September 15, 2005


Famous Pairs: A Deliciously Absurd Collection of Portraits. By Jeannie Sprecher with Kim O’Brien. Andrews McMeel. $9.95.

My Hot Dog Went Out, Can I Have Another? A FoxTrot Collection. By Bill Amend. Andrews McMeel. $8.95.

     It has to be said that Famous Pairs is not just weird but deliciously weird.  Pears – pairs of pears – are the point here, each of them a thoroughly twisted interpretation of a famous couple of modern or olden times.  The pear pairings range from out-and-out hilarious, to somewhat obscure, to slightly risqué – pick your pear pair and take your choice.  “American Gothic” shows the upper parts of a larger and smaller pair with the tines of a fork (representing a pitchfork, as in the famous Grant Wood painting) in between.  “Bonnie and Clyde” shows two red pears with plenty of holes in them – not really bullet holes, but that’s what they look like.  “King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn” shows a fine-looking gold pear at the left and a similar pear with its top neatly lopped off at the right.  “Chang and Eng” shows two nearly identical pears apparently joined at the hip – which makes sense if you know the story of the original Siamese twins.  “Stop and Go” shows a red pear and green pair side by side – an unusually simple and pleasing juxtaposition.  Also simple and to the point is “Adam and Eve,” showing two pears separated by an apple.  The more complicated creations are somewhat less successful.  “Dudley Do-Right and Penelope Pitstop” is hilarious for fans of the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, once you look closely at it, but will be meaningless to everyone else.  “Picasso and Marie-Therese Walter” is even more obscure, and “Anna Nicole Smith and J. Howard Marshall II” will be meaningless to all but the most dedicated watchers of third-tier celebrities.  Still, there are far more hits than misses here: this pair of pear authors creates a most fruitful collaboration.

     Bill Amend needs no collaborator to keep turning out some of the funniest character comedy in the comics pages in FoxTrot.  Unfortunately, much of the focus in the latest (18th) collection is on the weakest character in the Fox family: father Roger, whose ineptness at everything is a throwback to the “bumbling dad” strips of the early 20th century and similar TV sitcoms of the later 20th century.  A few views of Roger’s incompetence go a long way: he gives his wife, Andy, a virtual makeover with emphasis on the chest (and of course she catches him); told to back up the computer, he pushes it off the desk and wrecks it; he unintentionally creates Independence Day sparklers by setting everything he grills on fire; and so on.  Luckily, the unusual antics of the Fox children more than make up for Roger’s all-too-usual ones.  When Jason does his virtual makeover, he gives himself octopus arms like those of the evil “Doc Oc” in Spider-Man 2.  When Peter returns to his summer job at the local multiplex, he is assigned to wear a promotional costume – which turns out to be a Garfield suit.  When Paige goes to a fair and meets Morton, the geek who adores her but whom she hates, he asks her to go in the tunnel of love – and when she says she loathes him, he finds a ride called “Tunnel of Loathe.”  There’s much more of this, including a trip to Washington, D.C. that produces much chaos but actually gives an unusually serious moment to, of all people, Roger.  Amend continues to be an expert at fulfilling readers’ high expectations of FoxTrot – while throwing in the occasional unexpected twist that raises those expectations even higher.

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