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Eric: Despite the fact that I prefer Foxtrot, you realize Jason's *never* going to actually grow up in that strip, don't you?


(From... I can't believe I'm typing this... Cathy. Click on the thumbnail for full sized nuptials.)

So, Cathy got married this weekend.

I don't like Cathy.

I don't like the strip. At all. I think it's not... well... funny. I think it peaked a long time ago. I think it's one of those strips that's found a dedicated slot on the Comics Page, so it's not going anywhere. I think there are a dozen strips I'd rather see get its slot, that do more as humor strips, as womens' strips, as any kind of strips. I'd kill to see Narbonic as a gag-a-day strip about empowered women in place of Cathy and her bathing suit and "acking."

So let's give it up for Motherfucking Cathy. She got married.

I'm serious.

Look, part of the reason we despise so many strips on the comics page is because not only aren't they funny, they're not trying anything new. Ever. I have a perverse love for Beetle Bailey, but I know Beetle is exactly the same person he was in 1969. I know Hagar is the same person he was in 1979. I know Andy Capp remains the same lovable wife beating drunk.

But the core premise of Cathy is "a single woman trying to cope with life's issues, including dating and a mother who is desperate to get her married."

Cathy got married. The entire premise of the strip has changed. In an corporate culture where change is feared and editors are a cowardly, superstitious lot, Cathy Guisewite has completely twisted the entire core of her comic strip.

That takes guts, kids. Especially when you consider she could simply have done another ten solid years of strips exactly like she did before. I'm not saying the new strips will be any funnier. But they're not going to be exactly the same. And she might well lose some fans who liked the old way better.

That deserves recognition. Jim Davis won't marry Jon and the Vet any time soon. Beetle Bailey won't get promoted or cashiered any time soon. (Or losing a leg or getting shipped to the Gulf, for that matter.) The kids in The Boondocks won't be growing up any time soon.

But Cathy got married.

Good show, Ms. Guisewite. Good show.

Now make it funny.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at February 7, 2005 2:28 PM

Comments

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen posted at February 7, 2005 2:54 PM

OTOH, if you consider that the premise of the strip is "Cathy Guisewite's sorta-kinda-autobiography in strip form," then she's just finally getting around to dragging it up to date. She said in an intrerview the other day that since she's been married and has had kids for a while, it's gotten harder and harder to write about a single woman in the dating scene...so she's changing it to once again better reflect her life.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at February 7, 2005 3:05 PM

Dvan -- that just reinforces the point. Guisewite gives a shit about this stuff. That puts her morally way ahead of Garfield or Beetle Bailey. Even if I like Beetle Bailey for some weirdass reason.

(It doesn't put her ahead of them aesthetically. The strip's just not funny, in my opinion. But I give her huge props for saying "but this isn't my life any more. I need to change the strip.")

Comment from: lochinola posted at February 7, 2005 4:51 PM

You want change in syndicated strips? Look at For Better or Worse. Look at Funky Winkerbean...

Or look at what was, to me, the most unexpected change recently in my own daily trawl of syndies: 9 Chickweed Lane. Edda and Amos go to Juilliard; her mom buys a farm and retires from professorhood.

Freakin' Luann is undergoing changes. Her brother graduated from firefighter academy, her big flame has moved to Hawaii.

Change is the latest thing on the comics page, the latest fad for staying alive.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at February 7, 2005 4:55 PM

For Better or For Worse has the advantage of being abjectly superior in every department over Cathy, however.

The point stands -- Cathy's one of the few strips from the 70's/80's to become ubiquitous, the way a Blondie or a Garfield are. The Fusco Brothers is a much better strip, but it's not ubiquitious. Cathy has no problems with staying alive, I promise you.

Someone who has a sinecure and who chooses to leave it deserves props for doing so. That's all.

Comment from: Shaenon posted at February 7, 2005 5:24 PM

So many people hate "Cathy" so much that I've started liking out of sheer perversity. This may be because the people who bitch about it most venemously are usually men, and seem to hate it not because it's outdated, unfunny, and full of tired female stereotypes, but because the existence of a comic that doesn't even try to appeal to male readers pisses them off. They're hating it for the WRONG REASONS, damn it! Which means I have to defend it!

Plus, I think it was actually a pretty good strip when it started. It's me and Robert Crumb against the world, baby.

Comment from: Wednesday posted at February 7, 2005 5:30 PM

Oh, no, it's not just you, Shaenon. I thought the earliest Cathy was well-written, and rather enjoyed it up until Andrea came down with that bad case of Establishment.

It's all Zenith's fault.

(Dammit. I wasn't going to think today. Yarr!)

Comment from: Pooga posted at February 7, 2005 5:49 PM

I'd have to say strip-changing events in comics that have been essentially static for decades has been a popular theme recently. I'd list examples, but I'm short on time at the moment.

Shaenon, while the "people hating it for the wrong reasons" is certainly reason enough to play devil's advocate (I often do that in political arguments), I don't see "it was a pretty good strip when it started" is much of an argument in favor of a strip that sucks currently. Back before the Keane family got frozen in time, Family Circus was a pretty good strip. Go back far enough and most strips were good. At least, good enough to gain a solid following and near-permanent place on the comics page. That doesn't mean that they're necessarily worth defending today.

Comment from: Rothul posted at February 7, 2005 6:30 PM

Funky Winkerbean, however, I see to be the biggest newspaper comic offender of "1st and 10 syndrome."

What was once high school comedy evolved into adult comedy...

And what was adult comedy evolved into melodrama...

BADLY WRITTEN melodrama.

Oy.

Comment from: Montykins posted at February 7, 2005 6:41 PM

Interestingly (or not), Beetle Bailey once went through one of the biggest character transformations ever. It was originally a college strip starring lackadaisacal flapper Beetle Bailey. But the strip wasn't working, so Mort Walker took the practically unprecedented step of having his main character hang up the raccoon coat and sign up for the army. Of course, that was decades ago and might be the last change ever made in the strip.

If you don't count the "Skinny Sarge" years.

Comment from: Zeke posted at February 7, 2005 7:10 PM

I seriously doubt that most male readers hate Cathy because it's a "chick strip." This isn't the 60s -- ascribing that kind of chauvinism to men in general hasn't been fair for a long time. I'm sure SOME men do get pissed of at "the existence of a comic that doesn't even try to appeal to male readers," but remember Occam's Razor. Why would we go that far looking for reasons to hate Cathy when there are so many in plain sight?

My dad takes comic strips seriously; he has a whole bookcase of collections, and he gave me my love of Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes, and many others. (Check out some early B.C. sometime -- yes, you, the non-Christians. It was a very different, very funny strip in its early years.) That bookcase does have some Cathy books on it, but they're my mom's. Dad has never liked Cathy, and he once told me why: if you read the first and last panels, you've read the whole strip. What's in between is always just a gradual buildup from the first panel leading to somebody flipping out in the second-last.

Every time I've checked in on Cathy over the years, it's been that same story. (Until today -- thanks for calling that to our attention, Eric.) In that sense, Cathy is even more of a cookie-cutter strip than Garfield, though Guisewite at least means well.

And this was all before I got into webcomics. Now that I have, I've got a whole new reason to hate Cathy: does every strip on the PLANET have to be autobiographical?

- Z

Comment from: Shaenon posted at February 7, 2005 8:44 PM

Look, I agree that "Cathy" is a bad comic strip. But I don't think it's bad enough to deserve a lot of the abuse it gets -- not with some of the other stuff that wastes equal space in newspapers. Why do you never see rabid "Beetle Bailey" or "Hagar the Horrible" haters? Even the aggressively annoying and unfunny "B.C." has to get overtly anti-Semitic before anyone complains. For all its faults, "Cathy" is pretty cleverly written and is clearly the work of an individual rather than a faceless gag factory. That's not much to boast, but on the modern comics page, it's almost a cut above.

My point is, we should stop ganging up on "Cathy" and gang up on "Sally Forth" instead. She's so smug.

Wednesday-- Yes, Andrea's transformation from politicized feminist to nesting yuppie was an early and major blow to the strip. Andrea had her last hurrah when she campaigned for Michael Dukakis, a storyline that nicely dovetailed her liberal past with her family-oriented present, but then she became an annoying soccer mom and eventually vanished. (Holy crap, she's not even at Cathy's wedding!) Things slipped further downhill when Cathy started telecommuting in the '90s; it was kind of admirable for Cathy Guisewite to just admit that she knew nothing about the modern workplace and throw in the towel, but it took away the office humor that had originally been a driving element, reducing "Cathy" to mom, shopping, and dog jokes. In recent years, Cathy's mom has become an oppressive, stifling, omnipresent force. Irving, since his return, has failed to develop an identifiable personality. And the dogs were never good.

I have now outed myself as someone who has considered opinions about the history and direction of "Cathy." I'm so sorry.

Comment from: joenotcharles posted at February 7, 2005 9:44 PM

Hooray, somebody mentioned Blondie, so I have a segue! Blondie's catering business was a good example of a strip adapting - it's been around forever, and it was starting to get stale, so they gave it a good twist without upsetting the entire premise.

I hate Cathy, but that's mainly because of the voice. She comes across as constantly whining. If I knew someone like that in real life, I would - well, not smack her, but pointedly ignore her and not definitely not invite her to parties. That's enough for me to hate and disdain the cartoon, instead of just (as with so many others) not care about them.

My true ire, though, is reserved for Andy Capp. Not only is it stale, static, and predictable, it's misogynistic.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at February 7, 2005 10:05 PM

Shaenon -- well, like I keep saying, the Devil is in my brain and enjoys Beetle Bailey, so I can't use that as an example. But the strip -- related to Beetle no less -- that truly inspires loathing to me? Hi and Lois.

My God I hate Hi and Lois. I even hated it when Beetle went to that strip for a week in a publicity stunt homage to their common roots. The only time I've snickered on the subject of Hi and Lois in ten years was the time Frank Cho did a gag in Liberty Meadows where Brandy, caught in an explosion, lands on teenaged Chip Flagston's bed. Chip immediately looks to the Heavens and begins praising the munificent Gods for sending this Choesque Sex on a Plate to his room.

Yes, it's not a very good joke, but it's the first time in thirty years Chip Flagston sounded like an actual teenager. I'll take what I can get

Comment from: Joseph White posted at February 7, 2005 10:44 PM

Can something be "abjectly superior?" That sounds like a contradiction to me.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at February 7, 2005 11:18 PM

"abjectly superior" falls under the same heading as Lensman being "Starkly astounding."

Comment from: Shaenon posted at February 8, 2005 1:00 AM

This Beetle Bailey strip is actually the best thing that has appeared in newspapers in ten years:

http://joshreads.com/index.php?cat=26

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at February 8, 2005 5:08 AM

I agree about Andy Capp being horribly misogynistic. That's also why I hate Cathy, of course.

Comment from: Phalanx posted at February 8, 2005 5:56 PM

Heh. I never liked Cathy, and I possess an uterus.

Then again I'm the one who for some odd reason, frequently gets mistaken for a male online, so don't listen to me.

Comment from: FlyingFish posted at February 10, 2005 12:03 AM

Late arrival, but here's the Washington Post weighing in with someone who actually seems to know what they're talking about...

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