June 26, 2014


Jerktastic Park: A “Get Fuzzy” Treasury. By Darby Conley. Andrews McMeel. $18.99.

Bedlam: “Baby Blues” Scrapbook 30. By Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott. Andrews McMeel. $18.99.

     The fact that we live in an age in which the whole notion of “family” has changed dramatically, and continues to change, makes it much easier to accept some of the highly unusual “family” combinations to be found in comic strips – such as Darby Conley’s mixture of human adman and professional nonentity Rob Wilco, single-fanged apartment terror (according to himself, anyway) Bucky Katt, and dumb-but-always-endearing Satchel Pooch. The “Do Not Feed the Freaks” sign on the cover of the latest Get Fuzzy “Treasury” volume, Jerktastic Park, makes perfect sense when it comes to this distinctly non-Brady-Bunch bunch. The cover of this oversize volume is particularly good, from its parallel with the famous “eat the lawyer” scene in the original Jurassic Park (with Bucky as T. Rex and Rob as the unfortunate morsel, complete with outhouses in the background), to its casting of Satchel as one of the long-necked, rather dim sauropods that played bit parts in Steven Spielberg’s hyper-popular movie. The actual contents of the book are really good, too, but they are also really repetitious, because – like other Andrews McMeel “Treasury” volumes – this one consists of previously released material. If you are a Get Fuzzy fan and already have the collections Birth of Canis and The Fuzzy Bunch, the interior of Jerktastic Park will hold no surprises: unlike some other cartoonists, Conley does not dress up his “Treasury” collections with commentary, self-praise, or other adornments. Of course, if you do not have those collections or have worn them out through constant rereading, you can get all the strips in one place here. That will give you Bucky’s discovery of “the La Brea family bucket,” including chicken bones found near an artifact “commonly referred to as ‘Flintstones Chewables.’” And repeated reappearances of Mac Manc McManx, the Manchester feline whose Britishisms help him steal every scene he appears in. And the introduction of Ibid Q. (I.Q.) Muttly, the intellectual-trash-talking dog who tells Bucky that “my research would indicate that you exhibit symptoms of being what is referred to colloquially as a ‘jerk.’” And the combination keep-your-rear-end-cool fan-wallet that Rob, being a dimwit, agrees to wear after Bucky invents it as one of his “new hybriproducts.” And the “threrret level,” which is the perceived threat level from ferrets. And the time Satchel throws Bucky out of the window as a result of said threrret level. And Bucky’s decision to rename himself Steve, for reasons that are barely comprehensible. Actually, many things in Get Fuzzy are barely comprehensible, but then, families do tend to evolve their own communication methods that may be difficult for outsiders, such as everybody else on Earth, to understand. But everything almost makes sense – including Bucky’s redesign of soccer, in which, among other things, “all the substitutes are knife-wielding monkeys. Except the backup goalie. He has a slingshot.” Hey, if you were in the Get Fuzzy family, that would be all in a day’s comprehension.

     Now, if you think only strange animal-human hybrid families have communication issues, then you probably don’t know enough about Baby Blues, the outstanding Rick Kirkman/Jerry Scott collaboration about an entirely ordinary, fully human family (without even any pets – that is, without ones that survive more than a couple of days). Darryl and Wanda MacPherson and their three kids – Zoe, Hammie and Wren – are simple modern suburbanites, with a minivan for stay-at-home mom to use ferrying kids hither and yon, a sensible sedan for dad to use when commuting to and from work, a house with a yard and barely affordable mortgage, nice neighbors, and all the other appurtenances of 21st-century middle-class life. So there is nothing strange, offbeat or in the slightest bit amusing about them at all, right? Well, there is the fact that Darryl and Wanda have to go outdoors and stand next to a street worker using a pneumatic drill so they can have enough quiet to talk. And that Hammie likes to sled off the roof. And Zoe wants to see her mom’s body art, so Wanda shows her “some stretch marks and a mole” because “if you squint, it kind of looks like a rose.” And then there is down-in-the-dumps Zoe playing with Wren and discovering that “a bare tummy makes an excellent antidepressant.” And Wren chewing on the TV remote and managing to order an adult movie. And Zoe going online and discovering a perfect day camp for Hammie, until Wanda notices that “all those boys [are] wearing striped suits and ankle chains.” And Wanda writing a blog, even though Darryl comments that “our life is mostly predictable routine…punctuated by moments of sheer insanity.” Actually, that is a darned good description of Baby Blues as a whole – and of modern middle-class life with young children. It’s all just funnier, and somehow more true to life, when it happens to the MacPhersons than when it hits the rest of us. And “hits” is exactly the right word: there is nothing gentle about the repercussions of family living. Certainly things are percussive around the MacPhersons: after taking Wren to a hilariously drawn birthday party that only seems overstated and overdone if you have never been to one, Darryl tells Wanda that he has TPSD. No, not PTSD – TPSD. “Toddler Party Stress Disorder.” What family with young kids cannot relate to that?

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