Comic Strip of the Day: Smart Humor

I wasn’t planning to run any more Veteran’s Day rain strips, but this L’il Donnie ought not to go unremarked.

There have been several strips on the topic, but, as I predicted the other day, even the ones that are above average already feel stale. The outrage was Saturday and, while I noted the barriers to instant feedback then, the bottom line remains that, if editorial cartoonists want to be recognized as journalists, they need to find ways to strike while the iron is hot.

However, what Norton does is to cover the entire weekend debacle, not just the Saturday failure, by bringing in another odd misfire, which was the photos of the other world leaders looking at Putin not quite stonefaced but impassively, while L’il Donnie grins at him as if … well, as Norton puts it, as if his unattainable, irresistible crush had just walked into the room.

The best part about it is that cartoons which ran a few days ago could emphasize the insult to the WWI dead, but Norton focuses on what this narcissistic boob is doing to the world’s political balance today and into our immediate future.

You can’t wander in three days late talking about what happened 100 years ago.


Still on the topic of how to use the medium, Olivia Jameis offers an example in today’s Nancy of how to play with a fixed format.

One of the accepted truths of the business is that going to the web has allowed artists to burst free of confinement, but Jameis tweaks things to show some graphic creativity within an inflexible universe.

It’s not unknown to play within the panels themselves, and my favorite example is this 2001 Shirley & Son by the late Jerry Bittle because, by bursting the panel and growing out of proportion, the frog becomes nearly 3D.

But the way Jameis plays with the outer boundaries is different because the medium has mechanical limits, but, of course, there are margins within those limits and she simply blunders (carefully, purposefully) into them.

Nancy’s words then have the same impact as the frog: They burst out to the reader rather than to the characters in the strip.

I don’t recall Jerry ever going back to that trick, and I’d suggest Olivia not repeat it, either. The next time wouldn’t be surprising and, thus, wouldn’t have impact.

But put it in the scrapbook, because it’s a keeper.


As long as we’re being analytical, today’s Rhymes With Orange more pleased me than cracked me up.

It’s always nice to go to Florence to see the art, but this past weekend, I went to the Florence that’s in Massachusetts and saw Hilary Price at her annual open studio, which is also always nice, and we talked about her partnership on the strip with Rina Piccolo.

At the time of last year’s open studio, the partnership was only five months old and I was hesitant to discuss it then because I feel that new, or newly renewed, strips take time to settle into a groove.

But it’s in the groove now and the big difference — besides that they’re both having a lot of fun working together — is that Price, on her own, tends to note the little ironies and inconsistencies of life, while Piccolo is a top-notch gag writer and brings more of that brand of humor to the strip, but with sharp wit, not cream pies.

They’re both exceedingly bright people and so today we’ve got not the standard dime-a-dozen comic-strip Death with his scythe but Charon, the boatman who carries dead souls across the waters into the Underworld.

The point being that a certain segment of the population smiled and felt good when they saw Mike Norton’s reference to the 1989 film “Say Anything,” and a certain segment, with, I would suggest, significant crossover, felt the same satisfaction when they caught the Charon reference.

And many of them also got a special chuckle over Nancy’s bursting out of her margins, I’m sure.

“Smart humor” can also include dumb jokes, as seen in Bug Martini, in which, yes, Adam Huber summons up Sisyphus, but anybody can summon up Sisyphus.

Knowing Sisyphus is about as intellectual as recognizing “The Barber of Seville” but thinking the lyrics include

Welcome to my shop
Let me cut your mop
Let me shave your crop
Daintily, daintily

Rather, Huber gets points for daring to be dumb, which, in this case, consists of calling out the people who obsess over truly trivial matters, a move that could come across as arrogant if he didn’t then deflate himself in the bathos of that final panel.

In any case, the issue of toilet paper configuration is not linked to Greek mythology but comes under the aegis of the mighty god Wgasa.

I understand people who need to have all the cupboard doors properly closed and I certainly understand those who need to have the cap put back on the toothpaste, but, if you go buggy over the way the toilet paper is turned, that’s a cry for help. Or possibly Prozac.

Although there is also this: Huber may claim to have gotten over the need to swap the paper around, but, ah, Grasshopper, you have not yet gotten over the idea that toilet paper can be “backwards” in the first place.

Yes, I know the original patent for the holder shows it over the top, but ‘splain to me why on earth the application would need to show that it could work in either configuration?

That would be like a nutcracker patent that demonstrated it could be used to open both walnuts and pecans. You’d read the rest of the application thinking, “This guy is a nut himself.”

Anyway, the more I go on about it, the less intelligent I sound and that was not today’s goal.

So let’s end things with some classical music, by which of course I mean music about classical history:


Carthago de lill lill lill lill lilla lilla lilla linda est

10 thoughts on “Comic Strip of the Day: Smart Humor

  1. I felt bad about not catching the Charon reference in “Rhymes With Orange”. All I saw was Death relaxing by taking a traditional Venetian gondola ride while he was in Venice.

    But, now I feel really bad, because I still don’t see it. The gondolier looks like a stereotypical Venetian gondolier, and the gondola looks like the Venetian gondolas that you see in movies and pictures. What is it about this that says “Charon” to you?

  2. If you don’t have a cat, it won’t be able to unroll the tp no matter how you put it on the spindle.

    This is known as Schroedinger’s Toilet Paper.

    The other logic puzzler being can you misspell the name of a person if that’s not her name?

  3. “Schroedinger’s Toilet Paper” is the thought experiment that demonstrates that the bathroom toilet paper reserve is both empty and non-empty until the moment you reach into it with urgency.

  4. Trump & Putin both arrived late, and Putin gave him a thumbs up. Source :PBS Newshour

    I figured his scythe was just lying in the bottom of the boat.

  5. I guess “Death in Venice” is just too obvious to even point out.

    Kelly Freas once told me that to make a foreground object really pop from the background, break the background away from it with a thin line of white paint. If you’re in Photoshop, just put a one-point (or half point, depending) white border all the way around it.

    Mentioning Photoshop is kind of apt: The ‘Sharpen’ filter basically works this way, putting a little of something’s opposite at borders. It’s been pointed out that El Greco used something very similar.

  6. If Mel Blanc had portrayed Death, we could have a whole new “Si” routine:

    Jack Benny: What’s your name?
    Death: Cy.
    JB: Cy?
    Death: Si.
    JB: What do you call that big blade?
    Death: Scythe.
    JB: Is that so?
    Death: Si.
    JB: Scythe, si?
    Death: So.
    JB: I see.
    Death: Si.

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