Thursday, September 28, 2006

Watch Your Comics

Updated 10/30/06

Boondocks, the comic strip featuring two young African American kids transplanted to the ‘burbs, went on hiatus several months ago when creator and erstwhile illustrator Aaron McGruder decided he’d rather spend his time rolling in his Adult Swim Benjamins than keeping his dead trees version fresh. Hopefully to nobody’s surprise, the return of Huey and Company to the funny papers is looking less and less likely.

There are several comic strips written by African-Americans including Curtis, Jump Start, Herb and Jamal, Housebroken, and even the stereotype-reinforcing Wee Pals, but the debut of Boondocks brought anger and attitude to the comics. McGruder took his experiences growing up in the racially diverse Peoples Republic of Columbia, Maryland and spun comedy gold. In a meteoric rise, the strip became one of the fastest spreading comic strips I’ve ever seen. As he got more successful, he started paying less attention to the strip to chase the Hollywood Dream before taking a six month and counting sabbatical.

The serendipitously prescient Washington Post has been using the empty comics slot to preview several other comic strips, some in the same general vein as Boondocks, others not so much. By far and away the best of these has been Watch Your Head by Cory Thomas. Cory, and I presume to take first name liberties since he posts at the Comics Curmudgeon forums, is a mechanical engineering grad (a notoriously funny profession) from Howard University that has started a strip about the college experience. He chatted about the process back in May.

The other strips that have gotten a exhibition are Pajama Diaries, a preachy SAHM tribute, Agnes, yet another smart-assed kid strip, and La Cucaracha, an edgy but only occasionally funny Latino strip full of inside jokes. Out of fear that Pajama Diaries might assault my eyes everyday, I finally got up the energy to write the comics editor at the Washington Post. Here is what I politely said:

I am a Washington Post subscriber and a frequent poster to Joel Achenbach's blog. I also devoutly read Gene Weingarten's chat which frequently discusses comics. Of the four comics you have previewed while Boondocks has been on hiatus, Watch Your Head is easily the best of the bunch. WYH really nails the college life experience in a way that is funny and relevant. It evokes the long-running sitcom Different Worlds without being patronizing or overly obscure.

Agnes is cute but a little too reminiscent of One Big Happy and other family oriented strips. La Cucacaracha has a very unique visual style, but tries too hard to be edgy and frequently fails.

Off the four try-out strips, Pajama Diaries was clearly the worst. I found the humor overly broad and occasionally offensive to families with two working parents. Punch lines tended to be platitudes and the strip treaded overly familiar territory.

Cory Thomas has created a fresh, hip comic with a lot of engaging and funny characters. I hope you will make it a permanent part of the comics page.

If you are a WaPo reader, either online or dead-tree edition, give Cory a hand and either call the Comics Hotline at 202-334-4775 or email them at comics@washpost.com.

In other related comics news, after several half-hearted attempts, I finally got a comment selected by the Czar of Funny, Gene Weingarten, for his weekly lunchtime Chatological Humor chat.

Fo, MA: Since Aldo from "Mary Worth" died in a car crash and Grandpa Jim in "For Better or For Worse" is about to kick the bucket, what comics page character will or should fill out the death pool trifecta?

Gene Weingarten: CATHY! PLEASE! Or Zoogie, in Gene Pool, who should die from auto-asphyxiation while self-pleasuring.

Until later, I will see you in the funny papers. And I hope to see Watch Your Head there soon.

Update 10/30/06: The Washington Post has added Watch Your Head as a permanant feature in the old Boondocks slot. I woul like to think my mini-campaign helped, but the WaPo works in mysterious ways. Good luck, Cory.

3 comments:

Flyboy said...

We have had WYH in our paper for about two months and I enjoy it. It took a while for me to figure out whether one character was male or female due to the artist's style for hair dipiction.

Thumper said...

Oh man...I'm glad it's not me. We've been suffering the Pajama Diaries for a few weeks now, and it's so bad I actively seek it out to make sure I don't wind up *reading* it. I just have to double check where it is to make sure I skip right over it...

Marc said...

My paper carries Housebroken, and let me say that it is the worst, most stereotypical strip I have ever read. I absoultely hate it! Get some real, insighful comics! I'd rather read Cathy!