December 30, 2010


You’re Making That Face Again: “Zits” Sketchbook 13. By Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

Not Just Another Sweetheart Deal: A Collection of “Rose Is Rose” Comics. By Don Wimmer. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

     Consistency in comic strips is a wonderful thing – when the strips are consistently good. Zits is one of the best, and writer Jerry Scott and artist Jim Borgman show no sign of losing their respective strengths or their collaborative flair in You’re Making That Face Again. This is the 13th Zits collection designated a “Sketchbook,” which means it presents a series of strips in the sequence in which they appeared in newspapers – as opposed to “theme” collections like the last several from the Zits creators, which have focused (among other things) on the character Pierce and the relationship between protagonist Jeremy Duncan and his mom and dad. The new book hits whatever themes Scott and Borgman chose to explore over time: Jeremy, after his breakup with Sara, getting involved with a girl named Becker; Pierce wearing pleated khakis – about as far from his usual outfit as anyone can imagine; Jeremy trying “blonde dreads” as a new hairstyle; Jeremy trying to extend a dance invitation while dressed as a gorilla; and the usual trials and tribulations centered on school, driving and home life. Many of the best strips come in sequences within the overall Zits sequence, such as “Field Guide for Encountering the Teenager in Its Natural Habitat” juxtaposed with “Field Guide for Encountering the Grownup in Its Natural Habitat,” or a “Teenager in the House: The Most Awesome Show on Earth” series. The Sunday strips remain in a class of their own: Jeremy shows nine ways to say the word “dude” and nine expressions to use when saying it; father Walt looks on, bemused, as Jeremy transforms his new phone into a Segway; and there is a wonderful two-panel Sunday strip contrasting Beowulf “as written” (in a dim, dark room, with great care and attention, by a scholarly-looking poet) with the work “as read” (the text from the first panel almost disappearing behind a full-color Jeremy, who is sprawled in an armchair while simultaneously texting, listening to music and using his laptop). The occasional moments of tenderness that creep into Zits are among the things that make the strip so special – such as one Sunday sequence in which mom Connie rediscovers Jeremy’s old picture books and, by the last panel, Jeremy is sprawled in her lap, waiting for her to read him a story “from the beginning.” Zits is, and continues to be, a simply wonderful strip, partly because its portrayal of being a teenager, and living with one, is not simple at all.

     Rose Is Rose has become consistent since Don Wimmer took it over from creator Pat Brady, but unfortunately its consistency is on a far lower level than it was when Brady himself handled the strip. Not Just Another Sweetheart Deal, which gets a low (+++) rating, is a fair example of where this once-exceptional strip stands now. There is nothing new in the book – Wimmer never really learned to extend the boundaries of the Gumbo family, which Brady always did through a series of gentle pushes and pulls. Pretty much everything is toned down: the baby talk of neighbor child Mimi is more understandable than it used to be; the use of Rose’s alter ego, Vicki the biker, has less and less to do with the notion that there is something rather wild and not that deeply buried in the strip’s title character; Pasquale’s guardian angel appears less often and to less amusing effect; the Gumbos’ cat, Peekaboo, does the same things over and over, with the result that they lose their charm; and, in fact, the strip as a whole is less charming and heartwarming than it used to be. It is generally well enough done, in a drawing style that is more formulaic and angular than Brady’s, but it no longer feels really special. And some of Wimmer’s art is simply poor. On one page here, Vicki’s smile looks like a death’s head; on the facing page, Rose’s makes her look like Jon in Garfield; later in the book, Mimi’s mom’s smile seems to have escaped from a stick figure. The basic themes of this essentially simple family-focused strip remain intact, providing it with continuity; but too many of them have dropped off from cleverness into repetition of ideas that were once both amusing and touching but are now merely formulaic. Rose Is Rose is not really a bad strip in this incarnation, but it is too bad that it is not nearly the strip it used to be.

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