a better word) in this world, and comics deal with it efficiently and you might even get a few good laughs out of it. Besides, reading comics is a cultural contribution! It’s art.
If you aren’t familiar with these strips and think you might enjoy reading some or all of them, they can be found on the Internet. I had to leave many goods ones out, unfortunately, but y’all are free to comment and tell me which of your favorites I failed to mention.
“Never argue with a 6-year-old who shaves.” – Calvin, of his all brawn and no brains classmate Moe