May 11, 2006


Something Chocolate This Way Comes: “Baby Blues” Scrapbook 21. By Rick Kirkman & Jerry Scott. Andrews McMeel. $10.95.

How Come I’m Always Luigi? A “FoxTrot” Collection. By Bill Amend. Andrews McMeel. $8.95.

Some of the great chroniclers of childhood in our time are to be found in the funny pages. And some of the great fun of our time is to be found in their comic strips. Every parent knows that there are some days when everything is so totally overwhelming, so totally out of control, so utterly impossible to tolerate, that the only choices are to scream or to laugh. For making it easier for parents to choose laughter, Rick Kirkman, Jerry Scott and Bill Amend deserve medals. Preferably ones lovingly covered with spittle.

Kirkman and Scott’s Baby Blues is a continuing marvel. This is one of those comics whose every strip leads parents to exclaim, “That’s just what happened to us!” Or, “That could have happened to us!” Or, “Thank goodness that didn’t happen to us!” It’s solid empathy no matter what the exclamation. The latest collection really is the 21st, though only 18 others are listed inside the book: the first two collections were not published by Andrews McMeel (but maybe it will buy the rights and reprint them?). Through all 21 collections and five Treasury volumes, this loving-but-not-syrupy (though sometimes sticky) chronicle of the MacPherson clan has neatly encapsulated the everyday struggles, joys and – did we mention struggles? – of raising kids. Parents Darryl and Wanda are now firmly and forever outnumbered: Zoe, Hammie and Wren are clearly in charge. Here we find Zoe protesting loudly to Wanda that she didn’t do “whatever it was you were going to yell at me about,” then asking Hammie, “Think she suspects me of anything?” To which Hammie replies: “You mean besides bad acting?” Wren goes into a climbing stage – a time of life familiar to most parents – and of course does so to an extreme, quickly getting to the top of the refrigerator and similar places. Wanda comes up with a perfect description of her three kids: “Griper, hyper and diaper.” Wanda’s unmarried sister babysits one night when the kids are on good behavior, decides that she wants a baby of her own, then realizes (after a heart-to-heart with Wanda) that she isn’t ready and will “just have to be happy with my stupid career and its perks, benefits and ridiculously high salary.” Later, she goes man-hunting on the Internet, with predictably unpredictable results. In fact, “predictably unpredictable” nicely describes Baby Blues itself – and the whole art of building a family, for that matter.

The three kids in FoxTrot are older than the three in Baby Blues – they are preteens and teenagers – but if you think that makes family life easier, just check out any sequence in Amend's strip. FoxTrot has some elements of traditional TV-style suburban comedy – notably bumbling father Roger, who in the latest collection discovers Internet poker and predictably maxes out his credit cards. Amend is stronger when focusing on the strip’s central character, genius nerd Jason, who is just discovering that maybe he likes girls (he’s on the very edge of the cootie stage) and who twists reality into video games whenever possible: the collection’s title refers to Super Mario Brothers games, which Jason and best friend Marcus play in the snow when told to go outside instead of spending all their time at the computer. Jason also has wonderfully skewed ideas about almost anything wholesome: his Christmas card series is a touch, shall we say, violent. But he remains in many ways a young child, as when he gets a Darth Vader helmet stuck on his head. Mother Andy, big brother Peter and big sister Paige (a frequent target of the wrath of both Jason and Jason’s iguana, Quincy) make a fine supporting cast – and provide good reminders of why it’s much funnier to read about sibling rivalry in the comics than to deal with it in real life.

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