November 30, 2006


Another Stereotype Bites the Dust: A “Candorville” Collection. By Darrin Bell. Andrews McMeel. $10.95.

Let’s Get Pickled! A “Pickles” Collection. By Brian Crane. Andrews McMeel. $10.95.

The Flying McCoys: Comics for a Bold New World. By Glenn McCoy and Gary McCoy. Andrews McMeel. $10.95.

A Million Little Pieces of “Close to Home.” By John McPherson. Andrews McMeel. $10.95.

     There’s much to be said for niche comics.  True, there’s much to be said against them: audience fragmentation, loss of the sort of common experience that readers used to get from Little Orphan Annie or Dick Tracy, drawings specifically designed to be exclusionary of everyone not in the “in” group at which they are targeted, and so on.  But really, comics did not create fragmentation in their audience – that came first, and cartoonists followed the trend.  And the nice thing about “narrowcast” comics (as opposed to traditional “broadcast” ones) is that even if you have a particular (or even peculiar) perspective, you can probably find something that matches it.

     Candorville, for example, features black and Latina characters, and it has a strong (but not overbearing) political viewpoint.  Darrin Bell – who also co-creates Rudy Park, a strip with a political angle of its own – scores effectively when he reflects similar words through the ages.  For example, he takes a claim of success in Iraq in one panel, turns it into a similar claim about Vietnam in the next, then one about World War II, and one about India under British rule, and one about the American colonies before the Revolution, and finally one about the “pitiful Visigoth savages” who have no chance against Rome.  By using the same characters in each panel, and changing their costumes, he scores a telling point.  And this isn’t even Bell’s best stuff.  Even better are panels in which a character says one thing while thinking another; or characters interact one way on the surface while having entirely different concerns underneath; or read a book called “Ignorance for Dummies”; or cope with the everyday humiliations of modern life, from identity theft to the impossibility of reaching a human being when calling customer service.  Candorville has heart, soul and smarts – a winning combination.

     But suppose Bell is a bit urban and a bit political for you.  How about a nice suburban-family strip with the focus, for a change, on the grandparents?  That would be Pickles, which features Opal and Earl and their grandson, Nelson, who lives next door with his mom, Sylvia, and her husband, Dan.  Opal, Earl and Nelson are the core of the strip, although the grandparents’ dog, Roscoe, and cat, Muffin, play starring roles as well.  The humor here is of the gentle variety and is often silly: Earl stands in a bank shouting random amounts of money while people fill out deposit and withdrawal slips; Opal accidentally calls Earl by the dog’s name, but Nelson says that’s okay because Opal really likes the dog; Opal joins the Red Hat Society, which Earl insists on calling the Mad Hatter Society.  There’s little here of overwhelming significance, but it’s all pleasantly enjoyable.

     Now suppose you prefer a quick hit of humor, single-panel style, rather than a daily multi-panel strip.  If you want the humor really strange, you turn to The Flying McCoys.  If you want it odd but just near enough to reality to make you think twice, you look for Close to Home.  Both neatly encapsulate one oddball thought or another in a single daily panel.  Just how oddball the McCoy brothers are is shown in the dedication of their new collection, which thanks, among many others, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Boris Karloff, Don Knotts, Monty Python, Norman Rockwell, Hunter Thompson and Mark Twain.  Funny thing: you can actually pick up all those influences if you look hard enough.  Mostly, though, you look at The Flying McCoys for bizarre takes on almost everything.  In one panel, the Israelites question the handwriting on an 11th commandment saying they must give Moses foot rubs.  In another, a man at a bar laments, “My ex-wife’s lawyer doesn’t understand me.”  Elsewhere, the Scarecrow tells the Wizard of Oz that he no longer wants brains – just a tummy tuck and butt implants.  This is strange and often wonderful stuff.

     Close to Home is strange, too, but in a different way.  Here you find “The Culinary Institute of Hospital, Penitentiary and Airline Cuisine,” and Edvard Munch’s famous painting “The Scream” offered with surround-sound, and applicants for a sales job during “the critical brownnosing portion of the interview,” and in-house day care at Velcro Corp. (in which parents neatly stick their kids to the wall).  Who’s to say these things don’t exist, or won’t be created soon?  If The Flying McCoys stays far from reality, Close to Home stays almost on top of it.

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