More on "Bang! Pow! Zap! Comics Aren't Just For Kids Anymore!"

So I posted that last post, got up, walked across the room, and started thinking again. I hate it when that happens.

Most people’s expose to comics is by way of the newspaper “funnies.” Personally, I feel that these pages are crap with some real gems in there (Get Fuzzy being the best that newspapers have to offer right now, although Opus has promise) but the fact remains that they’re what most people think of as being “comics” and that most of what’s on the funny pages isn’t funny… er, I meant to say: “is for kids.”

With a few notable exceptions–Mary Worth, which I don’t think anyone reads, For Better or For Worse, Dilbert, Doonesbury, and The Boondocks being what immediately springs to mind–the funny pages are devoted to comics written for kids or “for the kid in all of us.”

There’s an alternative, though, in the form of alternative papers, but they’re cartoons are always political. I’ve not yet seen an alternative paper that even bothered to try to have comics that were adult without being soley or mostly political in nature. My local alternative paper carries about three articles, twenty pages of ads, and a few cartoons: This Modern World, The Boondocks, and single-panel political-ish (not lampooning current events, just right-wing ideology) which is so terrible that I can’t be bothered to remember the name. This politics thing is pretty much the case with the adult-oriented cartoons in the mainstream papers with the political cartoons themselves, Doonesbury, and The Boondocks making up the “adult” part of the comics section.

Of course, the syndicates have as much to do with this as anything, but I’m disappointed in the alt. weeklies inability to find even a local cartoonist to try to create adult comics that aren’t political.

If one thinks about it, though, the most successful comic strips have been the ones that intruded on “adult” themes beyond politics. Calvin and Hobbes had some pretty adult humour in it; Dilbert is probably as boring to kids as Garfield is to me, but is a real hit with their parents; The Far Side played well with adults; Peanuts is morose and depressing in a way that hits at some adults (although I’m not sure of how many anymore; Peanuts is now, in reprint, a nostalgia act taking space away from new cartoonists).

So, perhaps, a good way to begin to convert the adult population of the United States to the idea that “comics aren’t just for kids” is to get some non-kid stuff on the Sunday funnies. Of course, trying to sell something like that to the syndicates is ridiculous on its face…

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22 Responses to More on "Bang! Pow! Zap! Comics Aren't Just For Kids Anymore!"

  1. 1
    Helen says:

    We have a couple of really good, really black comics from the US syndicated in the Melbourne AGE. Ballard Street (standalone cartoons) and Non Sequitur, which are just brilliant. I find For Better or for Worse terribly goodygoody– I keep hoping for one of them to get addicted to drugs or something, but it never happens!
    We have some brilliant cartoonists in Australia — Google “Bruce Petty” if you haven’t heard of him already – also Patrick Cook and Michael Leunig (who I love and hate on an alternating basis!)

  2. 2
    David Weman says:

    “There’s an alternative, though, in the form of alternative papers, but they’re cartoons are always political.”

    That’s not true at all. Have you seen The Stranger comics page?

    Maakies is maybe the most prominent examples.

    Bunch of gay/lesbian press strips, some of them good I understand.

    Jimmy Corrigan originated as a strip.

  3. 3
    PinkDreamPoppies says:

    Thill will answer your question, David, but: what’s The Stranger comics page?

  4. 4
    Raznor says:

    Don’t forget “Red Meat”. That’s rarely political, but oriented towards adults and is intensely funny.

  5. 5
    Coalition of Good Comics says:

    Ben Katchor’s comics (ie Julius Knipl, Jew of New York) are adult weekly comics that run in several alt papers.

    And Kaz’s “Underworld” is not political (more like sleazy).

    And there are several gay and lesbian comics like “Dykes to Watch Out For” and “Chelsea Boys”, for example that often run in the gay weeklies like the Washington Blade or Metro Weekly (here in DC).

  6. 6
    Adina says:

    Yes, Alison Bechdel’s “Dykes To Watch Out For” is an excellent example of a comic strip for adults that isn’t any more political than real life. She’s bi-weekly, though, which may explain why she’s not carried in as many of the alt. weeklies as I think she should be.

  7. 7
    Ron Fox says:

    If you follow sports at all, you should really read Tank McNamara. He regularly skewers the sports industry’s foibles and hypocricies. The title character is an ex-NFL defensive lineman turned sportscaster who isn’t as dumb as he looks. It’s aimed squarely at adults.

  8. 8
    adamsj says:

    I was surprised at Tank McNamara which, back home, was run on the sports pages with Gil Thorpe–it’s much better written than one would think, and pretty well drawn to boot.

    (Of course, I’m fond of Mutts, too–but that’s a different ball of eyewax.)

    There are a lot of gems out in the weekly world. Lloyd Dangle’s Troubletown, Lynda Barry’s strip (is it still called Ernie Pook’s Comeek? somehow, I don’t think so), Carol Lay’s stuff–she did a great special multi-page feature a year after 9/11 that ran in Creative Loafing here in Atlanta, and I guess some other places, too.

    Mark Fiore’s wonderful Flash animations are in a class of their own.

    And in ambigously downer news, one of my very favorite political cartoonists, George Fisher, died this week at the age of eighty–at his drawing board, having just finished two weeklies.

    I’ll miss him a lot–but weekly, at eighty! Damn!

  9. 9
    adamsj says:

    Just up: The Arkansas Times tiny retrospective on George Fisher.

  10. 10
    Avram says:

    I was going to bring up Lynda Barry’s Ernie Pook’s Comeek. And Matt Groening got his start in alternative weeklies with Life in Hell, which was sometimes political but usually not.

    Jason Lutes’s Jar of Fools started out in The Stranger (an alternative weekly newspaper, sort of like The Village Voice, in Seattle).

    Other people have brought up Jimmy Corrigan, Red Meat, and Julius Knipl.

  11. 11
    Magnum says:

    The Life In Hell series of books by Groening (pre-Simpsons) is excellent – kind of a cross between Dilbert and The Simpsons but very cutting, very funny.

    Serious work: I’ve got a book called “Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron” by Daniel Clowes which is very good. It might have something to do with Eight Ball, but I don’t know anything about Eight Ball — I came across it in a shop once (this is several years ago) and I thought it was the same thing.

    Also, in France adult-themed comics are absolutely huge (and I’m not talking Tintin here [which is Belgian anyway]). Maybe there’s some translations, if so they would be well worth checking out (or maybe you speak French?)

  12. 12
    Magnum says:

    Oh, when I say ‘adult-themed’ I don’t mean porn, I just mean non-kid’s stories. Though they do have a lot of sex..

  13. 13
    Coalition of Good Comics says:

    Well, there are some good “porn” comics out there. “True Porn” comes to mind. It’s an anthology of auto-bio sex stories by cartoonists like Ariel Bordeaux, Ariel Schrag (her book “Potential” is great too), Hans Rickheit, and others.

    I know there are people who are opposed to porn, but these stories, I think are more an honest discussion of sex.

    In the same kind of vein, “XXX Live Nude Girls” by Laurenn McCubbin and Nikki Coffman is an exploration of the lives of sex workers.

    And these two items are a far cry from the misogynistic stuff you find in a lot of manga (tentacle porn) and in the works of people like Mike Diana or Johnny Ryan.

  14. 14
    tom says:

    I think Peanuts is still funny and should run in perpetuity, if for no other reason than it’s frequently the only funny strip in my local paper. I don’t find it “morose and depressing”- I call it existential humor.
    As Stan Lee used to say, ” ‘Nuff said”.

  15. 15
    Catherine says:

    Not sure I have ever admitted that the author whose name appears on the most spines in my library is Watterson. I cannot think of any other strip that so regularly makes me throw my head back and laugh from the belly. The collective efforts of the New Yorker comics comes close (including Roz Chast’s tribute to inaneness), but the critical word there is “collective.”

    My mom sends me newspaper clippings every month, something that also makes me laugh from the belly. I adore that she thinks of me, but I am not sure on what basis she concludes that her pain in the ass, workaholic, practically single mother daughter would put a Family Circus or Hi and Lois comic on the fridge. She must know I am more the Andy Capp kind.

    Finally, my less than educated guess puts the blame on the current sunday comic situation squarely on the shoulders of syndication. The artist must sacrifice all rights to the strip and any hope of moving further than a 9 foot radius from the drawing board in exchange for the exposure – or even just the opportunity for exposure. I think it was Berkely Breathed who said that the demands of a daily made him look like Keith Richards and 5 am. (I should probably do a fact check on this, but it is such a good image that I am sticking with it.)

  16. 16
    Catherine says:

    Oh, well, I guess it is never “final” with me, but I had forgotten about Tank until it was mentioned above, so, um, thanks. And Gil Thorpe is funny just on the basis of a month long pitch or pass (week #1, the pitcher takes the mound; week #2, he adjusts himself; week #3,he winds up, etc) and the fact that all of the women have testosterone laden jawlines and necks. (It may include an adam’s apple, but I cannot bring myself to look that close.) When a girl or woman is featured, I never get to the text. My eyes freeze at the torso and head drawings and I keep imagining that its Gil with a wig and some almost afterthought breasts.

    Ok, now I am done.

  17. 17
    Michael Capanzzi says:

    Hi…first-time reader, first-time writer. I was referred here through Lauren’s blog. VERY interesting insights here but I’m wondering…is anyone from around Chicago way? Because the Sun Times carries a strip called “Monty” and as a long time fan of “Life in Hell”, “Raw Meat” and “The Far Side” to name a few, I have to say “Monty” holds up VERY well. One comic I HAVEN’T seen on the shelves is “Heavy Metal” 25 years ago, their stories and artwork were so far ahead of their time it was not to be believed. Does the comic even exist anymore and what is its status?

  18. 18
    Dan J says:

    Yeah, Heavy Metal still exists, but now it’s just mainly a dumping ground for Euro-smut.

  19. 19
    Michael says:

    I see we agree on our comic-choices, so I thought I’d suggest one to you that’s one of my favorites, Pearls before Swine. You can find and read it at It doesn’t frequently deal with adult topics, but, unlike most daily comics, its actually funny.

  20. 20
    adamsj says:

    I think what’s being asked for here is something that can run on Sunday, take up about a third of a page, survive crappy color printing, and tell a grown-up story.

    Do I have that about right?

  21. 21
    smuty says:

    You display your goods on a tv show called Third Watch. This show has people getting killed as a form of entertainment. I have a problem with this, and last night they killed an eight year old child. If you must promote violence on tv, why don’t you just do it with adults