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Eric: Because God knows we needed more terminology for this website....

(From Kevin and Kell! Click on the thumbnail for full sized evolutionary processes!)

So... here's the thing. Kevin and Kell was an eternal comic strip.

I don't mean there wasn't continuity. There was. Detailed, rich continuity, in fact. Sometimes grand, sometimes personal. Things happened for a reason. Characters evolved. Characters moved on.

But the Dewclaw family remained pretty much static. Lindesfarne and Rudy were both in high school, albeit a couple of years apart. Coney was a baby. Kevin and Kell were indeterminate "adults old enough to have teenaged kids but not too old otherwise" age. The premise was self-perpetuating. The kids would no more grow up than Charlie Brown and Lucy ever did.

And then, a couple of months back... that began to change. Lindesfarne began talking about graduation. (Which means that her friends like Tammy are high school dropouts, officially. Dude.) Coney began talking and took off her baby bonnet. And now Lindesfarne has graduated.

In other words, the strip is beginning to pull a Doonesbury Trick.

That's right. It's new Lexicon Term week here at Websnark. Which means yes, the Penny Arcade Defense will finally get added to the Lexicon, along with Mary Richards and Ted Baxter.

The Doonesbury Trick is a transitional technique in comic strips where a strip that has traditionally been eternal -- that is to say, the characters might evolve but do not age -- becomes linear instead. The term refers to a conceptual shift behind the Doonesbury Comic Strip. From 1970 to 1983, Doonesbury's cast were college students at Walden College. They went from being Freshmen to being... well, non-Freshmen, but otherwise they remained in that indeterminate early twentysomething existence. B.D. was the lead of the football team. Mike was unlucky in love. Mark was a campus radical and D.J. And so on and so forth.

Then, in 1983, Doonesbury creator Garry "not Prime Minister" Trudeau went on a 22 month hiatus -- which was unprecedented in comic strips. During this time, he turned Doonesbury into a musical. (I have a copy of the script, actually. It... was definitely a musical. Yessir.) The events of the show detailed the graduation of the cast from college, hitting all the high points and wrapping up plot. And when the hiatus was over, the Doonesbury cast were in the real world, outside of college... and aging.

In a lot of ways, this was a great move on Trudeau's part. For one thing, since he isn't a college student any more, he couldn't effectively do the college thing in his strip convincingly any more. (As proof, have a look at... well, any of the college student strips he's done in the last fifteen years. They're funny, but they don't ring true to today's students, really.) He's able instead to track the evolution of the Baby Boomer generation as they get older.

Well, I don't know that Kevin and Kell needed to do the Doonesbury Trick, but whether it needed to or not it's done. The characters are aging, and evolving. Lindesfarne's headed for college. Coney's growing up. And it'd surprise me if Rudy and Fiona didn't show some signs of getting older too.

How far will the trick extend? Will they age a little bit and then freeze in their new positions, giving Holbrook a new premise to serve as fodder for strips and storylines? Or will they continue to age in something closer to real time?

And you know... if I remember correctly, Fiona made a joke about setting her biological clock to 2007 (or 2008... not sure which and the search engine for the strips has vanished), which at the time we thought was just a joke....

Posted by Eric Burns-White at June 2, 2005 11:43 AM


Comment from: Patrick Harris posted at June 2, 2005 1:11 PM

Excuse me - did you say Doonesbury musical? Please tell me that script is in electronic form and you're able to share it, and/or you can tell me where to legally purchase a copy.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at June 2, 2005 1:26 PM

I don't know of any electronic versions of the script. It's out of print but it looks like there's a number of cheap used copies available through Amazon.

It's definitely worth it if you're a fan of the material. It's a trip.

Comment from: Will "Scifantasy" Frank posted at June 2, 2005 1:39 PM

While you're updating the Lexicon, will you be hitting the casual comics references in there? (I get the impression that Real Life is off the "Why do I read this webcomic, again?" list, though I could be wrong; not to mention that the entry for "Snark" refers to "Jabberwocky."

Comment from: SeanH posted at June 2, 2005 1:39 PM

Speaking of new lexicology - looking at the Lexicon FAQ, I see the first comment is Shaenon Garrity telling you to stop using "bringing the XYZ" and "First and Ten Syndrome". Which amuses me somewhat, though for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. Perhaps because the slighty-esoteric terminology is one of the (many) reasons I love this blog.

Comment from: Greg Dean posted at June 2, 2005 1:47 PM

Nah, if my recent stuff is to be used as any indication, I deserve to stay there a while longer. :P

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen posted at June 2, 2005 3:15 PM

He might be doing it because Safe Havens, his "Gasoline Alley" style strip, has just also gone through high school graduation. Perhaps he's decided to do everyone in college at once?

(Side note: Gasoline Alley (for any who don't know) was notable as the first (major) strip to age everyone in synch with real life, with kids from the strip's launch being grandparents or great-grandparents these days.)

Comment from: MasonK posted at June 2, 2005 3:45 PM

I noticed on his news box recently that his own daughter just graduated. Coincidence? Or something more sinister?

Comment from: Pooga posted at June 2, 2005 6:58 PM

Dave got in first with a Gasoline Alley refernce, but what I find somewhat fascinating about GA is that for most of it's existence everyone aged in real time, then for about... what... 20 years? ... they didn't. I suppose at the time it sort of made sense because they were hitting that age where having all the cast members still alive was stretching credibility. The interesting thing, though, is that they started againg again. And characters were allowed to die. Well, at least one, anyway...

I suppose you can call that the Gasoline Alley effect, except I can't think of any other comics that has done it, or in which it would make sense for them to do it. Upon reflection, I guess this is a pretty pointless observation, but GA was the first thing that popped into my head when I read this snark.

Comment from: Aerin posted at June 2, 2005 7:11 PM

For the record, I think the Penny Arcade Defense is more accurately the Twisp and Catsby Defense. (Or possibly even the Jersey Girl Defense, but let's not get carried away.)

Comment from: Alun Clewe posted at June 2, 2005 9:48 PM

Gasoline Alley has gone through three different cartoonists, and the changes in the aging rates of the characters coincided with changes in cartoonists--they aged normally during the tenure of the original cartoonist, Frank King; when he retired and Dick Moores took over, their aging slowed drastically; and when Moores died and the strip passed to Jim Scancarelli, he caught them up, going so far as to drop two characters from the cast (Doc and Avery) and explain in an interview that they'd died off-stage.

No, I didn't know all this (or any of this really) off the top of my head; this is all according to the entry on Gasoline Alley in the Toonopedia.

Comment from: miyaa posted at June 2, 2005 11:47 PM

The worst "Doonesbury Trick" I saw was when Funky Winkerbean when from eternal to very gradual about in oh, 1990? Funky, et. al. when from graduation to ten to fifteen years after high-school, college, etc. The strip really tanked after that, in my honest opinion, becoming more of a soap-box series of issues than trying to weave a story.

Comment from: Bo Lindbergh posted at June 3, 2005 1:34 AM

Here's the link (thanks to Google and the German translation of K&K): May 20, 1997.

Comment from: JediLora posted at June 3, 2005 12:25 PM

Heh. I've been wondering if you were going to snark this change or not.

As to the why of the change, I'd go with the fact that his own kid has just graduated. Safe Havens did the same thing just recently, which was odd, since there's never really been major storyline overlap between K&K and SH before. I'd guess it's like when the Baby Blues writer's kids got older and he started Zits-you find inspiration where you can.

Comment from: gwalla posted at June 3, 2005 5:29 PM

Funk Winkerbean went First and Ten.

Comment from: JB Segal posted at June 6, 2005 4:08 AM

You know, a few days after you talk about Doonesbury switching from Eternal to Linear, Trudeau gives us http://www.ucomics.com/doonesbury/2005/06/04/ and Zonker commenting "Eleven years of college isn't enough?"

Timing... the essence of comedy.

Comment from: Kazriko Redclaw posted at June 6, 2005 3:46 PM

Holbrook has actually been doing things like this in all of his comics for quite awhile. Safe Havens, On the Fasttrack, etc. Kevin and Kell was probably the most stable of his strips as far as characters not changing. In Safe Havens he actually had them going all the way from elementary to highschool while I was reading the comic. Fasttrack has had kids that were babies slowly growing up and new babies appearing. I haven't been reading his others for awhile however, so I don't know how far he's continued that trend in Fasttrack. (I stopped reading because of the annoying archive viewer that king features has.)

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