For an UNPRECEDENTED three years in the late 1980s, I drew a surrealistic comic strip called Mike the Pod for my high school newspaper. Initially, a buddy of mine scripted it, but once he graduated (he was a grade ahead), I went solo and moved the strip in a more satirical direction. This meant parodies of established icons of the comic page, but in the Age Before Internet, what did one do for proper visual reference?
Typically, I would lug a sketchbook to the library, open one of the huge newspaper compendiums, and double the relevant artist until I got the hang of their style. This was seldom convenient. Then one holiday season in 1988 or ’89, the aforementioned co-writer buddy gifted me a small book that not only provided visual reference for over 100 different newspaper strips, but ironic belly-laughs for decades. For crying out loud, the foreword is written by Kenny Rogers… and it’s about a hunger project.
Here’s the flavor text from the back cover:
Thanksgiving 1985 was a memorable day in the nation’s funny papers. For the first time in history, the entire comics page was devoted to one subject: hunger. The project, organized by Milton Caniff (Steve Canyon), Charles Schulz (Peanuts), and Garry Trudeau (Doonesbury), brought together over 175 cartoonists, and Comic Relief presents their Thanksgiving Day strips and panels. A cornucopia of cartoon commentary and humor, it is the first time such an array of American comic-strip talent has appeared together in one book. The reader can enjoy this great cartoon spectrum while helping directly in the fight against hunger: Sales of Comic Relief will raise money for USA for AFRICA.
Folks, at this point I’ve been a published newspaper cartoonist since 1991, just six years after this endeavor bowed. I’ve learned a thing or two about how cartoonists “organize” (we don’t). Trudeau admits how difficult the collaboration was to arrange in his introduction (which is funnier than the Gambler’s foreword), and I can only imagine the frustration pre-internet. I appreciate the effort and spirit of the project, so please, take my comments as good-natured ribbing from a fellow professional. But a lot of these guys really phoned it in.
What you are about to witness is a slice of funnypaper history from almost thirty years ago. Some strips you will recognize immediately. Some you won’t recognize at all. Most of them will make you cringe. Please enjoy this multi-course mega-turkey.
Let’s kick things off with this cave painting. Many of the strips are of the Guilt Trip variety, like this one. Note one of the authors is named “Ferd”: that’s old-school cartooning there.
Which one is Drabble? Is it the kid? Did he become Dilbert after puberty?
Hey kids, pack your bags, it’s Guilt Trip time again! Ask your parents why they don’t give away Thanksgiving dinner to a pack of reeking hobos!
Oh, the turkey ordered the ticket? I thought maybe the boy had racist enemies.
“HOW ABOUT IF YOU JUST LIE DOWN AND DIE?”
Savor this one a moment. Take in the endless layers of laziness; the prehistoric joke, the shoehorned message, the alien objects. A pizza cutter? Who knows what those look like, anyway?
I don’t think it’s appropriate for the characters in a comic strip to be this stoned.
This Grubby appears to be one stupid motherfucker.
I think Fitz speaks for all of us. It doesn’t hurt that his comic strip’s title is really fun to say.
See what I mean? Even Popeye lays a Guilt Trip on Wimpy, instead of a punchline.
If you haven’t seen that movie where Russell Crowe plays Noah, this strip pretty much sums it up. Heh heh, “boner”.
I mainly included this for the Arlo & Janis fans out there. I’d be surprised if the strip was more than a year old by this point.
I don’t think this guy got the memo. In fact, I’ve read this strip four times and I don’t think it makes any linear sense.
Maybe you count panel one, but I don’t think this guy got the memo either.
Oh, come ON! Unless it’s subliminal, there’s no reference to USA for AFRICA here. What is it, the bones?!
Ah, I see, stick a little box on there. Eh, the Dan Barry art makes up for it. A little.
For some inexplicable reason, this strip has always enraged me. Something about the art always pissed me off. I bet it’s a favorite amongst crazy cat ladies, or Edie Brickell.
Hey, peanut butter and cranberry sauce are better than a rotting salmonella turkey in a greasy cardboard box, fermenting in the hatch of a cargo plane. That’s true.
“Please keep me in your prayers, charity worker. I must answer to the wife and fork.”
I read somewhere that John Darling is dead. Good. His gas leak of a strip must have done the job.
Henry snuck onto the comics page so gradually, no one ever noticed his ass face.
Stockworth, from the comedy team of Snore and Snooze. That bald robot is a riveting presence, he just leaps off the page.
How creatively bankrupt do you have to be to turn in a strip like this? Three flat pictures of the same house, with banal dialogue from the faceless occupants presumably within. Tom Batiuk: USA for AFRICA will always treasure your half-assed contribution to Comic Relief. It’s almost literally the least you could do.
I have no love for Calvin and Hobbes, and I don’t care what you think. The artwork is consistently great and distinctive; that’s about it. I don’t have the dreamy reverence for Watterson you accursed 90’s kids do. His art style is undoubtedly solid, however.
What the hell is this?
Before John McPherson started stinking up the comics page with Close To Home, there was The Quigmans, by Buddy Hickerson. Hickerson left a legacy of unfunny single-panel cartoons featuring shapeless potato people, and a small crew of disgruntled former ghost-strippers. Buddy Hickerson was the Rob Liefeld of editorial cartoonists before Ted Rall; minimal talent if any, but in possession of enough marginally useful inking tricks to eke out a career.
Much like sightings of Bigfoot, rumors persist of a Bloom County strip that is actually funny. Like Bigfoot, no solid evidence exists. And don’t bring up that Pulitzer around other cartoonists, if you value your health or genitals.
Another strip with a character who wants to mail food. Nowadays that sort of thing gets you a visit from the Department of Homeland Security. At least the art is nice.
It’s a good thing the artist’s name is “Downs”, otherwise I’d have assumed something more syndrome-oriented. Not to be confused with “Doonesbury”. And who’s “you guys”? Ethiopia has badly-hatted men with masklike faces who sit cross-legged on the sidewalk? I’ve never been, so I can’t confirm.
This isn’t bad, but this particular Arnold would be eclipsed by another cartoon Arnold in about ten years. It’s more or less on topic, I guess.
This one is not. Sometimes I think syndicates just wait for a cartoonist to die. This is like something from a relative who needs to be humored. Even the artist’s name cries How? How?
“Vidiots” is, I presume, about some kids who can’t be torn away from the tube. Nowadays I figure they’d just stare at smartphones every strip. And world hunger is much more than a game, but I think the player has a tear in his eye because he finally pulled off his tiny helmet, allowing his gargantuan skull release at last.
Mell Lazarus shows you how it’s done. A class act all the way.
The popularity of Bloom County did far more harm than good, as countless cartoonists in the 80’s settled for aping Breathed in their style. This isn’t one of the more blatant ones, however.
End world hunger. Now!! Don’t ask how, you figure it out! Mandrake’s mighty magic compels you!!
Drop your guns! End world hunger! Get out! Shut the door behind you! Now what?
This one is perfect as is. Whatever it’s supposed to do, it’s doing it. I think more comic strips should have all their dialogue barked at gunpoint.
Ug! by Tom Wilson, Jr., not to be confused with Ziggy, by Tom Wilson, Sr. From the joyless, hectoring tone of the dialogue, to the derivative, corporate-ready art, I imagine the Wilson household was a real barrel of laughs.
“Bloom County? What is that, a comic strip or something? Why, I’ve never heard of this…’Bloom County’, did you say? It sounds like a very fine strip, although I’ve never heard of it.”
By the way, Protip: When you leave the “h” off the end of “yeah”, it reads like “yay”. That’s how “yea” is pronounced, after all.
This cartoon is as pusillanimous and insipid as that awful song. What great times we all had, pretending we could stand that syrupy shit. “We Are The World” is an anthem to pomposity from the reeking bowels of Beelzebub, and this comic strip is its fetid libretto.
That’s really all I can take for this year, so let’s wrap this feast up before you eat too much. I’ll save you the leftovers for next time. Have yourself a wonderful Cooked Bird Oriented Holiday, and take a lesson from Comic Relief: the road to Hell is paved with comic strips about USA for AFRICA.