January 18, 2018
(++++) THE WONDERFULNESS OF MISERY
Binge Parenting: “Baby Blues” Scrapbook 34. By Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott. Andrews McMeel. $18.99.
“Being a parent was never like this, except that it is always like this.” That could be the motto of Baby Blues, if it had a motto, but Darryl and Wanda MacPherson are too tired to think up mottos anyway. Or at least coherent ones. “Arrgghhhblargglezzz” might work for them. And it might work for many, many other parents, too, which is exactly the point of Baby Blues, in which Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott channel experiences so common that readers are frequently and justifiably convinced that Kirkman and Scott have webcams in the readers’ houses. Readers who think that way are close to the truth, but incorrect: Kirkman and Scott have webcams, or the psychological equivalent thereof, in readers’ heads. That is the “always like this” part of the Baby Blues experience. The “never like this” part is the hilarity. Baby Blues is much, much, much funnier than the real life it reflects so amazingly well. In fact, it makes that real life more bearable by simply showing that the everyday events of raising kids can be seen as funny. Not by actual human beings doing actual parenting, mind you, or even by cartoon human beings doing cartoon parenting, but by actual human beings observing cartoon parenting.
The snippets of commentary offered in Binge Parenting and other Baby Blues collections provide some insight into how Kirkman and Scott pull off this minor miracle day after day, week after week, year after year. In fact, the miracle is “minor” only by comparison with the actual raising of real-life children, which is majorly major. In real life, parents get sick with whatever their children bring home; same in Baby Blues. But in the comic strip, when Darryl feels “miserable” and “the worst” because of a cold, son Hammie offers him “the same encouraging words” that Darryl has given in the past: “Suck it up.” And beneath this strip, Scott comments, “Don’t you love it when the stuff you say to your kids boomerangs back at you? Me either.” How about the strip in which baby Wren, who can now speak, asks Wanda for all sorts of things during a shopping trip, and Wanda says “No, Wren” so many times that when the cashier asks the baby’s name, the little one responds, “No, Wren”? That would be excruciatingly embarrassing in real life, but in Baby Blues it is excruciatingly funny. It is not, however, as funny as the Sunday strip in which, during a trip to the zoo, Zoe is completely freaked out by thinking that all the monkeys have Hammie’s face – which, thanks to Kirkman’s drawing skill, they do. But here Kirkman comments that while the idea was “really fun,” it was difficult to “manage all the wire caging in color so it didn’t distract from the drawing.” This is what keeps Baby Blues challenging, or interesting, or crazy-making to its creators.
On the readership side of things, the strip is simply packed with things that make child-rearing challenging, or interesting, or crazy-making to parents. And the way Scott writes those things and Kirkman shows them provides exactly the sort of perspective that it is impossible to find while actually raising real-world children. For instance, Wanda yells at the kids to stop fighting, comments (as so many parents do) that she wishes she had a dollar for every time she has said that, then says that would be enough to get a referee – “or,” says Darryl, “rent better-behaved children.” What parent has not dreamed of that? Then there is the strip in which super-frustrated Zoe cannot decide what to say to her little brother, and tells Wanda she has run out of names to call him, leading Wanda to ask, “Does that mean you met a goal, or are you asking for suggestions?” Wanda has some good zingers, and the occasional great idea, such as responding to Zoe’s and Hammie’s comment that they cannot decide what to wear to school by having them choose clothes for each other – a solution whose outcome Kirkman renders in laugh-out-loud fashion. But Wanda does have her share of frustrations: she learns that a college friend “married a hedge fund guy, they live in a nine-thousand square foot house, and she has a nanny,” and all Darryl can offer by way of reassurance is, “We have this new melon baller.” There is always something realistic, no matter how exaggerated, in what happens in Baby Blues, as Kirkman and Scott are well aware. Scott writes at one point, “I like how Darryl and Wanda act like real parents, not reacting to every little irritant.” This is his comment beneath a strip in which Darryl checks on the kids and finds Zoe and Wren sleeping peacefully, while Hammie is bouncing on his bed so intensely that he is turning somersaults; Kirkman shows him upside-down in mid-air. The punch line of the strip has Wanda asking Darryl if the kids are all in bed, and Darryl responding, “On average, yes.” That is parenting, both in Baby Blues and in the real world of parents who, like Darryl and Wanda, can barely manage the occasional “Arrgghhhblargglezzz.”