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Category: Cartoons

My Undead Neanderthal
Alley Oop, as I have said, used to to be one of my favorite comic strips. It has an apish caveman, a time machine, dinosaurs, and a fully human girlfriend who is jaw-drop gorgeous. What’s not to like?

When you add to that the cross-medium immortality that came with the Hollywood Argyles’ 1960 rock ’n’ roll classic “Alley Oop,” you’ve got a strip that has to be in the running for top five of all time (Calvin and Hobbes, L’il Abner, Krazy Kat, and Nancy would round out my list).

I’m pretty sure those other strips all ended when they should have — when their creators moved on. Oop, however, has persisted as a comic zombie. He has been re-animated by a succession of artists and writers under the corporate control of Andrews McMeel and a string of equally soulless predecessor syndicates.

The latest incarnation of this living death recasts the title character as a goofy wisecracker who time travels through a chain of parallel universes while trying to simultaneously spin out a gag a day. Neither the jokes nor the story are enough to keep me going. I only return to the strip because of my morbid fascination with a once noble character forced to live on as one of the undead.

I won’t blame writer Joey Alison Sayers and artist Jonathan Lemon, who currently crank out the Oop strip. They’re producing a daily comic and making a few bucks at it, which is a good thing. In fact, I give them credit for daring to take on a big challenge with the strip: telling a continuing story that produces a laugh every episode. Those two goals are daunting enough by themselves; together, they are next to impossible.

People don’t pay attention to daily comic strips the way they used to. Newspapers are in decline, and with all the competition from other media, there just isn’t enough attention to go around. The drawings have gotten smaller, dropped their color, and narrowed their focus. If you try to stitch together a multi-part story, readers who miss a day can easily lose the thread of your narrative. Once that happens, you're likely to lose them permanently.

Sayers and Lemon do have the benefit of a recognizable and well-liked lead character, and they have tried to use that familiarity as much as possible. Their work has been a marked improvement over that of the two previous caretakers of the strip. They have added a fresh voice and vision of their own in trying to make it work. I salute them for their efforts.

Sadly, however, it has all been in vain. Poor ol’ Alley Oop is dead. Dead as an undead Neanderthal. All that remains is a decent burial for a once-great comic strip star. Once again, I pray to the cartoon gods to end his misery…and mine.
Blink
Just in case you weren’t paying attention last week, I didn’t post anything new here on timeagan.com. That was the first time in seventeen years that that has happened.

In other words, I blinked. Even though seventeen years is a long time to keep your eyes wide open, I was surprisingly casual about the lapse — especially since (I should tell you) it could mean an even longer hiatus for my political cartoon, Deep Cover. I’m not sure how long this will last, but when I got to last Tuesday afternoon, when I normally would have begun to focus in earnest on putting the cartoon together, I found that I wasn’t really that interested in doing it. It seemed like a good time to stop and think, so much so that I decided to let Subcon and Eaganblog go, too.

The juice just wasn’t there, and I’m not really certain why. I hope it’s not because of the depressing, relentless trend we all see in the news. I hope it’s not my own disillusionment with our democracy and the cravenness of our politicians. I hope it’s not a sign that my view of humanity, which I thought was balanced and clear-eyed, has changed to something darker and less optimistic. And I hope Trump hasn’t driven me out of the political satire game.

I don’t think he has, given my long history as a political junkie. But I can’t deny that some of the fun has gone out of it. Hundreds, if not thousands of children are being hideously abused in my name (and yours) at the border. Cruelty is mistaken for toughness by the President’s followers. Indeed, cruelty is seen as a good thing in and of itself by some of those people. Beyond that, incompetence and corruption and rampaging abuse of power are shrugged off by the same party that honors Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt in its hall of heroes. And no end in sight.

It is a dark time, no doubt, and maybe this is just the time I should be digging deeper for that one, deeply incisive cartoon that cuts to the heart of some universal truth and changes the world. And maybe that will still happen…sometime. Just not right now. I’ve got to save myself, or I won’t be ready for that moment of clarity when it comes.

I’ve posted a Vintage Deep Cover this week, just to keep that consciousness alive. And maybe I’ll post an original now and then if it strikes me. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, Subconscious Comics goes on forever — in a world all its own where blinking isn’t even possible. And Eaganblog, too, as you have just discovered. See you next week
Make a Face
When I teach cartooning, my first lesson tries to help my students find a character they like. Ideally, the persona they create should be one they can live with, one who can help them tell their story. As a way of looking for that character, we explore different facial expressions, especially as indicated by the mouth, the eyes, and the eyebrows.

Those three simple elements can communicate a wide array of human emotions. We usually go with anger first. For that emotion, the eyes are wide, the mouth turns down at the corners, and the eyebrows slant down in the middle. It is the least ambivalent of all expressions, one that everyone recognizes immediately.

After anger, I ask my students to change one of the elements. We swap out the frown for a smile. The eyes and eyebrows remain the same, but that one change makes a big difference in the emotional impact on the face. While anger is an intimidating expression, what we have now qualifies as frightening. It is a face of evil — with an edge of madness.

This face always gets a big reaction from the 13-year-olds who normally make up my classes — especially the boys. They receive the message of that face loud and clear, and it goes through them like a thrill of electricity. Danger, menace, and fear will do that, even if the character is a little bunny. Inevitably, some of the young cartoonists will seize on this expression and make it the defining feature of their character’s personality.

Unfortunately, pure evil is not the most promising character trait for good storytelling. Mike Myers’ Dr. Evil and Felonious Gru of “Despicable Me” are evil main characters, but their evil side is played against their own cluelessness, and always for laughs. Most of my students, however, aren’t interested in that kind of complexity. They just want the danger and the menace. I do what I can to gently dissuade them, but it’s not my job to tell them their creations are doomed to fail. The stories they produce tend to be about bad characters doing bad things, and even they find that result a bit boring. That’s when I allow myself to step in with suggestions.

I don’t have that option when it comes to cartoon characters I see popping up the wider culture. When I see characters displaying wide-eyed evil out there, there is nothing I can do to warn their creators away from this course of action.

I would probably be ignored anyway; evil is wildly popular these days. You see it a lot in the universe of team mascots, for instance. I am not sure why maniacal wickedness is chosen as a desirable quality when it comes to athletics, but these demented creatures are everywhere in the world of sports. Perhaps it is thought to be intimidating. Personally, if I were designing a representative for my team, I would choose something with cold-eyed determination. That trait, at least, might contain the possibility of strategic thinking or at least guile. Such attributes have proven value when it comes to winning, and that’s the whole point, after all. Even simple ferocity would be a better choice for that purpose than batshit crazy mean.

It’s the same appeal felt by those teenage boys, I guess. People think evil is cool or hip or funny or something, and I find that disturbing. And it’s not just in sports. I see skulls (which don’t take much tweaking to look evil) appearing as tattoos everywhere these days. Surfing and skateboarding brands like Spitfire feature evil-looking characters as the face of their businesses. Isn’t this glorification and monetization of evil, like, a bad thing? Not to mention kind of boring?

If anyone were listening, I might suggest that these image creators go instead with sardonic, which is a similar expression. That’s the look Matthew McConaughey gets when he’s driving around in his Lincoln. The eyebrows are down in the middle, as they are with anger and evil, but the smile is only a half smile and the eyes aren’t wide with emotion but calm instead. A wiseguy grin under a dark brow. Sardonic. It’s still not the friendliest of expressions, but at least I’d be open to any story that character might have to tell.
Gone, But Not Forgetting
I'm a long way from my drawing board right now, but politics is somehow moving on without my cartoons. The issues are ripe and bursting with juicy irony, and I am experiencing withdrawals from being unable to satirize them.

Among the scenery moving around in my head:

1. Drump unhinged. He looked positively incandescent in that oval office meeting with the Rooskis. Like a navel orange on fire. His teeth seemed to glow neon blue, and his face bespoke a strange, overamped goofiness. Was he coked up again? His lips, we know, were especially loose.

2. The Republicans. They continue to exhibit the perfect antitheses of all the noble qualities that they claim exclusively for themselves: patriotic, strong on defense, tough on Russia, fiscally responsible, honorable in the extreme. No, no, no, no, and no. They've managed to give craveness a bad name. I am so tired of using the nice old elephant as a symbol for these turkeys. If only I could replace it with something more appropriate. A weasel, say, or a leech. Cane toad? Moray eel? Maggot?

3. The Dems. United for once, mostly, but too worshipful of the elites. Joe blow is still out there looking for someone who really cares. Could I make them a gelded Arabian stallion instead of a donkey? Or maybe a unicorn?

4. The rest of the world. They're pretty busy with their own control freaks, but I'll bet they're still gobsmacked that we could follow up our salad nicoise a la Obama with a crap crepe.

5. The planet. Tick, tick, tick. Just like Drump, only slower.

6. Truth. Not that hard to find, really. Your daily newspaper does a pretty good job. Oh, wait a minute, it disappeared. My #1 rule: don't believe anything that comes out of Drump's mouth. Unless it's a precious national secret, that is.

Okay, I'm feeling better about my cartooning now. The republic, though, not so much.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon