A year and a half ago, I wrote a review of a Get Fuzzy anthology for the Comics Journal. Somehow, though, it got lost in the ether that is email, and so it never got published. Thus rejected, it has come here to the blog to find a home.

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I’m Ready For My Movie Contract
Darby Conley
Andrews McMeel Publishing
128 pages/B&W
$10.95/softcover
978-0-7407-6922-1

Darby Conley’s Get Fuzzy is, as the strip itself mentions several times, an almost indecently faithful Garfield clone. As in Garfield, there’s a mean, domineering cat (Bucky); a dumb, sweet dog (Satchel); and a nerdy, vaguely artsy owner (Rob.) And also as in Garfield, the animals are sentient, but not quite adult — sort of a cross between pets and small children. Rob even carries Bucky around in a Baby Bjorn.

There are a couple of differences from Jim Davis’ franchise. First, Bucky’s a Siamese, which (for a Siamese owner such as myself) is automatic bonus points. And, perhaps more importantly, Conley has dispensed with most of the ossified Garfield gags. Bucky isn’t fat, he doesn’t care about Mondays, and he doesn’t eat lasagna. Instead, he yearns to consume monkeys, engages in credit card fraud, and is terrified of beavers. Or, as he puts it, “They curse all that is good! They curse all that is wholesome! I tell you, beavers are evil!”

The double entendre makes that a good bit funnier than it’s meant to be, of course. Similarly, the high point of the book is a misprinted sequence in which Satchel mouths an empty speech bubble, Rob says, “On the same monkey,” and then we get a close up of some sort of bizarre test pattern with an Indian chief’s head in the middle. The nicest thing about these bloopers is that they’re really not all that far removed from the spirit of the strip as a whole. Conley must have done a lot of weed at some point; Satchel and Bucky’s confused almost-clever-but-then-totally-boneheaded patter is quintessential stoner humor. “Rob: T. rexes don’t even exist anymore!” “Bucky: Exactly. Therefore, a beaver is a million-billion times more dangerous than a T-rex.” Satchel: “You just blew my mind.” I mean, that could almost be lifted from A Scanner Darkly.

Conley’s art is pretty decent for the comics page — he has serious troubles with perspective, and I find his grayscale effects irritating, but his character designs are cute and winning rather than Dilbert or Pearls Before Swine-ugly. He’s helped somewhat by the fact that he rarely attempts physical or slapstick humor — instead, the jokes are mostly bad puns and zoned-out verbal goofiness. In his heart, I think Conley really is more fourth-rate Peanuts than second-rate Garfield. And yes, that’s a compliment.
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So as I said, this was written at the end of 2007 or thereabouts. Since then, my son went through a very intense Get Fuzzy phase. This involved reading our three Get Fuzzy collections over and over (and over) again. At the same time, he was obsessed with Garfield, which we read over and over. We also got to hear the strips repeated back to us without any context or description (so you get a strip which sounds something like: “I’m going to steal Jon’s chicken. Hey where did that vine come from! Isn’t that funny!”)

So a couple of points here. First, after this intense exposure, I think that I was right that Get Fuzzy is not really a knock-off of Garfield — and maybe wrong that it is a knock-off of Peanuts. In its running gags and its rhythms, its really maybe closer to Bloom County in a lot of ways. (Which is fine with me; I like Bloom County. But it’s important to make these distinctions.)

Second, reading these strips aloud (and other comics) has really, really made me appreciate story books. Not that I have anything against comic strips qua comic strips…or, okay, maybe I do, but that’s not the point I’m making here. The point I am making here is that reading comics aloud kind of sucks. When I read a regular story book, I’m often able to pretty much zone out; I can just read along without paying much attention to what I’m doing because…well, it’s a narrative, it only goes one direction, you don’t really have to think about it that hard. Getting downtime like this is really crucial when you’re a parent, and I greatly appreciate it.

With comics, it’s a lot harder to do that. You have to pay more attention to where the text goes in the first place, and in the second you have to make sure the small child is following along, since he’s got to be able to figure out who says what. Admittedly, after the millionth repetition, he pretty much knows who’s saying what…but after the millionth repetition you’re ready to go insane anyway, so the benefit is not as great as it might seem.

On the plus side, though, comics seem to be really good for teaching reading. The constant interplay between text and pictures, and the aforementioned need to follow which text goes where, has really helped my kid parse a lot of words. The first word that he read out of context without any prompting from me, in fact, was “Garfield” (we were in the car and he said, “That sign says Garfield!” I said, what? and started looking around for an advertising poster — but he was actually reading the street sign for Gafield Boulevard, which we were driving on.) He also taught himself to read sound effects like “Crash!” and “Zip!” because he sees them so often on the page.

So…less restful, but better reading comprehension. A few minutes of peace vs. a lifetime of learning. Yep, I’d make the same decision; a few minutes of peace, every time. But if I have to be irritated, I guess it’s good that he’s learning to read. Because then he can go off with a book by himself eventually and leave me alone.

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And here’s the first post in the roundtable.

Cerusee’s follow-up post is here.

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