Monday, March 24, 2008

"Cussin' the Comics" by John Amos

I’m no fan of the “dark” comics. Every now and then, I’ll turn to the funny pages and check out “Blondie” or “Beetle Bailey” or some such nonsense. But I never bother with the dark serious ones, the ones printed with lots of black ink, like “Rex Morgan” and “Judge Parker” and “Mary Worth.”

Dark comic "Judge Parker" (click image to enlarge)

That’s not to say I don’t know about the dark ones. Between my wife and my father, two real comic-crazies, I manage to keep up. I get it all second-hand by overhearing their weekly phone calls.

I’m puzzled sometimes at how two extremely intelligent people can take this stuff seriously. My wife graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in Slavic languages. My father is one of the most well-read people I know. And yet, to hear them on the phone, talking breathlessly about the latest happenings in “Mark Trail,” you’d think they were two teenagers discussing hot gossip.

At least once a week they call each other to yap about the villain stalking Mary Worth or whether Mark Trail is going to catch the poacher with the really bad sideburns.

That'll tell you something: These two actually missed “Apartment 3-G” when it disappeared from The Washington Post a few years ago. And they can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Prince Valiant, Dick Tracy, or Winnie Winkle. Go figure.

When The Post temporarily dropped “Mark Trail” awhile back, they both flew into a righteous rage. High, high dudgeon ensued. How dare they!

My dad has been a comics fanatic for as long as I can remember. His love-hate relationship with “Brenda Starr, Star Reporter” tended to dominate our breakfast table conversation when I was growing up, especially on Sunday mornings when Brenda was at her most syrupy. This was the strip he loved to hate. I can still hear him, toast in one hand and coffee in the other, ranting about “the frustrated old biddy” who drew the red-headed reporter with the beauty mark on her cheek. He hated the strip’s sappiness and the melodrama. But he kept on reading.

I thought he’d finally give it up when Brenda married Basil St. John, the mysterious guy with the eye-patch. (They named their first child Starr Twinkle). But he stuck it out. He thought it utter tripe, but he read on faithfully.

My wife has been a comics fan since childhood. I’m not sure when she got hooked on the “dark” ones but hooked she is.

We get The Post delivered daily, and I read the sports and the op-eds, and even the Metro section on occasion. But the real reason we subscribe is that my wife needs the comics page. It’s her pressure valve.

She works two jobs, hauls kids from here to there, manages the family finances (such as they are), quilts and knits in every spare minute, and generally keeps our family on an even keel. She’s a woman with a busy life.

A voracious reader, she watches very little television, preferring instead to get her entertainment from books and comic strips.

For her, the dark comics are a sort of soap-opera substitute. She hasn’t got time to lounge around eating bonbons and watching As the World Turns every day. So, it’s ten minutes in the morning over breakfast with Mark and Mary and Sam Driver.

I can’t really account for the fact that I’ve never caught the comics-bug myself. As a kid, I spent hours reading Richie Rich, Archie, and Superman. I love old pulp fiction and even the new, cutting edge graphic novels. Though I try to teach quality literature, I’m a big fan of cheesy, plot-driven stories as well. You’d think I’d be a prime candidate for following the funny papers.

Maybe it’s just that, as an adult, I’ve had no reason to read them. I can get the scoop just by listening in from the fringes.

You hope when you get married that your parents will love and accept the person you’ve chosen to spend your life with. You don’t really know, but you hope.

What you could never predict is that a buzz-cut, tough-guy cop and a brainy girl with a passion for needlework will have a mutual love for “Mary Worth,” “Mark Trail,” and “Spiderman.” I don’t pretend to understand. I just listen in, smile, and shake my head.

It must be a father-daughter sort of thing.

- John Amos
from "Every Now And Then: Occasional Essays"
©2008 by John Amos
reprinted by permission

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