Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Last Waltz Foxtrot

I have talked about bad comics like For Better or For Worse before (well several times before), but I prefer to look at the comics that are good. I like comics that are clever and sly, like Sally Forth and Doonesbury and newcomer Watch Your Head. Newer, edgier comics like Pearls Before Swine and Frazz are making waves now. And despite the example of every loser strip in the Crappy Comics Competition, just because a strip is old enough to vote, that doesn’t mean it has lost its funny.

One comic that has stood the test of time is Foxtrot. This is a family comic that is not afraid to let it’s geek flag fly. It inspired my Comics Curmudgeon tagline. It takes chances on jokes that maybe 1% of its readership will get. I’m told that the binary in the cereal bowl reads “YOU NERD”. I’ll take the real nerds' word on it.

But alas, according to a press release, as of 2007, Foxtrot is going to Sundays only. The wear of actually being funny seven days a week as opposed to just phoning it in (we’re looking at you Guisewite and Davis) can be exhausting. It’s what drove Gary Larson and Bill Watterson to retirement.

Rather than quitting cold turkey, Bill Amend is slowing down. The history of success with this strategy is poor. Remember Outland anyone? Even the revived Opus will never touch the glory that was Bloom County. There is something about the pace of a daily humor strip stringing together a week of themed gags that deftly strikes the right balance between lame old school random gag a day strips like Beetle Bailey and B.C. and the interminably slow soap strips. The sequence of jokes makes the whole funnier than the sum of the parts. In a Sunday only strip any running bit would just become tedious.

Foxtrot is a stuck in amber strip where the characters never age, but the cultural references stay fresh. Over the years, Jason has geeked out over every nerd-boy trend.The strip often dared to break the fourth frame and go meta. Amend let us in on the gags and rewarded the reader that paid attention. Even the parody product names are hilarious.

My only hope is that the success of Aaron MacGruder has encouraged Amend to chase after those animated Boondocks Bucks. A Foxtrot themed cartoon could be some cross between The Simpsons and Clerks: The Animated Series. Or it could be Dilbert. Let’s hope for the best. I am going to miss Jason and Andy and even Paige at the breakfast table every morning.

Save the last dance for me.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: Can a Sunday only comic be as funny as a daily strip?


Anonymous said...

I don't think that this can be fairly compared to Outland. That strip was intended to be a new, spinoff strip. As time wore on, the far-out, abstract landscapes disappeared and the Bloom County characters who had been left behind edged their way back in. And don't get me started on Opus.

Also, it appeared that Berkeley Breathed always had a sort of "reputation" among comics authors, although I was never clear on what that was.

Anonymous said...

I'm so disappointed that Foxtrot is going away. My only hope is that perhaps my local paper will use the empty space to put Dilbert back on the funny pages where it belongs (it's currently running in the business section).

Dave2 said...

I still miss "Calvin and Hobbes" and "The Far Side"... two of my all-time favorite strips that ended too soon. :-(

yellojkt said...

Comparing anything to "Outland" is cruel, but I was making a point. Daily to Sunday is a mighty big shark to jump. Thank goodness that poor Roland-Ann Smith finally found a job slumming in Prickly City. It's sad to see good characters sink so low.

Don't hold your breath. The syndicate is pushing "Stone Soup" as a replacement, which of course it isn't. Look for Big Nate and Heart to get some leet haxor skilz in a hurry. The WaPo puts Dilbert in the biz section and it bugs me because I don't always get that far before I have to leave for work.

Everybody misses thoses strips. It's what you get when you go out on top.

Anonymous said...

This really is a bummer. Especially considering that Amend frequently fails to use the full potential of a Sunday and even just mails it in. Foxtrot is always at its best with story arcs. Heck, sometimes they don't even pay off until Wednesday or Thursday.

Stone Soup is no replacement for Foxtrot, but it does deserve wider distribution. Sometimes it's lame or "heartwarming", but it also dances on its own edge from time to time. Heart isn't going to need to develop hacker skills; Dean has his own fanboy weirdness. I mean, what other strip has had cameos by George Lucas, Tim Burton, and Peter Jackson?

@ Claude: a lot of cartoonists resented Breathed because he shot to the top fast in terms of recognition and marketing. Some of that was just timing, him coming along about the time the average daily strips were starting to bust out of the papers and into books. He made a nice chunk o' change fast and had what some called a "rockstar" lifestyle.

yellojkt said...

Great points d-x. At Comics Curmudgeon I said I hope we don't get a lot of Jason's Soduku-type filler. Expectations are too high to experiment much.

Heart Of The City is an acquired taste but worth the trouble. It sounds like MacGruder caught Breathed Syndrome too. They both burned a lot of bridges. WaPo prints Opus well smaller than the contractual obligation.

I think most newspapers are just going to dust off their last comics survey from the Boondocks debacle and go with the number 2 pick.

Thumper said...

WHAT? Foxtrot only on Sundays?

That. Just. Bites.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

Sorry, I just had to validate. The cereal bowl does come up as "YOUNERD".
I guess I know what that makes me.

dykewife said...

for the most part, sunday comics don't follow the general story line of the weekday black and white comics. they generally stand on their own.

i have several foxtrot treasuries and have convered my husband from disliking them to actively enjoying them. boy was introduced to them and aspires to be a cross between jason and peter.

Anonymous said...

Awwwwww man, you've got to be kidding!? I love Foxtrot and will be disappointed not to see it everyday. Sunday comics are alright - you can't compare to Outland, as Breathed really went off on a tangent and tried something new when people just wanted Bloom County - but I will miss the weekly arcs.

First Calvin & Hobbes, now this. Pretty soon all I'll have left is Mary Worth.