Real life is not like the comics pages.
Or is it?
Often called the "funnies". the comics section is a standard fixture in almost every newspaper, and all over the web as well. But it's misleading to dismiss comics as simple humorous sketches. Comics, after all, got their early start as political satire. You could provide social commentary and political criticism much easier in a 'drawing' than you could as an editorial piece. Sometimes the difference between the two was a jail sentence. Or worse.
These days, the comic pages contain everything from insipid humor to biting social commentary. You can often tell a newspaper's editorial slant by the roster of comics it carries. A right-wing rag is more likely to carry "Mark Trail" rather than "Doonesbury". "Zippy the Pinhead" is more likely found in more liberal, intellectual-leaning outlets (and is still going to be greeted with collective 'WTFs' on many occasions).
Among the the majority of comedy in the comics there are bits of tragedy. You'll tend to find it mostly in serial strips, where a set of established characters go about their lives much as we do every day. Serialized strips such as soap opera-like "Apartment 3-G" and "Rex Morgan, M.D." tend to be ponderous, dragged out and impersonal. But some strips involve a close-up view of the lives their character's lives. And two of these strips recently dealt with issues that hit close to home for me.
The first one, "For Better or For Worse"
, is one of my all-time favorite strips. Revolving around a family named Patterson, the strip's story lines and character aging follows a slightly accelerated realtime line. Readers have been treated to watching the kids grow up, newborns brought into the family and many story arcs that deal with current issues, growing pains, major and minor triumphs and tragedies, and social commentary. Peripheral characters brought in discussions of gay rights, developmental disabilities and even sexual assault. Some of the characters in the strip are based on real-life friends of the artist/author. There is even a less-than-six-degrees relationship of some of those inspirations to people here on LJ (I cannot remember specifics except it involves Canadians. lol).
The most recent storyline involves the 'grandfather' in the strip having a relapse of a stroke that occurred earlier in the year. Never one to shy away from including anything that does not happen in the real world, author Lynn Johnston has the strip as of this writing with Grandpa Jim back in the hospital and everyone unsure of his future.
The second, and more unlikely place I'd find tragedy is in the strip "Funky Winkerbean"
. What first started off in 1972 as a strip that followed the antics of a bunch of kids in school, the comic has moved it's characters up in age in sudden, decade-plus increments. I had not been too close a reader of the strip until recently, when I discovered one of the characters named Lisa was having a battle with breast cancer. The first story arc had Lisa discovering her cancer and going through treatments and eventual remission. Lately, though, it was found that the hospital had accidently switched her records with another patient, and what was thought to be remission had instead found to have the cancer spreading. Lisa decides to stop treatments and let the disease take it's course. Lisa is shown in subsequent strips declining, a gaunt face and weakening body. She succumbs to her disease today. The artist/writer, Tom Batiuk, tells readers that once this story arc is finished, he will once again lurch the timeframe of the strip forward by about ten years. Lisa's story has been made into a book
, the sales of the book benefitting "Lisa’s Legacy Fund for Cancer Research and Education"
. At the end of Lisa's second story segment, another book will be published with the proceeds going to the fund.
Now, some people are not used to or like
seeing such realistic, painful realities in their 'funny pages'. While so much of the Funky Winkerbean strips of late hit me very hard since losing Mom to cancer last year, I applaud writers like Johnston and Batiuk for imbuing their works with realities. They remind people of the good times and bad times, ups and downs, tragedies and truimphs that are a part of daily life. And with their deft handling of situations, they give us hope in bad times, help us cope with things that bring us down, and celebrate life in all it's greatness. Yeah, it sounds cliche, but for those who see others going through life in three panels a day, it gives perspective of our lives in living color realtime.
Question of the day to my dear readers: Should the 'comics' deal with such real-life topics such as this? Or should they remain 'funnies'?