34 Comments

  1. Up to a few years ago, at least, comic strip characters were still throwing cokware and kitchen appliances at one another for comic effect.

  2. Larson once wrote that he used to get letters from Amnesty International whenever he drew a “prisoner in a dungeon” comic. He also said that he wondered whether the Wizard of Id got the same letters.

  3. Are these all outdated? Doesn’t Sarge still beat Beetle Bailey up? Has Wizard of Id stopped the dungeon comics?

  4. Humor is an escape mechanism (at least in part). Even the most horrible things you can think of can be part of a joke. “Other than that Mrs. Lincoln…” Christa McAuliffe jokes. For some things, the less we’d want to see them in real life, the funnier they are in fiction. In these examples, it’s not those panels, but the story that includes them that could (or might not) be funny. Those on the Arlo page were never meant for the comics page, and instead were aimed at a more mature audience. And with those, it’s more a question of whether they could be published today, rather than whether they’re funny.

  5. I object to the point of the humour being “ha ha, the authority figure beat up on the snarky powerless subordinate/kid” cause that isn’t really funny, more abusive. Self abuse with alcohol is still a thing and also not really funny if the point is “ha ha it’s funny cause he’s an alcoholic”. I do still find dungeon humor funny mostly cause it subverts it and has the person in the dungeon having the last laugh.

    As for the Arlos, most of them (not all) are still amusing cause the point isn’t to laugh at the objectionable bits but use them to lampshade a differant point. Your mileage may vary on which ones are for audience humor and which ones are just to see if the artist could get away with drawing though.

  6. Perhaps the most famous piece of German “comic” literature is “Max & Moritz”, which (in 1865) propelled Wilhelm Busch to well-deserved fame, and directly inspired the creation of the “Katzenjammer Kids” (the parallels are all too obvious) Except for the gruesome demise of the title characters (in the last chapter), all of the violence is definitely of “comic” nature, but when I recently suggested reading the book to my kids, I discovered that neither one was all that comfortable with the story. (Just wait until they discover some of the dark horrors in many of the Grimms’ fairy tales.)
    P.S. Another German “comic” that is almost as well-known (but thoroughly revolting) is “Struwwelpeter“. The violence there is loathsome in the extreme, all the more so in that each chapter is designed as a morality tale, with no humor whatsoever.

  7. Andy Capp really does double duty. We get the alcoholism here, but there’s also the domestic violence. I am continually amazed that the Lockhorns still exist and that people seem to find them funny. It’s a breed of humor that dates to a period when divorce was difficult to achieve and highly stigmatized. Divorce has been socially acceptable for going on 50 years now. We also seem to get a Mutt and Jeff a few times a year where we all ask if there’s anyone paying attention to what they’re reprinting.

  8. @ Olivier – I remember seeing them as a poster (decades ago), and I recently bought the book. Extremely morbid humor for sure, but for some reason I don’t see anything “socially unacceptable” about the way they meet their ends: most of them are strictly accidents and/or suicides.
    P.S. @ “Andy Capp” – One factor that used to make their domestic violence a little less unpalatable was that Flo was an even match for Andy, they both got in equal shots. I think Beetle was once able to do the same with Sarge, but it was an extremely rare event (if indeed it ever happened).

  9. After Sarge beats Beetle to a pulp, they’ll go out for drinks. It’s a very dysfunctional relationship.

    A common old motif is reverse domestic violence: the beaten husband. His wife beats him with a rolling pin and he’s shown with a black eye and stars around his head for the crime of playing cards. This always drives me crazy, because it was a time when real domestic violence was much more accepted, and usually went the other way. But in the comics, they pretended that the wife had the power, and the husband had to obey.

  10. I’m surprised no one has yet on this thread recommended the book AMERICAN CORNBALL: A LAFFOPEDIC GUIDE TO THE FORMERLY FUNNY. Highly recommended, both as a good read and as a reference work.

    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16065629-american-cornball
    https://www.npr.org/2014/09/19/349908430/american-cornball-a-taxonomy-of-humor-in-the-u-s

    etc.

    (And, sorry if I’m outing myself as a monster, but like Barney and Clyde I do still find some of this sort of funny in historical context)

  11. There’s a lot of “wokeness” out there these days. We can no longer enjoy the things we used to. Not only must we no longer laugh, but we must actively rebuke those things.

    At least in the open. The looking around before whispering implies we can still enjoy those things. Just not openly nor in front of the snowflakes.

  12. The Barney & Clyde is almost trying to have it both ways — “exposing” the abuse inherent in some comic tropes, but ending up with “still a little funny”.

    Arthur’s point (and others) ties in with the thinking behind asking “Too soon?” …. which quickly became a meta-remark of its own.

  13. In the Asterix albums, aside from the cartoon violence the magic potion gives the Gauls to defend themselves against invading Romans (they just beat them up, they never kill them), there’s this conceit that in the Gaul village itself, the best and happiest pass-time is when the whole village has a great big giant punch-up. I think this was brought in at first as a kind of parody of village life (you have to be united against the common enemy, but on the other hand living on top of each other, resentments brew) and it was somehow cathartic to get all the resentments out in the open, have a gigantic brawl, and thus be able to put on the necessary common front against the Romans. I think this convention quickly turned into a cliche, especially after Goscinny died (though his last, Asterix and the Belgians, was basically paint by number cliches…) I know I find it tiresome as a cliche, whack someone with a fish, the whole village disappears into a giant scuffle cloud, with stragglers running eagerly to join in, but I think I still find it funny when it first came up, in the aforementioned parody of village life way, when it was character driven, and very well observed, that then ramped up way over the top into cartoon violence. I’d have to go and reread an early album, preferably one that I don’t know to the point of memorization…

    I think in general this topic follows the thesis of Steven Pinker’s The Better Angles of our Nature: we are getting less violent. It’s a slow process, but can be noticed, eg: in how humor — especially violent humor — from 100, 200+ years ago just isn’t funny to modern eyes, and humor from 50 years ago is in this weird middle-ground, where you remember it being funny, but it just isn’t the same.

  14. Something that bothers me a little about ASTERIX is the way the wild boars, who are killed and eaten in job lots for village feasts, are sometimes depicted as sentient.

    Same problem with the critters in POGO frequently having a fish fry, though the fish in that strip were also sometimes depicted as sentient. (As were the worms often used for bait.) The MAD parody “Gopo Gossum” had Howland Owl apologizing to the fish they were about to eat, but explaining that needs must because it was “getting harder to catch humin beans all the time!”

    But, as I say, it bothers me only “a little.” (It might bother me more if I were a fish, or a worm — or a boar, instead of just a bore.)

  15. There was one (long) Pogo arc about Roogey Batoon’s trio of singing fish (the “Louisiana Perches”), who were discovered (and eaten) by Albert and the bats. Roogey was crestfallen by his setback, but as Pogo pointed out, “It’s not quite the same, but it seems like the gal singers had a little reverse, too.” Later on, someone (probably Churchy) reported some public appreciation of the singers’ qualities, saying that “In fact, word has gotten around that they were deelicious!“, to which Roogey replied, “Thanks, it helps soften the blow.
    P.S. In another long arc, the entire Igloo-U beanbag team (composed of ptarmigans) was caught by Wiley Catt, and served up as the celebratory dinner for the Okeefenokee squad. As Albert put it, “Eleven of them, eleven of us: what could be fairer?

  16. I don’t know.

    There’s something a little smarmy about “Oh, we can’t do that today” or “If they tried that today they’d be banned” or “It’s gotten that everyone’s so sensitive we’re ashamed to find this funny”.

    Really? have you *tried*? Were you driven out on a rail?

    Yes, yes, sensibilities do change and sometimes it seems jarring (“gee, they really depicted a lot of smoking back then, didn’t they” or “yikes, it’s been a while since I’ve seen a child *caned* in a comic”) but are they really as faux pas as we’d like to believe.

    WW comments that these are all within memory and really aren’t that jarring. (And in an of themselves aren’t funny…. the punchlines may be, but simply seeing these aren’t.)

  17. I’m not familiar with the comic in panel 1. Identify, please.

    To all those talking about sentient animals as food, have you read Kevin and Kell, or Buni? Some really disturbing stuff there.

  18. I searched Google Books for some very old joke books. I did manage to find some bits I liked, but there was whole lot of unpalatable ethnic jokes (Scotsmen, etc.) and one involving black people that seemed particularly egregious.

    Society has moved on a bit indeed.

  19. DemetriosX, thanks. It’s a strip I’ve heard of. I read a couple of strips years ago and it didn’t appeal to me. I guess you had to be there.

  20. On the subject of sentient animals as food, of course The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had the Ameglian Major Cow, which had been bred to want to be consumed and to discuss the finer cuts of itself with the prospective diners.

    “I just don’t want to eat an animal that’s standing there inviting me to,” said Arthur, “it’s heartless.”
    “Better than eating an animal that doesn’t want to be eaten,” said Zaphod.

    After they have decided to have four steaks from the Major Cowl:

    The animal staggered to its feet. It gave a mellow gurgle. “A very wise choice, sir, if I may say so. Very good,” it said, “I’ll just nip off and shoot myself.” He turned and gave a friendly wink to Arthur. “Don’t worry, sir,” he said, “I’ll be very humane.” It waddled unhurriedly off to the kitchen.

  21. If you take the trajectory of violence in humor and continue it back to 400 years ago, specifically “Don Quixote”, you arrive at the extreme. It is full of fight scenes, because the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance always misinterprets every scene he wanders into and ruins it for everyone, and every knocked-out tooth and split brain-pan is meticulously and lovingly described by the author. It’s supposed to be hilarious.

  22. I think I can appreciate (or not) the strips and themes suggested here because I can compartmentalize them. I know they’re happening in their own world, not the real world. I still may not find beatings and torture funny, though. For “newspaper strips” (wow, are those long for this world and do kids even read them or is it all geezers?), I’d worry on the impression they would have on children. Kids are impressionable and have limited experience of the world and will make connections that may be wildly wrong if they are not guided. For example, not a word of a lie, when my dad told 5-year old me that we might drive out to Calgary in the summer to visit my uncle, I was concerned about how we would deal with marauding tribes of Indians. See, I knew Calgary was “out west” and my experience of “out west” was from the Westerns my dad liked to watch, so… And I wasn’t a stupid kid, I swear. My stupidity came much later in life.

    That said, there are certain things that really disturb me, like the normalization of torture. It’s existed forever, of course. But by calling it “enhanced interrogation techniques” and getting a stooge government lawyer to rule it was okay, the US government took it from something that might happen surreptitiously and shamefully in exceptional circumstances to become something completely acceptable, just another part of asking questions. That then permeates through society. The TV show “24” constantly glorified torture. In 2004 we saw a wave of “torture porn” films launched with “Saw”. So, yeah, I can understand why Amnesty International tries to de-normalize portrayals of torture and a large number of groups have gotten domestic violence largely expelled from newspaper strips.

    We don’t see it in this comic or in the ones on the Arlo page, but there’s another horrible humour trope which I don’t find funny at all but I think it will take a very long time to die. I expect I’ll die before it does. That is prison-rape “humour”. The idea that somebody being raped is funny is pretty questionable (yes, I know about Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd) itself, but that it is something that we consider acceptable in our prisons is shameful. When society takes someone into custody, it has a duty of care toward that person. Providing a safe environment is one. There certainly are challenges to that, but all the “drop the soap” jokes that are common on sitcoms, in movies, chat shows, and even more adult comic strips is laughing at someone’s brutal violation. It’s supposed to be okay, I guess, because they “deserve it” because they’re in prison. Never mind the huge number of people in prison for non-violent crimes, the wrongfully convicted, or those serving out life sentences because of mandatory sentencing laws. It’s okay because they “deserve” it. You know, just like how a woman in a short skirt deserves it. Prison-rape jokes are also tinged with homophobia since it relies on the “hilariousness” of a man having another man force his &^%* into his *+#, which is funny because only “those people” would do that.

    So, yeah, some stuff isn’t very funny and playing it for laughs in comic strips or general entertainment isn’t good.

  23. Point Of View matters in these power dynamics. If you are meant to be on the side of people abusing their power then it is really icky and troubling, but if you are on the side of the one being abused then it is less icky and leads to a sympathetic humor.

  24. FBS, I agree that the victim getting the upper hand is a different thing. That’s the whole “punching-up” ethos that is now being articulated. It is the basis of a lot of what is really funny, though the history of humour has a lot of “punching down”.

  25. >The idea that somebody being raped is funny is pretty questionable (yes, I know about Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd)

    What? *I* don’t! I’m having a really hard time trying to figure out what on earth Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd have to do with rape.

  26. Re: torture
    I think it’s actually a hopeful sign that the only way to condone torture these days is to try and obfuscate what it is you are doing. We have already come so far that outright torture, what was fun and entertainment for the masses in the fairly recent past, is totally unacceptable. When those few regressive elements still left want to bring it back, they have to go through great contortions to manage it.

    Yeah, not great that they’re still doing it, but the signs of progress are inevitable. Sadly I may not live to see it totally eradicated, and local pockets of regression are distressing, but don’t miss out on the growing forest because of a couple deformed trees.

    I agree with you about prisons. I think part of the problem is the US ramped up its mass incarceration system so damn quickly that the normal mechanism of societal disapprobation has not had time to catch up yet. Most people are totally unaware of how ridiculously many people we in the US lock up, and for no good reason. Wouldn’t it be great if in this time of turmoil and crisis, we as a society got our collective sh!t together and fixed all these low lying, obvious faults in our society? We’re going to have to fix them sooner or later anyway, why not sooner? :-/

  27. “The puritan hated bear baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.” – Thomas Babington Macaulay

  28. I remember all the angry protests of the 90’s against these comics. Who else remembers that?

  29. I’m not sure I ever found any of these funny… but that’s not always because of the subject matter if you know what I mean. None of them are really funny anyway.

    Of the 4 shown here however, only the Andy Capp wife-beating really offends me on moral grounds… not sure why, maybe it’s because the others seem so obviously slapstick?

  30. None of the four panels shown were intended to be funny in isolation, neither here, nor in equivalent appearances in the original strips. The humor in the “Katzenjammer Kids” is severely (if not hopelessly) archaic (not to mention the pseudo-German dialect), but the strip was wildly popular for many decades, and I was astonished to learn that King Features is still syndicating reruns of it now. I suppose that’s no more (nor less) objectionable than the ongoing syndication of (equally hopelessly dated) “Mutt & Jeff” detritus.
    Both with the “Kids” and in “Beetle Bailey“, the thrashings that the title characters received were never “funny” by themselves, but were merely an established refrain in response to whatever outrageous infraction had been committed earlier in the strip.
    Andy Capp wasn’t just an alcoholic wife-beater (and beatee), he was also a chain smoker and frequently (if not always) unemployed. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading the strip as a kid, but quit (involuntarily) even before he quit smoking, simply because the newspaper where I went to college didn’t carry it. (Reportedly, Andy quit smoking only because Smythe did, and he didn’t want to draw a cigarette for Andy if he couldn’t have one himself.) In recent years I’ve occasionally seen the “sanitized” strip, but it’s never seemed to be as funny as it was decades ago. Perhaps I’ve become jaded, but I really don’t think the problem is the politically correct sanitization, but rather that the strip is now a syndicate-controlled zombie that has become irrelevant without the creative spark from its original author.
    In contrast to Vulcan’s chief objection, the type that I feel least palatable are “torture” comics, both in “Wizard of Id” and elsewhere. But even here, the ongoing weakness in the current strip is not because torture is no longer fashionable (nor funny), but simply that the strip is a re-animated corpse, being held alive past the demise of its creators.

  31. Smythe said something along the lines of, “Andy Capp is a horrible person, but he’s been very good to me.”

  32. One Andy Capp strip I liked: he’s wandering through the streets drunk, singing at the top of his voice “IT’S THREE O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING!”

    A man opens his window and yells out, “Do you mind, mate? It’s 4 a.m.!”

    Capp stops, looks at his watch, and then starts up “IT’S FOUR O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING!”

Add a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s