Comic Strip of the Day: Upper Rail Women

Before we get to the main event, Pearls Before Swine has a well-timed strip today.

The Manafort/Cohen news broke late enough yesterday that I’m going to give cartoonists a chance to catch up, but one difference between this and Watergate is that, in a world without gatekeepers, those who insist that laws don’t apply to the powerful and that those who testify against criminals are “rats” will not be required to remain under their rocks.

Fasten your seatbelts; it’s gonna be a bumpy night.


And this related Juxtaposition of the Day

(Tom Toles)

(Stan Drake, April 1959)

Rip Kirby caught me by surprise, Toles simply made me laugh.

But we can expect some “if you don’t like it, don’t inhale” defenses over the next several months. The environmental stuff will be literal, the Social Contract stuff will be more metaphorical.

Both are highly toxic.

Not understanding our system of government is not a fault restricted to the Deplorables. There are plenty on both sides who don’t understand the differences between direct democracy and representative democracy, or between a burro and a burrow.

Talking politics on social media is like debating it in a sophomore dorm room. Even the people whose hearts are in the right place are, as the phrase goes, sometimes in error but never in doubt.


So I’m devoting the day to pissing people off in a different area entirely.

This is towards what I expect is the end of a Between Friends arc that I hadn’t directed readers to when it started.

You’d enjoy reading it all, but, basically, Maeve decided to surprise her fiance with a visit and stumbled onto him not quite in flagrant delicto but in delicto enough to burst her bubble.

One of the hallmarks of this strip is the ability to turn the accusation inward, which is not only a mark of good storytelling but of solid philosophy.


Reply All is a little more like a zen koan, in that Donna Lewis simply dangles the story out there and expects you to supply the moral.

I don’t think you can appreciate today’s strip unless you read it often enough that you are aware of Lizzie’s infinite capacity for self-deception and innocent narcissism, which plays out not just in her relationship with Drew but in everything she does.

She is, in the classic sense, a Fool in whom a galaxy of weaknesses are displayed and it goes far deeper and beyond her trying on bathing suits and screaming “Ackkk!”

But that’s where it started.

I think there is a progression that starts with Cathy, goes through For Better or For Worse, then to Between Friends and from there to Reply All, that becomes progressively less stereotypical, less judgmental, and more internally reflective and affectionate.

Stereotypes are, of course, essential to comedy: If everyone were truly unique, nothing about anyone would be funny. Humor comes in pointing out the ways we’re equally flawed, predictable and illogical.

But there’s a difference between Jeff Foxworthy’s “Do these jeans make my butt look fat?” and Cathy’s obsessing over bathing suits.

However affectionate Foxworthy’s observations, they’re external. It’s just not the same thing.


This cuts both ways, and Dave Whamond bases this Reality Check gag on the finger-pointing and judgment that are the province of people who have discovered inequities but are less apt to analyze the entire transaction.

Through that lens, my group’s failings are due to the unavoidable flaws of individuals, while your group does everything intentionally and is rude by nature.

In Comicsworld, then, women drive into garage doors and over-draw their checking accounts because we all know that’s what women do.

Men in real life are just as apt to do those things, but it’s not part of our humor tradition.

In a more toxic vein, there are surely as many stingy Chinese and Swedes as there are stingy Scots and Jews.

It depends on whether or not you’re looking for it, poised to shout “A-HA!”


I liked today’s Retail because it acknowledges, with humor but without mockery, that women who work together become far more personally entwined in each other’s lives than men do.

It may be a stereotype, but it’s one I lived with in an office in which I was one of two guys and the other was always out on sales calls.

Like Donnie, I didn’t criticize or carp, but I also didn’t feel the need to fake an involvement I couldn’t really understand.

And thank god Val is on record as not wanting a big wedding, because I lived through one of those, as well as the photographs that followed, and it took about two years but felt like five.


And I’m not gonna go where Vic Lee went in Pardon My Planet, because people with pictures of their nieces and nephews on their desk do not want to debate equivalencies.

I didn’t even have pictures of my own kids on my desk. Instead, I arranged my hours such that I didn’t forget what they looked like.

Ha ha, but, while it’s actually more evidence of compartmentalization than of parental devotion, not everyone can control their schedule.

Whatever privilege you have will cost you opportunities to be funny, because punching up is always funnier than punching down.

It just is.

A lot of underdog humor consists not in reversing or refusing, but in defying and confronting stereotypes.

In the Civil War, black Union soldiers were often assigned as guards in POW camps, and would taunt the rebs saying, “Bottom rail on top now!”

The wisecrack was intended to amuse them, not their prisoners.

In the comics a generation later, Maggie was lace-curtain Irish, a social climber always aiming to fit in, while Jiggs was defiantly shanty-Irish, sneaking out to play poker and eat corned beef and cabbage down at Dinty’s and to hell with what Count Uptoten and those hifaluting society snots thought.

And more recently, while Obama’s election certainly didn’t spell an end to racism, it still provided an opportunity for Wanda Sykes to cop some upper-rail attitude: