?Back in the olden days on September, 2008, I wrote a list on Topless Robot titled The 10 Newspaper Comic Strips that Need to Fucking Die. Not only did this list reach the front page of Digg, it inspired hundreds of comments — partially agreeing with me that those comic strips did indeed need to fucking die — but mainly screaming about the many horrible, useless comics strips that I hadn’t included on the list.
I don’t know what it is about bad comic strips that inspires boundless
rage, but the fury in that comments section dwarfed my own. For some reason, the utter shit that fills the modern newspaper comics section is enough to send anyone into a fury, especially when we grew up knowing that it doesn’t have to be that awful — The Far Side, Bloom County, and Calvin and Hobbes proved that. And yet comics strips that have long outlived even the barest sense of cultural relevance — like Snuffy Smith, created during America’s short-lived fascination with hillbillies back in the 1930s, or Beetle Bailey, whose army life started back in World War II — clog the comics page, preventing any potentially new and good strips from ever being seen.
Obviously, I knew I had a new mission: to make a second list of horrible
comic strips that need to fucking die. While my first list fingered
some of the worst offenders, you guys brought up a lot of other
strips — some I’d never heard of — that need to die almost as fucking
badly as the first 10 I picked on. If you don’t see your most loathed strips on this list, check the first one; and if it’s not on there, tell me in the comments so I can prepare for list #3.
?So here’s the high concept: there’s this guy named Crankshaft, see, and he hates everyone… but he’s also really old!! So he yells shit at you, and you can’t do anything, or you’re just some asshole picking on an old man! Yes, that’s right: Crankshaft is a bizarre power fantasy figure for the over-60 set that yearns to pass-aggressively torment the entire world around it.
Crankshaft is Funky Winkerbean creator Tom Batiuk’s other comic strip, the one that hasn’t yet been completely consumed by tragedy and death. Instead, there’s about a 50/50 chance that any given Crankshaft you read will be a grim reminder of your own mortality OR an unfathomably shitty pun. Complicating the matter is that Dick Ayers’s artwork for Crankshaft is actually quite good by comic strip standards. So even as you understand rationally that Crankshaft is terrible, subconsciously your eyes will be drawn toward it.
Then, before you know it, you’re watching an unspeakably aged Crankshaft being wheeled out to a baseball game he’s too far gone to comprehend. You will feel death creeping upon you, close your newspaper, and weep the bitter tears of the damned. (Or, if it’s a strip like the one above, wonder if there’s anything to the joke beyond “Crankshaft is an asshole.”)
9) Baby Blues
?Occasionally I think my biological clock might be going off and I might be ready to start a family. Then I peruse the day’s Baby Blues and feel something inside of me slowly shrivel and die. Somehow, I don’t think this sort of feeling is what the creators were going for.
Baby Blues aspires only to be harmlessly banal. What takes Baby Blues beyond banality and into the realm of the detestable is the artwork. The jokes themselves are depressing enough, but they all become more nauseating as you slowly realize that the artist of the strip that’s all about a woman pumping out babies is not, in fact, any good at drawing children. Oh, the babies in the strip are passable enough. It’s as they age that the children begin to look bizarre. They seem strangely misproportioned, as if they were merely dwarves or adults drawn in varying perspectives. The adults… good Lord, the adults.
The mother and father in Baby Blues are horrid bobbling beasts with roughly 40% of their body mass focused in their enormous ghastly heads. Their bodies dangle vestigially from noodle-like necks, tiny hands gesticulating impotently at each day’s meaningless drudgery. The mother’s design is particularly stomach-twisting, her features all calculated to express only weariness and numb horror. Ha ha! She gave up her career for this!
?This strip’s single greatest claim to fame is being made fun of in an early episode of The Simpsons. There is a good reason for this. While Drabble reads like a tired old zombie comic, it’s “only” 30 years old and still drawn by its original artist. This means that from the very moment of its conception, Drabble was a loathesome shell void of all possible humor.
Now, why did any self-respecting syndicate that could’ve bought the rights to any number of strips invest in a miserable fuckpile like Drabble? It wasn’t the artwork — Drabble is one of the ugliest comic strips still running, loaded with near-identical floppy-handed characters who, flounder-like, appear to have both eyes mounted on the side of their forehead (specifically, whichever side is pointed toward the camera). It couldn’t be the writing, either. Drabble’s premise is loathesomely unappealing, in theory centering on 19-year-old Norman Drabble. Norman is a repulsively immature man-child who still lives at home as he attends what I guess is some sort of community college with incredibly low standards. He behaves exactly like a 10-year-old, which the strip expects us all to find goddamn hilarious.
Norman is just disgusting and creepy, though. He shares a bunk bed with his brother Patrick, who can’t be much older than 11, and expects his father to give him “belly buzzers.” Norman’s father Ralph is also pretty disgusting — Homer Simpson described him aptly as “like me, but not funny” — and lately all the strips seem to be about him. This doesn’t make the strip need to die any less.
7) Mallard Fillmore
?There is something soul-crushing about reading Mallard Fillmore. It’s like trying to discuss politics with your sweet but hopelessly deluded octogenarian great-aunt who sincerely believes that the President is a terrorist out to destroy America. You realize this woman is hopelessly out of touch with reality, yet still allowed to vote and influence the political process.
Your great-aunt’s dementia you can explain away by dint of her being 89 and the survivor of at least two strokes. I can’t begin to guess at what the fuck is wrong with Mallard Fillmore creator Bruce Tinsley. The man simply does not appear to live in the same universe as the rest of us. Even when similar political strips like Doonesbury exhibit eye-rolling bias, you at least get the impression that Gary Trudeau understands what color the sky is. With Tinsley, I’m not so sure. The man appears to inhabit a political universe that’s like a parody or a parody of a grim satire of ill-informed right-wing thought. Some strips are about concerns so narrow and specific that they’re simply not intelligible unless you spend most of your spare time listening to talk radio.
The strip takes its name from its funny animal protagonist, a cartoon duck in a jacket with a huge bill. The premise seems to call for him being some sort of journalist, but most of the time the character is blatantly just Tinsley’s mouthpiece. Mallard Fillmore has never featured an actual joke-shaped sequence in the years’ worth of strips I’ve read.
6) Beetle Bailey
?For a lot of strips as old as Beetle Bailey, I’ll talk about how it started off as something really great and slowly declined over the years. I’m not going to do that now, though, because Beetle Bailey has always been fucking horrible. Early strips were drawn a little better, but feature virtually the same shitty non-jokes as the modern strips.
Military life is an absurd thing that should not be hard to satirize in a comic strip. Mort Walker served in the Army in World War II, which surely gave him the idea to transform Beetle Bailey from a college loser strip into a military life strip. So why does Beetle Bailey read like it was written by some sort of moon man whose sole source of information about the U.S. Army was The Phil Silvers Show?
The answer appears to be “Mort Walker gotta eat.” Beetle Bailey may have been a pre-Peanuts strip, but it’s possibly one of the greatest testaments to the longevity a strip can achieve when designed solely with commercial interests in mind. The various soldiers who train endlessly for wars that never happen in Camp Swampy are little more than Smurfs — the crappy Hanna-Barbera cartoon Smurfs, mind you — but dressed in army fatigues. Every soldier from Rocky to Gizmo is defined wholly by a single character trait, ready to be slapped onto a collectible drinking glass or molded into 3-D plastic for a figurine. Beetle Bailey is not really a comic strip so much as a toy ad — an ad for boring, incomprehensible toys that nobody wants to buy.
5) Hagar the Horrible
?The problem with Hagar the Horrible is that Hagar is insufficiently horrible. The strip is essentially about a Viking that never really Vikes. Hagar the Horrible features precious little killing or maiming (let alone enslaving or raping), which is an incredible waste of a good black comedy premise. Instead, Hagar the Horrible is mostly about — you guessed it! — a typical nuclear family, transplanted into the Dark Ages. Ho ho ho! The mother is bossy, the teenage girl an inept cook with a worthless boyfriend, the son is far too intelligent, the father dimwitted and selfish. It’s the goddamn Jetsons with horn-helmets instead of robots and flying cars.
Virtually every strip called out on this list is guilty of recycling art to a shameful degree, but Hagar is breathtakingly blatant about it. You’ll sometimes see the same drawings showing up several times per month, matched to jokes that aren’t even all that different. Specific jokes may be repeated with slightly different art as often as twice per month. Sometimes entire weeks of Hagar can pass without any of the strips making any goddamn sense, because Hagar the Horrible is one of those legacy strips where the inheritor clearly just cares about cranking out more product. The art has simplified to the point where the characters are largely shambling mounds with hideous flesh-toned catcher’s mitts for hands.
4) Rex Morgan
?Almost all of the legacy soap opera and adventure comic strips are now unintentionally amusing at best, but it’s Rex Morgan, M.D. that is perhaps the most confusingly bad. It even beats out Judge Parker for sheer confusion factor, and Judge Parker is the strip where the titular character hasn’t been the protagonist for roughly forty years. What sort of entertainment value does Rex Morgan, M.D. offer? Well, there’s a doctor, and he… does… things. They aren’t interesting or adventurous things, nor torrid dramatic things. Just… things. Sometimes he disappears from the strip for long periods of time, allowing for stories focusing on disposable and generally boring minor characters.
According to Wikipedia and a few other sources, the remit when Dal Curtis created Rex Morgan, M.D. was to educate people about health problems in a way that probably passed for entertaining back in those days. In the era of WebMD and House, I can’t possibly imagine anyone learning anything about diseases or medical conditions from fucking Rex Morgan, M.D. So why is this thing still being published? When a modern Rex Morgan strip even remembers to include some sort of medical plot point, the portrayal is always insane and tedious. The medical problem may also disappear from the storyline for weeks at a time, unaccountably. For example, a quasi-recent story about Alzheimer’s “explained” the problem with the aid of a demented former golf pro who tries to give everyone lessons constantly.
?Where do you even start in trying to explain the stark horror that is Marmaduke? It features most of the banes of the comic page: a dopey premise, repetitive gags, boring-ass white suburban nuclear family protagonists. See, the family owns a dog… and the dog is an enormous Great Dane! The jokes, they write themselves. All six of them. What makes Marmaduke special, in the “short bus” sense of the term, is the art. Research claims that Marmaduke won an art-related award in 1978, which is inconceivable to me. The strip was as fucking ugly back then as it is now. Marmaduke’s art is so twisted and distorted that the strip could easily pass for a nightmarish Tim Burton creation if only everyone wore black and Marmaduke was played by Johnny Depp.
Marmaduke’s visual design is just unpleasant, from the awkwardly-constructed humans to the crinkly-looking art for the animals. Everything is angular and yet very loosely constructed to the point of flesh and even the sides of houses having a baggy, sliding quality. The human characters frequently appear to be melting, flesh sliding in grotesque fashion right off the side of their miserable skulls. It’s Marmaduke himself who is the king of grotesques in his nightmare world. Nothing Marmaduke does looks right or natural, giving him a disturbingly monstrous quality. When he slobbers, drool runs from his face in huge vile waves. His tongue is often drawn pointed and improbably long, his ears so pointed they give the impression of a gargoyle’s horns. Basically, Marmaduke appears to be something vomited up out of hell, and not even that makes his strip at all interesting.
?A cursory examination of Garfield makes it clear why the strip was launched: all the money the Peanuts licensing machine was making in the ’70s. Garfield is really not so much a comic strip as it is the beating heart of one of the most shameless merchandise machines ever coughed up by a newspaper syndicate. Had Garfield launched 30 years later, it would’ve been one of those webcomics that opened its merchandise store before the first strip even went up and ultimately released more t-shirt designs than actual comics. Back in the late ’70s, though, you make a marketable strip by carefully studying Peanuts, removing all of its creative integrity, and adding more jokes about Mondays and fatties.
There’s a biography of Peanuts‘ late creator, Charles Schulz, that pauses to comment on how much the man detested Garfield. Can you blame him? Garfield is his own work, reflected through the eyes of a drooling child with severe Tourette’s. Where the Snoopy of the ’70s drew much of his humor from being a dog with hopelessly sophisticated tastes, Garfield can’t decide whether its titular cat protagonist is human-like or just poorly drawn.
Ah, but Garfield aped all of the marketable aspects of Peanuts well enough that the strip is now functionally invincible. Unless Garfield is somehow destroyed soon, the only things left after the inevitable nuclear apocalypse facing mankind will be cockroaches and the Garfield studio at Paws, Inc. Giant mutant cockroaches will continue to churn out Garfield strips, which other giant mutant cockroaches will make fun of and use as fodder for weird photoshops.
1) Love Is…
?When I was younger, I remember my grandmother kept in her house a series of quaint, naked toddler statues engraved with little mottoes about love that were trite even to a seven-year-old. I thought they were a bit odd, given her usual penchant for angels and clowns. I never asked her why she, as a Christian woman, was buying figurines of naked children. In retrospect, I wish I had. Years later, I found out the kitschy figurines were merchandise for a comic strip I had never seen, Love Is. This comic strip has never run in any local paper of mine, yet it seems popular enough to spawn endless waves of merchandise. It’s not a comedy strip and not a soap opera or adventure strip. It’s just a couple of eerie naked cherubs.
There are all sorts of troubling, confusing questions about just what the hell Love Is depicts. Like, recent strips depict the naked cherubs with miniature versions of themselves. Have they successfully reproduced? But how did they do so when they clearly have no genitals? Parthogenesis? It’s just more troubling the more you think about it.
With Love Is, there’s not even a malformed heart beating somewhere in the unholy beast’s recesses. There is no botched joke or rousing adventure ruined by incompetence. It’s just a strip about nothing, absolutely fucking goddamn nothing, just a steady stream of ugly doodles matched to worthless platitudes written in shitty fonts. It is a fucking affront to any modern comics creator who puts even moderate effort into their work.