Heads On Sticks & Ventriloquists

The prodigious writings of a tortured genius.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

So Much To See In One Panel

I don’t really read the newspaper, it’s a sad fact. I get most of my non-local news online, so when I get the printed paper delivered I always skip to the "Life" section and go straight to the last page. There it is, taking up a glorious full page: the comics (read: "the funnies" if you are over 55). The comics have been a source of joy for me since I was but a lad being reared in healthy suburban Pennsylvania. "Calvin and Hobbes" creator, Bill Watterson, is one of my all time greatest heroes, having created the funniest and most relatable comic I’ve ever read. I often will go online and regularly check my favorite webcomics such as Nothing Nice To Say and The Perry Bible Fellowship. Comics have been a part of who I am for most of my life.

The page itself is short but sweet, approximately twenty-some comic strips, each about three panels long. Rarely do I find them terribly funny, but I read every day, constantly pulled in by endless story arcs ("For Better or Worse", "The Phantom") or the simple nonsense and puns ("Frank & Ernest", "Real Life Adventures"). It takes approximately one bowl of cereal of medium to small sized bits (i.e. Rice Krispies, Cocoa Krispies) to be consumed to have enough time to read the whole page.

Generally the comics are not very good, usually falling somewhere in the ‘mediocre’ range. A classic example of this is "The Lockhorns" who should really just get a divorce – their behavior is not healthy towards each other or themselves. "The Lockhorns" are one of those special comics that have been locked in the constraints of a one panel daily comic. One panel. Imagine having to tell a joke in one panel. I respect you if you willingly give yourself room for only one punchline and you make it actually funny. I think Wise and Aldrich, creators of "Real Life Adventures" do a very respectable job with the one panel format.

The obvious king of the one-panel is Gary Larson’s "The Far Side", discontinued the same year as "Calvin and Hobbes" (may they both rest in our hearts forever). On the opposite side of this spectrum we would most likely place "The Family Circus" as the worst of the one-panels. "The Family Circus" just sucks.

But that’s not what I’m getting at here. Throughout my life there has been one comic that has caused the greatest amount of interest in my mind. Just like serial killers are arguably the most interesting people on earth, if only for the fact that they are so bizarre that you can’t bring yourself to look away. I’m talking about a trainwreck of a comic strip. An abomination. You can’t take your eyes off of it, you constantly dig deeper into it, wanting to know more. You want to know why – why was this created, O Lord?

"Marmaduke", bane of my existence. How did the world overlook this beautiful example of a self-contained world completely devoid of humor?

For those not in-the-know, "Marmaduke" is a one-panel comic strip about a huge great dane that constantly dabbles in mischief and causes prodigious amounts of stress for his owners, the townspeople, and the neighbor (a shameless rip-off of Mr. Wilson).

An example:
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Seriously, that dog sucks. Marm’s creator is a gent named Brad Anderson. I don’t know how he did it, but he’s been able to keep his comic in syndication for some time now. Every year, my newspaper has an event where you can vote out the worst comic and vote in a new comic. Somehow, Marmaduke does not get voted out of the paper each year. Which means that people think that Brad Anderson is doing a better job than other cartoonists in the newspaper. It’s no secret that Marmaduke has a fair share of fans, but why? I’m not one to judge other people’s taste (a lie), but I really do not comprehend how people can be a fan of that dog. Here is an actual Marmaduke fan. Why?

For years – nearly a decade now – I have pondered why the family did not simply put Marmaduke to sleep. Were they PETA activists? Why did they let that dog cause them so much emotional strife? Do you know how many times Phil, Marm’s owner, had to pay a bill – or even worse, was arrested – because Marmaduke stole a furrow of sausage links from the local butcher? Mr. Anderson, simply continued to print out identical strip after identical strip of this tripe. No one was turned off by the fact that Marmaduke was a huge asshole.

My friend Jon and I have a theory that if you replaced every text-line in the strip with "There goes that fucking dog again," the comic would still make sense, 100% of the time. Let me demonstrate:

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Now, with the caption replaced:

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Sure the words are different in every Marmaduke comic, but the joke is the same. How did Brad Anderson get away with this? Why didn’t the family get rid of Marmaduke? They seemingly had no reason to keep an animal around that caused them great emotional distress. It’s almost as if the family needed to have Marmaduke around for some reason. Then it hit me – the family does need Marmaduke. You see, without any doubt, Marmaduke is a genius.

Let me explain.

On dozens of occasions Marmaduke has actually hailed a cab and told the cabbie where to drive him. A dog that can pick up a cab? Genius. In another strip, Marm is seen wooing a bitch (female dog) with a bouquet of roses. The reader can only assume that Marmaduke knows not only how to purchase a bouquet of flowers, but is also aware that roses are an aphrodisiac. These are not the signs of a normal pup, my friends. Marmaduke is cunning, able to outsmart the butcher and get some flank steak. Marmaduke is intelligent, often seen behind the wheel of Phil’s car. Yet another time, Marmaduke can be seen parading about with three small dogs on his back! This proves that Marmaduke knows enough about physics to accurately place the canines on his backside without them falling (dog’s are very awkward with balance). Not only this, but Marmaduke was also able to explain to the "normal" dogs exactly how they would be able to ride on his back. This is mind blowing! Marmaduke is the smartest animal on earth!

Here we can only infer that Marm is listening to music for enjoyment purposes, a trait of intelligence and sophistication:

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Here we see that Marmaduke is having spousal issues and is able to show humility in front of what we can only assume are his illegitimate children:

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The phenomenon that is Marmaduke’s incredible intelligence, leads me to my next theory. I’ve never seen Phil at work, which leads me to believe that he collects the cash from Marmaduke’s inevitable and numerous television appearances and booming sales in life-size Marmaduke plush dolls. I bet Phil even charges people to pet Marm. It suddenly occurs to you that Phil is a greedy bastard.

But why would Brad Anderson make Phil seem like such a nice guy? Why would he make Phil seem like the one on the receiving end of the pain of his relationship with Marmaduke? The answer: (buckle your seatbelts) "Marmaduke" is an autobiographical account of Brad Anderson’s life. In other words, cartoon Phil represents cartoonist Brad, who in real-life, actually lives with a hyperintelligent pooch. Brad Anderson decided that he would create a comic strip about the troubles of living with a giant/genius dog, because he wanted to make more money off of his dog’s personality. So, what seem like the playful tendencies of a big dog are actually passive-aggressive attacks on a cruel owner by an underappreciated prodigy.

Marm does not want to be on TV or be treated like a circus freak. He feels lost, and emotionally abused. In many cases, people gifted with intelligence can become loners – rebels – when faced with an unloving upbringing. Marm sometimes wishes that he didn’t have the intelligence that he possesses. Ignorance truly is bliss. Marmaduke may be one of the greatest testaments to the broken spirit rising from the ashes as a sublime phoenix lighting a passage for the disenfranchised.

I never actually voted Marmaduke out. Each year, the opportunity would come around, my pen hovering above the checkbox. The newspaper stares at me, and I at it. Each year, I had the power of suffrage, the most important right in any democracy, to remove Marmaduke from my local newspaper. I never once voted to get rid of "Marmaduke". It was my secret. I would vote out a different comic like "Luann" (terrible) or "Herman" (I don’t get it). I wanted "Marmaduke" to stay. I needed Marmaduke. I loved analyzing why it was so bad. I loved having my "There goes that fucking dog again" theory proved right every day. In a way, Marm was able to prove his point to me. He suffered under the tyranny of Brad "Phil" Anderson, and he no longer wanted the people of the world to suffer like he did. Marmaduke built up my self-confidence. Marmaduke would undergo any amount of pain and criticism for me, even if I was the source of that pain and criticism. Marmaduke, if you can read this (I assume you can due to your high level of intelligence), I was wrong – you aren’t the bane of my existence... You are my bastion.

Of course this is all speculation and I could be wrong.

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At 12:58 PM GMT-5, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 12:26 PM GMT-5, Blogger Amanda Forest Vivian said...

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