If you want to alienate people, talk about religion or politics. If you want to have a nice conversation, talk about breakfast cereal and newspaper comics.
Can you combine the latter set with the former, just to make conversation easier? A cereal-type discussion of religion would be odd:
"Oh, Catholicism! My mother always bought that. Then we got tired of it, and the kids demanded Zorastroism. But my dad was a Quaker man through and through. Now, of course, I keep it away from my kids, because it's not good for them. We have Confucianism, which is spiritual, but not as sugary."
No, even that's contentious. Could we discuss politics the way we discuss newspaper comics? Possibly, because everyone complains about both. There are people who read the newspaper and feel disappointment that their favorites from the '80s aren't around anymore. But at least no one calls up and complains that the Sunday pictures of the politicians have gotten so small they can hardly understand what they're saying.
I have my complaints about the comics. There is one Sunday feature that seemingly exists to demonstrate that 30 years of steady work have no noticeable effect on the artist's ability to draw anything, and since "drawing" seems an integral part of the whole "cartoon" genre, it's a mystery.
One comic I like stopped running new daily strips in 2013, with the note that the artist is on vacation. Every time I look at the strip I imagine a suitcase rolling alone on a baggage carousel for eight years, unclaimed. Yet still we read them. It is the order of the day for us print purists: start the day with the front page of human perfidy and failings, end with a mirthless evaluation of the 54,203rd episode of "Blondie."
Why? Tradition, I suppose. Everything else changes, but "Blondie" endures. We have long forgotten the origins of the strip, how Dagwood was actually a rich kid set to inherit a big industrial empire, but threw it all away to marry a showgirl. His parents did not approve. That's why you never see his parents in any cartoons. They're not dead. They just cut him off.
In an alternate world there might be a strip about his parents that lasted 80 years, and consisted of nothing but two old people sitting around bitterly complaining about the strumpet who seduced their son with her comely gams and loose morals.
A lot of you are mad about the way "Mark Trail" changed. It's fast-paced now. In the old days, Mark could start to throw a punch on Monday and it wouldn't connect with a poacher's jaw until Saturday.
I like the new "Mark Trail." I like most of our comics and hate-read the ones I don't like. But I do miss "Bloom County," and "Calvin and Hobbes." That's the reason I bring up the subject today.
If you recall, "Bloom County" was an energetic strip, both sweet and cynical. There was this optimistic but slightly neurotic penguin, and a drunken cat, and a self-aware computer, and — oh, never mind. "Calvin and Hobbes," which took its name from two philosophers, was about a boy and his tiger. Which is like saying "Wizard of Oz" was about a girl who needed a lift home.
Both artists quit at their peak, and the comics page has been lesser for their absence. Bill Watterson, the creator of "Calvin," has declined to revive his characters. Berke Breathed, who did "Bloom County," quietly relaunched his strip online a few years ago, turning out occasional strips that were 100% as good as ever.
Now the kicker. A few weeks ago, Breathed did a strip about Hobbes, the imaginary tiger from Watterson's comic. It told a story about returning the tiger to Calvin, winding the two great strips into a tidy little tale that was the newspaper comic equivalent of Obi-Wan Kenobi helping Spock reunite with Gandolf.
Alas, it's only online. You can find it on Twitter at @Bloomcounty. It reminds you how important these little panels can be, how they've been a part of daily life for decades and how some things are better than others. We can all agree on that.
There, we're all on the same page. Now, about religion and politics ...
Oh, drat the luck, we're out of space.
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