CSotD: Humor in a past key

(Loose Parts – AMS)

(Andertoons – AMS)

This Juxtaposition at GoComics struck me today not just because two cartoonists played with the same concept, but because it’s a pair of evergreen gags.

Which is not the same as a stolen gag, the difference being that Superman is such a widely parodied topic that we don’t expect earth-shattering originality, and I say that with confidence, given that it’s May 5th and so yesterday we were assailed with Star Wars gags, most of which were comfortably familiar riffs on a Beloved Topic.

Superman is not only a Beloved Topic, but the twisted, contradictory storyline his own creators have invented is simply begging to be mocked, for instance in the area of eye exams.

In 1940, Clark Kent failed his draft physical by, as in Loose Parts today, using his x-ray vision to read the chart in the next room, though a few years later they decided he looked like a slacker and retconned things to get him into the war.


And in 1959, he retook his physical, only this time as Superman, not Clark Kent, and passed it easily, though I seem to recall another comic, or maybe it was this one, in which his induction was problematic because they couldn’t vaccinate him: The needles, of course, broke off on his skin.

Which strikes me that, if Superman had to get into the army to support the war effort, maybe they should retcon that old needle story somehow to promote vaccinations today.


After all, Ecuador used Batman and Robin to promote acceptance of alternative lifestyles. Not sure this was authorized; pretty sure it’s noncanonical.


Bizarro (KFS) often returns to the topic. I couldn’t find a larger version of this 2002 panel, which mirrors Anderson’s take, though without the heat vision destruction.


And, in 2013, Piraro offered this reflection on the frequent speculation about how stupidly unobservant Lois Lane must surely be. And, yes, one does wonder why Superman would have gone to an eye doctor in the first place, but then one would be giving up the chance for a laff.

Given that almost nothing in Superman’s story checks out in terms of logic or physics, not to mention continuity, I’d suggest you repeat to yourself that it’s just a comic and you really should relax.


Besides, as Bizarro pointed out in 2018, it probably helps that Metropolis is not exactly overstocked with sharp pencils.

Which reminds me of a gag that never got old among those just becoming old enough to question all this, which was to say “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane!” and then, wiping your eye with a finger, “It’s a bird.”

Oh, you’d heard that one?

My point exactly.


Elsewhere in the Funnies

Candorville (WPWG) keeps us on the topic not only of science facts but of childhood memories, this one being personal and set in high school, not the playgrounds.

To begin with, while the Earth does travel around the Sun like an elliptical Hula Hoop, not only is it silly to argue whether its orbit goes laterally or vertically around the center, since such things don’t exist in space, but our picture of all the planets in a flat series of lined-up orbits is almost entirely an artistic, not astronomical, conceit.

To which I would add that the popular image of an atom, assuming you don’t go for the plum pudding model, is based on the solar system.

Which came up at the Science Fair senior year, when I bribed a friend — who, as it happens, reads this blog — to add me to his project in exchange for a six-pack of Bud.

In “our” project, he compared the atom to the solar system with some Polaroid pictures of a bare lightbulb and some printed up rationale that conveniently ignored the origin of our model of the atom as given above.

I think that’s what it said. Nobody reads the explanatory materials on a science fair project.

“We” won a ribbon — I forget if it were blue or red — likely because the judges at these events assume the teacher has vetted everything and our physics teacher was an absurdly unqualified fellow who only lasted a year in the classroom.

Though he lasted long enough to kick another of my classmates out of physics class entirely.

That fellow, last I heard, was with the National Science Foundation. (As it happens, his little sister also reads the blog.)

I also remember that a project out of that same teacher’s chemistry class won a blue ribbon by setting up a distilling tube and a series of beakers with oil, gasoline, Vaseline and neatsfoot oil, on the preposterous claim that they had produced them all.

We could have gotten Superman through his physical, if he’d thought to ask us.


As long as we’re dealing with my extensive collection of absurd memories, this Flying McCoys (AMS) reminds me of visiting my son when he was with the Navy, stationed in San Diego.

Finding parking in the main lot at the base was a challenge, but there was always one spot open under a tree.

In which everyone who came there regularly knew a pair of pelicans had built a nest.

Pelicans, as adults, can weigh 30 pounds. They, and their chicken-sized babies, live on a diet of fish.



New Yorker cartoonist Ian Boothby and political cartoonist Pia Guerra have teamed up on a new panel at GoComics, Mannequin on the Moon, which is worth following and today offers this gem.

And, still mulling over high school, another friend and I were each permanently kicked out of English class — same teacher, same day, different class periods.

I became a professional writer, he opened a bookstore.


But, to balance things, we had an immensely pleasant and talented music teacher, whom this New Yorker cartoon by Liana Finck brought to mind, because I often find myself humming, whistling or singing folk songs, both Americana and from around the world, that I learned from her as a very little person.

She more than made up for the unforgettably foolish people we encountered later.

She planted, for instance, this most excellent earworm:


6 thoughts on “CSotD: Humor in a past key

  1. Your music teacher reminded me of kindergarten and my first few grades, when I remember listening to “The Wisconsin School of the Air” and learning a number of songs that I can still remember. I haven’t thought of it specifically in years, and now that I look, it’s archived online. I’m a bit scared to listen in case the reality isn’t up to my memory.

    I never managed to get permanently kicked out of a class—I was kind of a rule-follower. Luckily I managed to overcome that later in life. Thanks for the blog, as always.

  2. I remember watching that delightful duet, and my sister and I learned it and sang it with each other for years. But I had no idea how a piece of straw could fix a bucket, and still don’t. I’ve known only the tin buckets. Thanks for a wonderful memory.

  3. A piece of straw — as opposed to hay — could be fairly rigid and thick.

    Odetta’s slow burn is brilliant. She really makes the song work.

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