Deflowering characters on the funny pages

Back in November there was an email exchange between Mike Rhode and I and then with Bob Harvey and myself over a recent 9 Chickweed Lane sequence that intimated a sexual encounter between two characters – more specifically the loss of virginity of Amos and Edda. Unable to get a hold of Brooke McEldowney for comment, I dropped the idea of doing a story on the story-line. I’m glad to see Mike and Bob have written about it. In a largely conservative (and touchy) medium of newspaper comics, the idea of suggesting characters engaged in whoopee – virgin whoopee at that – seems difficult at best, but it appears a few artist have pulled it off successfully.

Last year, a few months before the Lisa Moore cancer story-line ended in Funky Winkerbean, Tom Batuik, the creator of the strip, took Darin and Jessica through the deed, but only hinted that the deed was indeed done. The Daily Ink archives didn’t go back far enough for me to post a sample strip, but as I recall, the characters were alone, Darin said something to the effect that he was ready (previously he had told Jessica that he wanted to wait) and then the next day, the comic showed Darin leaving her place with her leaning against the door jam with hair mussed up and saying something like, “Go get ’em tiger.” Okay, that might have been a line from a Spider-Man movie, but it was something akin to that. Prior to the Lisa Moore story, Funky Winkerbean wasn’t a strip I followed closely, so I’m not sure if the characters were indeed virgin, but because they were teenagers, I suspected they were. I watched for a backlash from readers, perhaps not because of what was intimated, but due to the character’s age. You never know what’s going to twist whose knickers. As far as I can tell, nobody made a stir.

Bob tells me in an email that Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau did a four day sequence that back in 1976 that ended with characters Joanie and Rick in bed. Again the actual act not shown, but made clear what had transpired. The previous day’s strips showed someone calling Joanie’s empty apartment then pans out down the street and slowly pans over to Rick’s place where it zooms into the bedroom as seen below.

Doonesbury Deflowering
Doonesbury © Garry Trudeau

But the winner, for tact and imagery has to go to Brooke for his graceful handling of the subject in the November 8th strip by using a series of hand gestures.

9 Chickweed Lane Deflowering
9 Chickweed Lane © Brook McEldowney

In an email to Bob and published in his Rants and Raves newsletter, Brooke reveals some of the consternation in treading on this subject.

I’d been thinking about this sequence for a long time, mainly because the characters were edging that way all on their own. A lot of reader commentary has erupted over it, in particular warring camps representing love and romance vs. morality (with a smattering of concern over cartoon characters as role models). Me? I just think it is fiction, two characters, and a story. Getting away with it has been the tricky part. Not a word was ventured by my syndicate, United Feature, much to their creditâ??and it must have caused them moments of concern. The thing is, the story is not over yet. I’m still tiptoeing along the tight rope.

Writing about 9 Chickweed Lane in light of the Amos and Edda sequence, Mike Rhode writes on his blog, “I like this strip. We need it in the [Washington] Post. And then they can censor it.” While masterfully done, he’s right, not all papers will appreciate the delicate handling of American’s most taboo topic – well at least in newspapers.

8 thoughts on “Deflowering characters on the funny pages

  1. Brooke should have had the hands holding cigarettes the following day to really sell the point.

  2. Very well done on Brooke’s part. What it has to do with losing one’s virginity, I have no idea, but… :^)

    These are great hands. I read long ago, and believe it to be true, that if one can draw hands well, he can draw anything. And this cartoon gives that idea a whole new meaning.

  3. These aren’t the only examples in comic strips of “Did they or didn’t they? Yup, they did…” Scott Adams drew Dilbert’s curved tie lying flat in one strip to signal that the quintessential nerd had, as the Bard put it, “made the Beast with two backs.”

  4. And several newspapers refused to print that scandalous Doonesbury strip.

    How dare he imply that unmarried people had sex?!? In the funny pages??!

    Really, this caused a huge stink at the time.

  5. The Doonesbury sequence was reprinted in a book, “As The Kid Goes for Broke.” I always liked that title.

    Ted, pop over to my blog and follow the links to the whole sequence (which is still running btw). You’ll see the wide grins etc, etc…

    And I’m afraid the Post really does censor strips regularly. You can find that on my blog too – put censorship in the search.

  6. Actually, I thought that Brooke had Amos and Edda do the deed in High School- the sequence that had her leave immediately for NYC without her telling Amos.

  7. Actually, Scott Adams left it open-ended. He had told his newsletter that the signal for Dilbert losing his virginity was a flat-tie, but he got too many emails from people who didn’t want Dilbert to lose his virginity before they lost theirs (I’m pulling this info from his “7 habits of Highly Incompetent People”, or something like that). He did feature the flat-tie, but read in context it could also be used as a masturbation joke.
    Dogbert: Have you found religion?
    Flat-tie Dilbert: I think I’m a unitarian.

  8. It’s interesting (not surprising but interesting) that sex isn’t generally a topic for the comic strips, except sometimes in innuendo. I never really noticed it before, nor missed it there, nor cover it much in my cartoons. A stark contrast to most other media (music, comedy tv, movies, the internet) with is often love/sex themed.

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