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Thursday, August 12, 2010

When comics should just go away

The news that Cathy, the newspaper comic chronicling the life of the single, then married, then something else female of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s is now coming to an end made me consider the time of endings.

My favorite comic of years past - Calvin and Hobbes - ended after a long run, and with an arc that made perfect, timeless sense. Conversely, Charles Schultz's Peanuts, while a "classic", makes about as much sense in most daily events as an Alzheimer's patient with Tourette's Syndrome. Cathy, while a standard mainstay of the newspaper funnies for years, is written by a sixty-year old woman whose touch on the gestalt of American womanhood is long passed.

Perhaps the most obvious one I can think of is For Better or For Worse. Lynn Johnston has been retconning her earlier work over and over again, and while the comic may have been brilliant back in the day of Canadian and life during a time of change, the comic is overwrought, irritating, and deeply retrospective. Instead of ending the comic, Johnston (immediately after finding out her husband was leaving her) came out of retirement and began rewriting the whole thing. And shockingly, all of the character husband's attitudes have changed for the jerkier. Shocked. Shocked, are we.

The thing is, it wasn't that brilliant. It's like remaking Star Wars. It worked in the time and place it existed in, and now it's possibly the worst franchise simply because George Lucas can't stop playing with Ewok dolls and working out his Oedipal complex issues with his Jedi knight characters.

Cathy is a prime example of a comic artist who knows when to gracefully bow out of the time. Newspapers in general are sliding towards closure, and the load maintained by Johnston on the newspaper means several strips just exist when they simply shouldn't. For Better Or Worse was a family comic for us growing up, but it did not make the easy transition once Johnston decided to get all retrospective on it.

For my money, the comics that were great when I was a kid need to ease into retirement. Get rid of Garfield, Peanuts, FBOFW, and the old, aging comics - there's simply better and more relevant comics out there that could and should be placed front and center.

But man, don't take away my Doonesbury. That would just be tragic.