October 29, 2020


BB3X: “Baby Blues” Collection 37. By Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott. Andrews McMeel. $19.99.

     In the halcyon days of yore, the bygone heyday of newspapers (remember them?), reporters (remember them?) would conclude the stories they wrote for transmission on wire services (remember them?) with the designation “-30-.” Probably derived from an original conclusion of “XXX,” the reportorial version of “the end” was created with a typewriter (remember them?) and used to give a sense of finality to non-opinionated news stories (remember them?).

     Well, now here we are with Rick Kirkman’s and Jerry Scott’s Baby Blues comic strip at the stage designated “XXX,” but this is decidedly not “-30-” for the strip even if it something like “-29-” for many of the newspapers in which it appears. The 30th-anniversary Baby Blues book is not quite as elaborate as the 20th-anniversary hardcover, BBXX – hey, print publishers have their own issues nowadays – but it is packed with the usual wonderful collection of recent strips plus, in the middle, 23 pages of reminiscences, photos, commentaries, memorabilia and trivia. You might think that Kirkman and Scott would use this section to answer some of the burning questions about Baby Blues, such as why there are three characters whose names rhyme (Wanda, Rhonda and Yolanda). You might think they would discuss the reasons that father Darryl has the world’s largest nose – one of which the comic-strip characters themselves are well aware, since in one sequence here, in which Zoe is overdoing her demands, Darryl comments, “She needs drama practice like I need a nose extension.” You might think they would discuss the exigencies of cartooning in the ever-shrinking newspaper world – to which they in fact refer once, when Kirkman explains that Scott wanted a single-panel strip to show Hammie tying Darryl’s shoelaces together, but that was not possible to do while keeping the characters larger, so instead the panel shows “Hammie stuffing tennis balls up Darryl’s sleeves.” You might think they would explain why a hilarious Sunday strip in which Wanda is scolding the kids at great length – through words placed in a delightfully meandering ribbon that wanders all over the place – is carefully designed to make every single word visible except when she says “if you think,” which apparently is mostly behind her head as she drives the minivan and therefore comes out as “if hink.”

     You might think about all these things, but you would be better off counting how many times the word “ding!” appears in the third panel of a strip about baby Wren using the newly installed and soon-to-be-uninstalled bell on Wanda’s bicycle (24 “dings” and two halves, lettered as “ng!”). Kirkman and Scott do have a lot to say and a lot to show, but after 30 years of this family stuff, they know enough to tell readers just so much and no more. And most of what they explicate is the everyday reality of raising young children – in a way that is much, much funnier than the real-world version, even though Baby Blues is so firmly grounded in reality that anybody with kids will instantly recognize many of the situations (which Kirkman and Scott, who both have kids, continue to base in part on their own family experiences – at least as they remember those experiences, because, hey, kids don’t stay kids for 30 years anywhere except in comic strips).

     What continues to be amazing about Baby Blues is the way Kirkman and Scott come up with variations on what is essentially the same theme – and then come up with variations on the variations. One of the best sequences in BB3X has Wanda thinking she has morning sickness – which could mean a fourth pregnancy. Darryl finds himself thinking “please let it be the flu,” although of course he would never say that out loud. Wanda says she feels as if “my sentence was almost up, and my uterus just denied me parole.” For readers wondering how Darryl and Wanda would ever have time for another conception, there is Darryl’s comment that “we should never have gotten HBO,” followed by Wanda’s “it wouldn’t have mattered – you get frisky watching HGTV.” And when it turns out that Wanda is not pregnant after all, there is the moment of regret from her (“I’ll miss that new baby smell”) followed by the moment of reality from Darryl (“That’s only at one end, Wanda”).

     That particular sequence is a classic, or will be in the future when some historian looks back on the newspaper age and searches for the real value in papers, beyond all that reportorial stuff and commentary and opinion and editorializing solely on the editorial page (remember that?). Kirkman and Scott themselves are well aware of the passing of time, not only in their own lives (witness the middle section of BB3X) but also, in a more limited way, in the lives of their characters – as in a five-strip series called “Back Then…and Now,” with (in one strip) pre-kid Darryl and Wanda having a quiet dinner as he says, “You look radiant tonight,” and post-kid Darryl and Wanda at a very messy table as he says, “You have a Froot Loop in your hair.” Those are the realities of having and raising children, and have been for the past 30 years and far longer. The heck with halcyon days – thanks to the leavening and lightening effect of Baby Blues, the days parents have with kids are plenty halcyon enough, for all their small (and sometimes large) problems and frustrations. And that’s the way it is. (Look it up.)  


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