Wombania: Land of the Wombies

Wombania's Cartoon Corner

Comic strips may not be the most important art form ever created, and they certainly aren't the most respected, but they are one of the more influential. Comic strips have a vast audience and are read by hundreds of millions of people every day. They've given us many phrases and sayings including "security blanket" from Peanuts, "keeping up with the Joneses" (from the forgotten strip of the same name), "yellow journalism" from The Yellow Kid/Hogan's Alley, and "We have met the enemy and he is us" from Pogo.

Comic strip characters are among the most recognizable icons of our culture. Who doesn't know Snoopy, or Garfield, or Dilbert? Older characters like Archie or Dagwood or Dick Tracy still remain with us, many decades after the passing of their original artists. Some comic strips are timeless and retain their impact generations after their creation, while others strongly reflect the times in which they were created and provide a historical perspective of their day that is every bit as revealing as news articles or textbooks.

The best comic strips are not only entertaining, they also provide insight and meaning to our lives. They can expose our flaws and our weaknesses, they can make us laugh at our stupidity, and they can show us a new perspective on things we take for granted. Comic strips can use satire and parody, puns and slapstick, pathos and sentimentality to get their point across. They can use great art, bad art, or hardly any art all. They can be wordless, or filled with words, they can be static, or action-packed, they can be a one-day gag, or a multi-year story. The power of comics is that they can be almost anything that their creators imagine.

Although comic strips are a visual art form, they are closer to that of a novel in the sense that they are usually the vision of a single person. They tend to reflect a personal perspective on the world that is not matched by film or television which are both highly collaborative art forms. When you read Peanuts, you are reading Charles Schulz's view of the world. To know Peanuts is to know Charles Schulz. At least a certain aspect of him that he wished to expose through his art. Peanuts was a profoundly personal expression of the artist, and this honesty and depth allowed his work to be appreciated and identified with at a greater level than most of his contemporaries' work.

Of course sometimes comic strips are just plain fun. Fun to look at and fun to read. Bright colors. A silly joke. A bit of slapstick. But in the best comics, this humor is organic, originating from the characters' personalities and the strip's setting and isn't something forced upon the cast for the sake of a punch line. A joke for Snoopy isn't suitable for Lucy, or Charlie Brown, or anyone else.

Because of their apparent simplicity and their commercial origins, comic strips are often not even considered to be art. The greatest, highest level of art in the world isn't worth much if it is never seen, never appreciated, and has no influence. Daily comics are probably seen and read by more people than any other form of art. This alone does not qualify them as great art. But as a personal expression of an artist's point of view, the comic strip, at its best, can simultaneously be beautiful, artistic, influential, and even profound.

Though the comic strip today is probably less influential than in the past, the impact of the humble comic strip is still greater than most people realize. With the advent of the internet and the proliferation of the webcomic, comic strips will likely continue to help shape and influence our culture and our psyche.

For a look at Calvin and Hobbes, click here.

A review of The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book can be found here.

by Peter Marinacci
Feb. 5/06

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