June 03, 2010


We Were Here First: “Baby Blues” Looks at Couplehood with Kids. By Rick Kirkman & Jerry Scott. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

It’s a Boy: A “Baby Blues” Book. By Rick Kirkman & Jerry Scott. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

It’s a Girl: A “Baby Blues” Book. By Rick Kirkman & Jerry Scott. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

Jeremy & Dad: A “Zits” Tribute-ish to Fathers and Sons. By Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman. Andrews McMeel. $16.99.

A “Zits” Guide to Living with Your Teenager. By Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

     There are all sorts of people. There are all sorts of families. There are all sorts of cartoons. Put them all together and you get all sorts of cartoon families collected in books having all sorts of appearances. And they are all sorts of wonderful.

     We Were Here First is the second “theme” (rather than chronological) book about the MacPherson family’s attempt to retain a semblance of sanity while parents Darryl and Wanda raise three utterly charming and completely in-your-face children. Make that in your face, your bedroom, your car, your mind and everywhere else. The whole book is about apparently straightforward life with kids, the emphasis being on “apparently.” Darryl and Wanda kiss and hug, leading Zoe and Hammie to react with complete disgust. Pregnant Wanda says she just can’t get comfortable, Darryl asks what he can do, and after a, shall we say, pregnant pause, Darryl says, “I meant, is there anything I could do to help short of having that particular surgical procedure?” Wanda gets a free leg wax by accidentally sitting on melted crayons. Wanda promises to “slip into something more comfortable” after the kids are asleep at a reasonable hour for once – but what she means is that she is slipping between the sheets of her own bed and falling asleep herself. To go on a date, Wanda and Darryl trade houses with neighbors and watch DVDs. Writer Jerry Scott and artist Rick Kirkman have the whole raising-young-children thing down cold, which is a good thing, since real-world parents can certainly use the sort of lift that the almost-real Darryl and Wanda provide.

     For those who have just become real-world parents, the Baby Blues team has a little something special. Two little somethings special, actually. The It’s a Boy and It’s a Girl gift books – small size and hardbound – will be absolutely delightful presents for people who do not have the faintest idea of what they are getting into. (Hee, hee, say experienced parents while giving these books.) Pregnancy, birth, siblings, new routines – all are here in full-color Baby Blues panels. The boy book focuses on middle child Hammie, the girl book on baby Wren, but the chapter titles are the same, and parents will instantly recognize many of the scenes whether they have boys, girls or both. There is the huge pile of healthy-pregnancy literature given to the expectant mom, who is then told not to carry anything heavy; the parents with the list of girls’ names who discover they are having a boy; the two kids laughing about the coming third as the parents realize they will soon be outnumbered; the kids betting on whether the new baby will spit up on mom’s neck or shoulder; and much more everyday life in inimitable Baby Blues style.

     Well, maybe not quite inimitable. Scott also writes Zits, the outstanding strip about life with a teenager, so there is an intimate connection between the MacPherson and Duncan families. Jim Borgman’s art, which frequently dips into surrealism, keeps Zits different in appearance from Baby Blues (although Kirkman has his surreal moments, too, as when pregnant Wanda sees herself as different huge animals). The new Zits “theme” book – in oversize “Treasury” format – focuses on 15-year-old Jeremy’s relationship with Walt, his middle-aged orthodontist father; and the book is an fine companion to the previously released Jeremy & Mom, where the focus was on Connie and her son. The strips in Jeremy & Dad are indeed, as the subtitle has it, “tribute-ish.” The cover shows dad and boy hanging out together, eating pizza – facing in opposite directions, with Walt watching TV while Jeremy sends text messages. That is a pretty good microcosm of how father and son relate throughout the strip – and in many families today. To get Jeremy to take out the trash, Walt has to “throw his weight around,” so Borgman shows the two guys as competing sumo wrestlers. In one strip, Walt says he is just sitting, enjoying the silence, so Jeremy asks, “No, seriously, what are you doing?” Elsewhere, Walt reacts calmly when Jeremy uses meat tenderizer to swat a fly, putting a hole in the wall, because “as a proud graduate of teenage knucklehead university, it’s my duty to support the current student body.” Scattered among the strips here – as in the Jeremy & Mom collection – are comments from readers and some especially interesting remarks from the Zits creators, such as this one from Borgman: “We’ve sometimes heard the complaint that Walt is yet another bumbler in a culture that disrespects dads. We’ve never seen him that way. Sure, Walt’s frame of reference is hopelessly stuck in the past when it comes to TV, technology, and jargon. But he’s an involved dad who spends time with his son, and we like to think he provides ballast for the Duncan family.”

     Ballast of some sort is certainly helpful in families that contain teens, as is made very clear in A “Zits” Guide to Living with Your Teenager. This is another small hardbound gift book that is filled with color versions of strips and is simply perfect for delivery with a snicker and a knowing nod to someone who will recognize the scenes – soon, if not immediately. The “usually means” strips fit this book especially well, as in Jeremy telling his father, “I need to simplify my life,” which usually means, “Things are about to get a lot more complicated for you.” Or “I didn’t realize this was yours,” which usually means, “I didn’t realize anything was not mine.” Scott and Borgman provide helpful suggestions for interpreting these strips. For example, “Accept anything resembling a compliment” goes with a strip in which Jeremy tells Walt – who is struggling to get a repair done under some furniture – “Your new underwear covers your butt crack better than your old ones.” And then there are strips that are pure exercises in visual enjoyment, such as the one in which Jeremy, on the way to school, is literally chained to an elephant representing everything he has to do. And the ones where the words are the thing: “God shouldn’t serve hormones to minors.” Zits and Baby Blues, together, are the most wryly amusing looks at family life to be found anywhere. Yes, anywhere – they transcend the newspaper comics page and the pages of these books to clamp right down on parental consciousness.

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