Thursday, January 22, 2009

Stripping the Soul from a Comic

The Comic Strip Archive offered a wry take on a recent Popeye Sunday strip, Popeye is Kind of a Jerk . I don't think I can do a better job of saying what I offered as comment there (except to catch the typo), but I'll offer this:

When Dick Tracy started buzzing around in flying garbage cans and traveling to the moon, it wasn't the end, it was the material that came after a graceful ending point. Charles Schulz didn't bring video games into Peanuts, but even he recognized that his last decade was sub-par. (I personally make it his last two decades.)

Technology tends to suppress humanity, and must be used with caution. People who know this, even subconsciously, tend to buy products made by Apple or Honda: dependable, elegant items that will not bring them to their knees as a matter of routine. (At least, for many people.)

In comics, because technology produces action, it takes away from what the characters do. This is where fantasy often has an edge over science fiction: a wizard who can fire green energy blasts from his fingertips is more human than a guy with a space bazooka. It also explains why my favorite science fiction tends toward post-apocalyptic scenarios.

Another lamentable move is when vintage characters are made contemporary. Hi and Lois sit on the sofa, watching the Obama inauguration and remarking how it proves "anything is possible," with unintended condescension. Moving these brands through time and space may keep them viable, but the calculated appeal to current demographics creates stagnation. Nobody can find a replacement for Hi and Lois? No, that's not the problem; it's that it's gone from an artist making a living to somebody's cash cow. It's hard to laugh at something that cynical. It's even harder to laugh when millions of people are comfortable with it.