The Mom Signal

Cidu Bill on May 19th 2017

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Filed in Arlo and Janis, Bill Bickel, CIDU, Jimmy Johnson, comic strips, comics, humor | 20 responses so far

20 Responses to “The Mom Signal”

  1. Mona May 19th 2017 at 12:06 am 1

    This is part of a series. Their son, now an adult with a family of his own, needs help with his business. It doesn’t matter how old your child gets, Mom will always know when she is needed and come to the rescue.
    (Mom signal/Bat signal)

  2. James Pollock May 19th 2017 at 01:06 am 2

    The first three panels are a flashback.

    In the fourth panel, Janis has suddenly stood up (note the overturned chair) and the look on her face signals to Arlo that she has metaphysically sensed that Gene needs her/them to be there (wherever it is Gene lives now).

  3. Proginoskes May 19th 2017 at 01:48 am 3

    Janis looks mad in the fourth panel, like she caught Arlo staring at the Mom in the two middle panels.

  4. The Bad Seed May 19th 2017 at 02:51 am 4

    The retro Janis hair in the flashback made me smile, for some reason.

  5. Ted from Ft. Laud May 19th 2017 at 02:57 am 5

    She didn’t metaphysically sense it - the previous day’s strip has Gene explicitly telling Janis on the phone that he is having a crisis getting the restaurant they are starting ready in time for Memorial Day, and Janis saying she could help (I assume Arlo overheard this). Not sure where the phone (which she had in her hand in the previous day’s strip) went to.

  6. James Pollock May 19th 2017 at 03:01 am 6

    “like she caught Arlo staring at the Mom in the two middle panels.”

    Janis doesn’t mind catching Arlo staring at the mom in the middle panels, because Janis IS the mom in the two middle panels.

  7. James Pollock May 19th 2017 at 03:03 am 7

    “She didn’t metaphysically sense it”

    There’s a bit of a jump from “we could use some help” to “I need my mommy RIGHT NOW”

    Again, note the overturned chair. Janis has jumped to her feet.

  8. Stan May 19th 2017 at 03:13 am 8

    To lend weight to Proginoskes # 3, I agree that she does look angry rather than worried/concerned…furrowed eyebrows, clenched fists, slightly downturned mouth, cold stare at Arlo. I do think everyone else is right, but this would be difficult to determine if you haven’t been following the strip.

  9. Boise Ed May 19th 2017 at 03:35 am 9

    Like Mona said, it’s playing on the Bat-signal, only instead of being put up by Commissioner Gordon, it’s just something that Janis (Mom) can sense.

  10. Ted from Ft. Laud May 19th 2017 at 03:52 am 10

    I think it is determined along with concerned, rather than angry…

  11. padraig May 19th 2017 at 10:10 am 11

    “What’s that, Janis? Little Gene has fallen down the abandoned well?”

  12. ~~Silk May 19th 2017 at 11:27 am 12

    I don’t follow the strip, so I may be wrong, but is it possible that’s a contemporary mother and child, and Janis has heard the cry of a hurt child for his mother, and seen the mother respond, and the sight and sound has flipped dormant switches and galvanized her? MY BABY NEEDS ME!

  13. Ted from Ft. Laud May 19th 2017 at 01:00 pm 13

    No - that’s clearly Janis and Gene, about 20 years ago.

  14. James Pollock May 19th 2017 at 01:01 pm 14

    “I don’t follow the strip, so I may be wrong, but is it possible that’s a contemporary mother and child”

    I’m confident that, had he intended this to be a mother and child who are NOT Gene and Janis, they would not have looked like Gene and Janis.

  15. larK May 19th 2017 at 10:55 pm 15

    For anyone who does not follow the strip, and even for those who do follow the strip, but haven’t been following it for 20+ years, the mother and child do NOT look like Janis and Gene.

  16. Ted from Ft. Laud May 20th 2017 at 04:25 am 16

    A&J is one of the strips in which the characters age (though at something less than real time), and their appearances have changed over time. Also, there have been flashback strips over the years - the Janis and Gene characters in panels 1-3 match their appearances in both early strips and in flashbacks, so for those that have followed A&J for a long time, there wouldn’t be any question.

    larK’s doubt about this reminds me of a discussion in RACS many years ago (that I came across again in Google Groups more recently - my memory isn’t that good…) on the topic of the cartoonist’s responsibility to occasional or newer readers in terms of introducing characters or background info that regular readers would be familiar with. (That discussion was triggered by 3CL - a new reader read it for several weeks without figuring out the relationships or names of the principal characters, because during that time, nothing was spelled out.) There are certainly some strips that go to extremes - Spiderman gives the Spidey catchphrase every Sunday, Phantom provides an origin story every new story arc, etc., while others (like Doonesbury, with multitudes of characters) might have a regular character address a long absent character by name but provide no other clues - and maybe not even that much. As someone pointed out, (many) strips are serial art - even for ones without a continuing story line, there is a continuity of characters and general background that is usually needed to be understood by the reader to get full enjoyment/understanding - and limitations of the medium make it awkward/difficult/impossible for the author to provide the character and background info explicitly, at least very often (or nothing would ever happen). It was suggested that readers could look outside for that info (the strip’s website was mentioned, wikipedia wasn’t - perhaps it was not yet ubiquitous at that point), while others argued strips should be self-contained and not require the reader to do “research”. (Obviously, a web comic - at least on it’s own site - has an advantage here, as the ancillary info is collocated with the strip itself. I don’t think a consensus was reached…

  17. James Pollock May 20th 2017 at 12:11 pm 17

    Comic strips aren’t alone in this regard.
    TV (and, in the olden times, radio) is also episodic, thus creating the need to simultaneously appeal to the fans who’ve been there since day one, and the fans who’ve just turned up today for the first time. It’s not always the same… some comedy comes from having a knowledge of the characters, while some comes from just the situation. (The ultimate case of the latter, it turns out, isn’t even a scripted “sitcom”… it’s “America’s Funniest Videos”. You don’t need to know the characters at all, just laugh because that man got smacked in the testicles.)

    TV shows used a variety of methods of doing this. “Gilligan’s Island” explains the whole premise in the theme song, and so did “The Brady Bunch” “Cheers” set the tone with the theme, but didn’t actually spell out the premise. “How I Met Your Mother” doesn’t even have words in it’s theme song, and they used Bob Saget’s future Ted narrator to provide exposition. On the drama side, Consider the exposition from the narrator in the intros for “Superman”or “Law & Order”… which fans can repeat word-for-word… and the entirely wordless intro to “Batman: The Animated Series” or “ER”. Some shows need to open with a “Previously, on (show)…” recap, others don’t need to, and sometimes shows incorporate or don’t incorporate these depending on an episode-by-episode basis… sometimes they use them, and sometimes they don’t.

    Getting back to the original question (”Does the comic-strip writer have a “duty” to help newcomers to the strip to understand the characters and settings”), I’d come down on the “no” or maybe “OK, but not very much” side of the argument. Storytellers who work in a sequential medium (novelists, for example) have control over the order in which a person encounters the story. Some literary styles have fairly rigid rules, others are more flexible. For example, a mystery story reveals the identity of the murderer either at the end (traditional) or in the beginning. Nobody but Dick Wolf reveals the killer’s identity right at the midpoint. Storytellers working in an episodic format don’t have that kind of control.
    A comic strip artist needs to have a visually distinctive style. The cats in “heathcliff” don’t look like the cats in “Garfield” (and of course, except for Faron, who appeared before Schulz decided he couldn’t draw cats and quickly disappeared as a result of that realization, cats don’t even appear on-panel in Peanuts.)
    The writers of comic strips need to tell a complete story, usually including a joke, in a few words. They need to tell good stories and funny jokes, and not worry about whether every newcomer thinks. That takes care of itself… since the primary way most people experience comics is still by their association with a newspaper, they’re going to keep getting a strip for a period of weeks or months, by which time they will be up to speed.
    I’ll finish with a personal story. The strip is the well-known Calvin and Hobbes. I was fortunate, and a paper available to me started carrying Calvin right at the beginning, and so I was first exposed starting on about the third Calvin and Hobbes strip ever. There was this kid, and a “realistic” tiger, except sometimes the tiger wasn’t in it, with no explanation given. The first couple of strips were confusing. But, you know what? I get it now, even though Bill Watterson never did come out and answer the question of whether Hobbes is really a tiger who hides himself as a stuffed animal when others are around, or if Hobbes is a figment of Calvin’s imagination. Turns out, it doesn’t matter, either way.

  18. Ted from Ft. Laud May 25th 2017 at 11:44 pm 18

    The issue is not so much whether a newcomer can eventually figure the strip out - it is more whether the newcomer will stay around that long. A comic strip normally has no room for background exposition like a TV show does - not even the small amount that fits in a theme song - and one that tries very often will find that the exposition that will fit in the space of a daily strip is generally not that funny (or useful). A gag strip with no continuity has no problems, but strips with continuing characters - even strips with story arcs lasting no longer than a few days or a week or two, or without arcs at all but with continuing and specific characters - raise issues like “who are these characters?”, “what is their relationship to each other?”, “why are they acting as they do or are involved in these activities?”, and unless there are fairly short term payoffs that don’t depend (too much) on the answers to those questions, the strip may well have problems retaining readers (at least - to be ageist - younger generation ones that want immediate returns). Most “gag-a-day” strips indeed have a joke of some sort each day, but getting that joke often depends at least in part on an understanding of the characters and situation. And yes - most strip readers probably still get their comics in a paper (though that’s a declining group that is apparently aging out and not really being replaced), but that doesn’t mean they necessarily will read all the strips offered. (Most here probably would, but we’re comics geeks - likely not really representative of the overall newspaper market.)

    And your example of C&H is right on the edge - the needed background was thin enough and Watterson good enough that the strips were funny with effectively no prep, though they got even better as you learned the characters and the stock situations. But most strip creators aren’t Watterson…

  19. James Pollock May 26th 2017 at 12:54 am 19

    “The issue is not so much whether a newcomer can eventually figure the strip out - it is more whether the newcomer will stay around that long.”

    Historyically, a comic strip was a creature of the newspapers… a person who reads a newspaper regularly will see the same strips over and over, and either decide they like what the strip offers or they won’t. Similar to broadcast TV… the same shows are on at the same time and if someone keeps tuning in, they’ll get the hang of the show or they won’t.

    Today’s information models are less supportive… on the Internet, you choose what you want to see, and may or may not even consider when someone else tries to curate for you. Amazon will try to offer you books that are similar to the one you searched for. Youtube will suggest some videos you might like based on what you watched in the past. And so on. But they’ll equally well follow your commands for what you want next. If you were watching Old ABBA songs from the 70’s, but now you want Lords of Icy Death Metal, well, death metal it is.

    Back to strips. Some get their humor from jokes that are interchangeable; the drawing is just kind of there and it really doesn’t make a difference who is speaking to whom. Others try to tap into “universal” themes, Joe Everyman married to Jo Everywife and the kids. Others have characters who are characters, with distinct personalities. Those take time to join up with, because the humor comes from knowing the characters. The character-base strips tend to be the ones with the most impact. Charlie Brown is the Charley Browniest. Calvin is Calvin (except when he’s Spaceman Spiff). The gigantic cast of Doonesbury

    The Internet taketh away… people don’t get their comic strips from dead-trees newspapers any more… my city’s “daily” paper no longer delivers a paper every day to subscribers… But on the Internet, you can read a month or more of strips one-after-the-other. With webcomics, you can usually get the entire run, if you want it.

    A final note: People are not the customers of comic strips. Newspapers are. As long as enough newspapers still exist, the focus of the syndicates will be on them. When newspapers finally fade away, all bets are off. But that day is not yet on the horizon. It may not be very far beyond it, but it’s still out there a ways.

  20. Boise Ed May 28th 2017 at 03:38 am 20

    “when someone else tries to curate for you” — yeah, like the newly redone GoComics tried to do and has apparently ceased.

    But this discussion reminded me of fairly recently when Jimmy Johnson (Arlo & Janis said his best work was when he could tell the joke using no words at all.

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