Whatever happened to funny?

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By John Pawlak

I love peanuts. That is to say, I love “Peanuts.” Charlie Brown was always my hero. Fighting off kite-eating trees. Pitching for the world’s worst baseball team. Having a dog that fought to keep the skies safe from WWI enemy aces. And never, never, never giving up on kicking that football held by our favorite sadistic nickel-a-session psychiatrist.

Most of all, I love Charlie Brown because he makes me laugh. Whether it’s watching him get outdone by his dog’s Christmas decorations or having to deal with arguments over the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is a true comic. And what a coincidence that his strip is in the “comics” section.

But these days, so many comics have little to do with funny. Go to the so-called comics or funny pages and suddenly you find yourself dealing with the trauma of life’s realities. One strip had a family’s dog die after saving their daughter from drowning. Another had a character die of breast cancer. And another had someone die of AIDS. If I want to see disasters and family tragedies, I’ll watch the morning news. I read the comics in the hope of finding something to laugh about.

Many comic strips never lost the funny because they never had it. Some are mindless, some are boring, and some are downright morose. But this is nothing new. “Brenda Starr,” “Mary Worth,” “Steve Canyon” ... kids always skipped past those when reading the comics on Sunday.

Now, there are many comics that I do find funny. My taste is hardly a metric one should use to judge anything, but here’s my take anyway. Along with “Peanuts,” some of the best comic strips have been “Ziggy,” “Opus,” “The Far Side,” “Dilbert,” “Calvin & Hobbes,” “Broom Hilda,” “Baby Blues,” “Bloom County,” “Non Sequitur,” “Shoe,” “Off The Mark,” “Little Orphan Annie,” “Rubes” and “The Lockhorns.”

Umm ... I’m kidding about “Little Orphan Annie.” I don’t know about you, but that kid really creeped me out. And what are the odds that she would find a dog that had the same spooky look?  On a side note, in a much older and thankfully extinct comic strip, there was a very famous cartoon dog named Tige, the pet owned by Buster (of Buster Brown shoes).

Without a doubt, Tige was the scariest creature ever concocted, the poster dog of nightmares for children and monsters alike.

Anyway, as I mentioned, quite a few comics from past years were never all that funny. Remember Henry? Henry was weird — just plain weird. And Nancy was a freak of nature.

Barney Google and Snuffy Smith were lazy dregs of society. Andy Capp was an extremely unlikeable drunk. Archie and his friends were tedious. Curtis was an insult to intelligence.  “Alley Oop” was an insult to DNA.

“Gasoline Alley” is just plain stupid and the “Quigmans” are just plain scary.  “Rex Morgan” makes “Mark Trail” look interesting.  And “Beetle Bailey” did the impossible, making the military look even more ridiculous than it really is.

So where’s all the funny? Bugs Bunny was funny. The Road Runner was funny. What’s wrong with wanting a little funny in our lives? Are people so hard up for misery that they have to read “Apartment 3G,” “Judge Parker,” or “Funky Winkerbean” to drag them down a few notches?

Yeah, yeah ... I know. I’m dissing some comics you love and perhaps I’m not trashing a few you hate. But seriously, does anyone out there really enjoy “Blondie?” How many times can Dagwood run into the postman? How many times are we supposed to watch that clown make a two foot tall sandwich? How many times can you expect people to laugh as we watch his sadistic boss beat him with a chair? It’s just not funny anymore. Was it ever?

There are many comic strips that aren’t funny per se, but do register wonderfully on higher levels of humor. “Little Abner” is a classic. And who could forget “Pogo?’ Uh, you do remember Pogo, don’t you? Am I showing my age?

Hey! I want funny! I want entertainment! I want to laugh!

I’ve got it. Let’s put Congressional speeches in the funny pages. Every day, we could enjoy the light-hearted ramblings about death panels, Nazi saluting Presidents and water-boarding to protect our shores. We could have strips about flying Cessnas and shooting polar bears. We could watch fun loving characters like Rash Limball riding his trusty horse Openmouth along the borders of Texas as he ropes and brands illegals. Or maybe a series on the “Adventures of Balloon Boy?”

Then again, maybe old spooky eyes wasn’t all that bad.