Saturday, March 27, 2010

NCCCC-2010 Round 1 - Calvin Clones

For this year's version of Foma Madness, we are going back to our roots and finding crappy comics. While we did a fairly exhaustive series in the inaugural edition of the National Crappy Comics Competition, this time we are narrowing our focus and naming it the National Crappy Comics Copy Cats™. We are looking for the comic that is lamest rip-off of an established strip or genre. And our first category is:

Calvin Clones

Kids and their pets are a comic strip staple. From Charlie Brown and Snoopy to Milo and Opus, anthropomorphic companion animals have always been comedy gold. However, a wise-assed kid and his stuffed tiger redefined the paradigm. Intellectually challenging, subversively anti-nostalgic and iconically irreverent, the philosophically named Calvin and Hobbes was arguably the greatest strip of a generation.

But success breeds excess. Since C&H went dark many other strips have tried to bottle that magic but mostly missed the mark. Let's look at the pretenders to the throne.

Red And Rover

Chronologically ambiguous (it could be set in the 50s or yesterday), Red and Rover is the most family friendly nominee with a sweet tone that borders on insulin overdose inducing. While Rover is slightly sarcastic, he is no stuffed tiger. And Red is so milquetoast he makes Dennis The Menace look like a serial killer.

Boy And Cow

Since all the good preternaturally provocative pets were taken, Boy and Cow takes a titular turn towards the bovine. While Cow is plenty punchy, the lack of animation makes her (a cow would be a her, right?) a particularly static foil. There are only so many set-ups that can come out of a kid and cow standing in a field.

Big Top

If a single talking animal is funny, an entire menagerie must be frickin' hilarious. At least that is the premise of Big Top where a ten-year-old boy lived with poodles, tigers, and bears (Oh, my!) Now living on only in reruns, Big Top tried to up the ante with an entire cast of wise cracking circus animals. At least it gets points for being self-aware.

Non Sequitur

Like its name, Non Sequitur is all over the map. However, one of the more common story lines involves precocious hellion Danae and her miniature pony. The equine companion is not a charter cast member, but has become a bigger part of the piece as it tries to temper the dark cynicism of their pint sized cynic with the wide-eyed innocence of a four-footed friend.

Poll Setup - Free Online Polls


john said...

EDISON. FUCKING. LEE. It fails at being Calvin & Hobbes as hard as it fails at being Bloom County. About the only thing it doesn't fail at is being a Democrat foil to Pluggers, which I'm pretty sure it never intended to do in the first place.

yellojkt said...

Edison Lee is particularly derivative. I do have a category it fits into coming up.

Anonymous said...

I'd call "Red and Rover" aggressively nostalgic. It also has very little in the way of conflict, other than the occasional interactions with Red's older brother.
Non Sequitur... I remember when it was amusing~ Way back in the 90s... around the time that C&H left us. When it's Danae's sister, she's the one who does the fantasy right. But she's very uncommon. Danae doesn't really do fantasy in so much as attempt to remark on current politics by taking extreme views to their extreme conclusions. She also shows up way too much in the strip nowadays...
I've never read any Big Top.
Cow and Boy, I would think is probably the one who I would say is failing hard to be a C&H imitator. It goes off on political points in the first few panels and then throws one of its disjointed "running gags" to tie it back into the strip in the final panel, wasting the previous points. I'm actually looking for one strip that I remember, that I can no longer find, where they're talking about traveling Europe in one's youth. I just thought it was the most interesting interpretation of the "go out and see the world" commandment and its intended and unintended results.

DemetriosX said...

Definitely have to go with Cow & Boy here, despite the fact that I read it regularly.

Red & Rover: This is pretty clearly set in the mid to late 60s, from the space program references to the dad's clothes to the mom's hairdo, all very much a period piece. I can't vote for it, because it doesn't really try to be C&H. The whole point is to be sweet and nostalgic and relive Brian Basset's childhood.

Big Top: I haven't really read Big Top. My oldest daughter likes it, but her efforts to get me to read it have failed. I get the impression, though, that it isn't really trying to cover the same territory.

Non Sequitur: I actually like this comic, and have even back when it was just a daily political cartoon. When it enters C&H territory (maybe half the time at most) it does fairly well. Lucy (the horse) is the sane, smart one, just like Hobbes. Danae is perhaps more of a force of nature than Calvin and maybe a little smarter.

Cow & Boy: For all that I keep reading it, this comic just doesn't really work. Constant running gags that were never funny and make no sense, a subtle nastiness that makes Calvin look like Linus van Pelt. It did a better job early on, but it has become an unpleasant self-parody (in part consciously). Plus, the guy can't draw people. Cow is pretty good, Billy frequently looks like he's 90. This is a strip that needs to hang it up.

(Heh. My captcha is "terbil" as in "We're looking for terbil comics.)

atomicbird said...

What, no "Frazz"?

Claude said...

Cow and Boy has got to be one of the more polarizing comics out there. I rather like it. My vote went to Big Top, largely because its overall premise (not its sensibility) reminds me more of Liberty Meadows than of Calvin & Hobbes.

Unknown said...

Miniature pony? I thought that thing was a small dragon.

Anonymous said...

Years ago Watterson once said that he wondered what it would be like to have a strip that was presented from a little girl's point of view. Non Sequitor with Danae and her horse actually made me wonder if Watterson was actually doing a strip under a psuedonym. A quick bit of research showed me otherwise.

Mela said...

Gave my vote to Boy & Cow. It's just so... bland.

Red & Rover can be funny when Bassett concentrates on Rover & the kind of odd quirks that Labrador Retrievers have, but it can be too cutesy to really qualify.

Never read Big Top, but like someone else said, it seems more like a toned-down "Liberty Meadows".

Finally, "Non Sequitur" is all over the place (I tend to find it... distasteful, mostly because Wiley himself is such a jerk about his "art"), so it's hard to hammer it into any one category.

Mr. Holznagel said...

"Frazz" gets my write-in vote for greatest failed Calvin-like strip, even though no animal chums are involved.

Not just because Frazz looks so obviously Calvin-like, but because the flavor and comic beats and punchlines are *so* Calvin and Hobbes-like. That idiosyncratic punchline delivery -- tossed off while the speaker is otherwise engaged with looking the other way, tossing a ball, or whatever -- is pure Watterson.

Unknown said...

A problem with writing a comic about a "genius" is that the intelligence of the genius character is limited by the intelligence of the writer of the comic. This is the fatal problem of "Edison Lee." Although allegedly a "brilliant" inventor, he can never be anything more than a bland, derivative, middle of the road cardboard cutout, making clumsy current-events-related "jokes" that have less bite than a U.S. News and World Report editorial.

On the other hand, my vote for worst Calvin and Hobbes imitator has to go to Buckles, that shameless panderer to newspaper-reading dog fanciers everwhere. Its artist clearly loves drawing cars better than drawing dogs, or people, or anyhting funny, but yet there he is every Sunday, drawing Buckles dancing in a series of Calvinish poses, or Calvinishly pretending he's a wolf only to be shown in the last panel to be just in his back yard. It's enough to make Bill Watterson wish he were dead, just so he could start spinning in his grave.


Minky said...

I voted Boy and Cow, but my heart says Frazz. Yeah, I know it has no animal. But you can taste the flop sweat in Calvin ripoff Caufield. The artist tried for "young intellectual misfit" and got a smug little show-off that just begs to be thrown into a locker.

(Not to mention a healthy dose of intellectual ego-stroking that rivals 9CL!)

Anonymous said...

I liked "Big Top" despite the clown. *Shudder* On the upside it actually featured a boy poodle, on the downside it didn't really have much in the way of female characters.

Derdrom said...

One of the few newspaper comics I follow online has a Red and Rover logo that I always briefly mistake for a Calvin and Hobbes link.