That's Just The Booze Talking

Friday, August 05, 2005

Like Hypnotizing Chickens

We can’t draw, but if we did, we would submit the most awesome cartoon ever to The New Yorker. Here’s the set-up: There’s a closet, and in it there are a few pairs of ratty jeans and a pair of lamé trousers. (Not at all sure how one might go about sketching lamé, although we bet that Remnick can fix it in post.) Next to the various pants are a whole bunch of empty clothes hangers. In fact, there’s not a shirt to be found. Absolutely nothing in the closet can be used to clothe a human torso. Got the picture? Good. OK, now here’s the punch line: Beneath the drawing, in the magazine’s signature font, are the words “IGGY POP’S CLOSET.”

Bwa ha ha ha ha ha!

You know what? Fuck you: It was funny and you know it. Jerks.

Anyhoo, our disquisition from the other day about Blondie reminded us, in a very serpentine and roundabout way, of another comic strip that’s always left us feeling as though we shouldn’t have dropped so much acid back when we were in high school. When it was in its heyday, Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy was the weirdest thing you’d see in the funny papers, a sparsely populated Interzone that resembled our home planet in the same way Canadians resemble real people. The strip featured the titular slot-nosed little girl with no discernable personality who hung out with Sluggo, an impoverished loafer who seemed to live by himself in a shanty across town even though he was, like, six. Nancy lived with her Aunt Fritzi, a raven-tressed domestic bombshell who spent an inordinate amount of panel space stripped down to her underwear. Nothing ever happened, which made it a fairly unsatisfying read, but as cartoonist Wally Wood once remarked, we read the strip every day because “It takes less time to read Nancy than it does to decide not to read it.”

Bushmiller didn’t write gags per se––it always seemed as if he just forgot to draw a final panel every day, leaving the reader with a set-up in search of a punch line–– but his non-jokes were so off-putting that they often engendered a sort of gassy mirth. Example: Nancy’s sitting in the tub, eating an ice cream cone. In the first two panels, she just sits there, staring into the middle distance, cone clenched in her four-fingered fist. In the final panel, where a saner cartoonist would put the gag, she says, “No one will find me in here. Ha! Ha!” And that’s it. End of strip. On days when we forget to take our medicine, that particular strip still stands as the funniest thing in the entire world.**

The most compelling element of the old Nancy strips was Bushmiller’s weird compulsion to draw the same pile of three rocks in the background of nearly every strip that takes place outdoors. Without fail, there are always three rocks. Not one, not two, not four, but three.

Art Spiegelman explains how the three rocks were Bushmiller’s way of showing the reader there were “some” rocks in the background: “It was always three. Why? Because two rocks wouldn’t be ‘some rocks.’ Two rocks would be a pair of rocks. And four rocks was unacceptable because four rocks would indicate ‘some rocks’ but it would be one rock more than it was necessary to convey the idea of ‘some rocks.’”

OK, no more cartoon talk. There’s a bottle of Maker’s waiting out on the sideboard for us at Team Sakebomb HQ, and we’re in the mood to make it disappear quickly. Like Hunt and Liddy, Sakebomb and Maker’s are two elements that should never be allowed in the same room, because when we’re together, a sort of supernova of stupidity occurs, a critical mass of ill-advised behavior. Enjoy the weekend, kids.

*Well, second funniest. David Lynch’s The Angriest Dog in the World pretty much takes Nancy’s nothing-to-see-here ethos to its most absurd and hilarious conclusion.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Parallel Lines (On a Slow Decline)

Emerging from the fragrant Union Square subway station this morning, we took note of a phone kiosk ad for Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo, which frankly brought us up short. Who exactly goes to see this kind of shit? We realize that there are approximately 7 million mentally retarded people living in the United States, so that could account for a fair amount of box office, but what about the rest of the population? Rob Schneider is about as funny as a pediatric oncology ward, people. What the fuck is wrong with you?

But then on further reflection, we have to admit that much of our pop culture tends to roost on the halfwit side of the bell curve. Look at Blondie, for instance. The strip’s been published in dailies for 75 years and yet the protagonist, Dagwood Bumstead, has no inner life. In fact, we only know about four or five things about Dagwood:

1) He likes to eat giant sandwiches, preferably late at night.

2) His boss likes to beat the living shit out of him, usually by swinging him around by his ankles and bashing his skull against the office floor. And then there’s this. Apparently, wherever it is that Dagwood works doesn’t have much in the way of an HR department.

3) He is forever late for work, which is part of the reason Mr. Dithers has to resort to physical abuse. His lateness tends to inconvenience the other three people in his carpool, and often causes physical harm to his mailman, who gets creamed by Dagwood as he flies out the door. (For some reason, the mailman looks exactly like the Bumsteads’ next-door neighbor, Herb Woodley, although they are completely different people. Both of them look like a sleep-deprived Robert Goulet.)

4) He doesn’t return Herb Woodley’s tools when he borrows them.

5) He likes naps.

That’s not much around which to build a 75-year character arc, but there you have it. And if you think about it, the same sort of distillation can be done to every single figure in the pop culture canon, from other cartoon characters (Marmaduke: likes to eat, likes to jump on the couch, is large) to characters from literary fiction (Jake Barnes: likes the booze, enjoys the great outdoors, no balls) to our elected representatives in Washington (JFK: loved fucking, talked funny, no head).

All of this probably means something, but we’re not at all sure what.