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Shrewsbury, Massachusetts – While eating breakfast along with reading the sports pages in the daily newspaper, comic strips have always been a big part of my morning enjoyment from my earliest recollections, providing wonderful memories of cartoon characters who I still revere though most of their original artists have long-since passed away or retired.
Personally I never liked or read the ones with realistic looking characters such as Terry and the Pirates or Brenda Starr although admiring their cartoonists’ artistry, nor did I take to many of the cutesy types with dogs and cats that think or do supposedly adorable things, or with children who spout poignant and endearing sayings. I can just hear pet owners cooing “aahhh, how cute” when reading Garfield or Heathcliff or Marmaduke or the Family Circus, but they do nothing for me and I just ignore them.
Over the years there have been many good strips such as The Little King, The Katzenjammer Kids, Little Lulu, Blondie, Popeye, Hagar the Horrible, Zits, Non-Sequitur, etc. that I never failed to read. I can’t explain why I enjoyed them since they weren’t in any specific category, some having a point to make while others being just funny or silly, some having complex drawings, some simple, and some rather surreal. All in all however, to me there have been only five that I would term truly great even though a few of those did have kids or anthropomorphic animals.
By far the two best satirical cartoons were “Li’l Abner” and “Pogo,” lampooning everything and everyone from inane politicians to the military to greedy industrialists to entertainers who spent more time spouting social commentary than performing. While usually having a not too subtle message, the artists (Al Capp and Walt Kelly) always presented their art in a way that was funny rather than heavy handed or offensive (at least not to their followers).
In a different strip which contained a feline that was anything but a cuddly or lovable creature, “Krazy Kat” was an off the wall female who was inexplicably in love with a mouse named Ignatz that didn’t return Krazy’s affection and who in fact spent most of his time throwing bricks at the she-cat’s head. Complementing the bizarre nature of the goings on was the background, a very impressionistic rendition of the sandstone buttes found in Monument Valley that the artist (George Herriman) became enamored with on a trip to the American Southwest.
Perhaps the best comics of all were the “Far Side” and “Calvin and Hobbs” that featured truly off-beat cartoon eccentrics whose thoughts and antics were outrageously funny and totally different from all the rest. To say that the Far Side’s talking animals (usually of the barnyard variety, polar bears, or dinosaurs) were strange is like calling Mt. Everest tall, while sassy little Calvin was a boy who lived in his own imaginary world inhabited only by a full-sized tiger named Hobbs, really a stuffed animal to Calvin’s parents but an astute wise-cracking animated companion that only the kid (and the readers) could hear and see.
Adding to Calvin’s charm was that anyone with an ounce of mischief in his or her soul would have loved to have had Calvin’s imagination as a child, rocketing through the galaxy as Spaceman Spiff or making weird snowmen whose postures conveyed Calvin’s thoughts on schoolwork, eggplant casseroles, parental punishment, girls, or anything else he found distasteful or worthy of ensure.
Unfortunately for me and all their other fans, cartoonists Gary Larson (Far Side) and Bill Watterson (Calvin) decided to give up their craft for more serious pursuits, and while their drawings live on in a myriad of desk calendars and books for future generations to enjoy, my mornings just haven’t been the same.