When did the comics get all serious?

February 14, 2008

Penny Arcade 02-08-08

One of my favorite webcomics is Penny Arcade, written and illustrated by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik. The content material focuses mainly on video games, the gaming industry, and the gamer sub-culture. However, over the past year or two some more serious topics have come up, as the characters have, gasp, grown up a bit…. Click the strip above for a larger, more legible version.

Funky Winkerbean Landmines

Some of my favorite “real” paper comics tackle serious issue too. Funky Winkerbean, a strip I have read for many years, recently “killed off” a character, and reset the entire clock on the comic. All of the characters have been fast-forwarded 15 years or so, and their lives moved further into adulthood accordingly. Throughout however, Batiuk has covered topics like teen pregnancy, adoption, and U.S. servicemen returning home from Afghanistan with devastating injuries.

Doonesbury - Uncle DukeDoonesbury is always high on my list, but we have always expected serious topics from Gary Trudeau. His own characters are now dealing with issues like the massive number of brain trauma injuries to soldiers serving in Iraq, the elections, and the current administration. Trudeau’s characters are iconic, maybe none more so than Uncle Duke, the character based in part on late “Gonzo” journalist Hunter S. Thompson.

Trudeau ‘s cast has aged gracefully, at the same time introducing new cast members to introduce us all to the new issues of today. He even has a blog for U. S. Soldiers serving in the middle east called The Sandbox. Here’s a great Washington Post article on Trudeau. I am still mystified as to why his web site is still on Slate. It’s so…. 1999.

Jeremy - ZitsZits features Jeremy Duncan, a now 16 year old aspiring rock musician, and his parents, “who don’t understand anything. The fanciful ways that the strip bends and distorts reality reminds me very much of Calvin and Hobbes. The character often morphs into younger, older, zanier versions of himself, much like Calvin. I cannot express, now that I have my own near-teenage son, how much I can relate to Jeremy’s gigantic feet. Have you priced sneakers lately?

A newer comic with great characters, including an always smoking version of the creator, is Stephan Pastis’ Pearls before Swine. The characters are flawed, but lovable, and if you look closely you will see a lot of subtle gems hidden amongst the simpler humor. Here is today’s strip, for Valentines Day: Pearls - 02-14-08

Charlie Brown - Schultz I have a very soft spot in my heart for Calvin and Hobbes, likely the best strip ever, and I also love Peanuts, but I have left them off of my list for one simple reason – they are not being drawn today. While both are incredible works, but the one thing I like most about the comics is tomorrow’s strip, the promise of a continued relationship. What is goingt to happen to our friends? Will it be a light day, or a grave day? We know these characters, check up on them every day.

Like real life, the comics tug at our heart strings, and invite us along on great and wonderful adventures.

But do they always have to be so darn serious?