Archive for the Comedy Category

Webcomic Weview – Dinosaur Comics

Posted in Comedy with tags , on February 23, 2010 by fieldingmellish

So, due to the massive groundswell of support for this new series, I am happy to present, in lieu of a birthday gift to Mike Lynch, a review of Dinosaur Comics! Apologies for the terrible embedding, but you can click on an image to see the full size.

Title: Dinosaur Comics

Author: Ryan North


Updates: Weekdays

Started: 2003

“Dinosaur Comics” is a good comic to start with for a series like this because it’s a comic that could never appear in a newspaper It likely would have ended up as nothing more than a sketch on a kid’s science notebook in 11th grade if we were living in 1985. Without the internet, this comic could never exist. The art is, um, unique? Every strip actually has the exact same drawings for every panel. Viz:

Every single comic has the same MS-Paint dinosaurs in the same MS-Paint world. T-Rex is always the main character. He always introduces the action and almost always has the punchline. Usually, the setup is given by Utahraptor, the orange guy in the 4th and 5th panels. Dromiceiomimus is the friendly girl dinosaur in panel three. She doesn’t always get lines. Occasionally, when the strip needs an early setup or foil for T-Rex, God (a bit of dialogue coming from the top of the panel) or the devil (a bit of dialogue coming from the bottom of the panel) will make an appearance. I only seriously started reading DC about a year and a half ago. I had discovered it well before then, but didn’t bother to bookmark it because I thought it looked stupid. “A comic with one drawing? Pish posh!” What a fool I was in my youth.

You really can’t let the art get in the way of your enjoyment of the comic. Even if you’re skeptical of the style, the writing will draw you in. Eventually, the art gets sort of expressive, in a weird way. North has set up a very difficult situation for himself here. Every single comic he writes has to conform to the exact same structure. There can be no visual jokes to spice up the strip. This is the comic strip at its barest. It’s actually interesting to note that when you think about it, most comic strips do the same thing. Does it really matter is Garfield is being lazy in the living room or the bedroom? Eating lasagna on the kitchen table or in the dining room? Maybe in 1991, but not any more. DC carries this attitude to its logical conclusion.

So, without the trappings of art and visual humor to fall back on, DC has to rely exclusively on its writing. Since it’s entering its 7th year in existence, you’d be safe to assume the writing is pretty darn good. And I’d be inclined to agree with you.

The general form of the joke is pretty standard, but interesting nonetheless. T-Rex will pose a statement or philosophical conundrum, which is explored for three panels. He is challenged by Utahraptor in a humorous exchange of viewpoints, then a punchline is delivered in the final panel. Often, as is the case with most good comics, there is a reaction to the punchline which is also funny. The major reason I like DC is the combination of intelligent, witty banter and goofy, often surreal outcomes. It’s a comic for smart people, but it’s not pretentious. The characters delve into some serious matters (like the pursuit of knowledge above), but do so in a wonderfully absurd way. There are occasional themes, but they tend to be one silly comic after another rather than a serial. It’s engaging but accessible. There’s a lot to swallow in each one. And after awhile, you begin to appreciate the way the jokes always fit the art.

If you notice, the three comics I’ve posted are obviously similar, but there are very subtle and effective differences between them, which keeps the comic fresh. I find it quite amazing the way the dialogue between T-Rex and Utahraptor can be so different from comic to comic without either ever saying anything out of character. I do have one minor quibble. Unlike xkcd, the mouseover text is really not very important to the enjoyment of the strip. A lot of times, I don’t even remember to read it. When I do, I don’t generally find it that funny (although the Teri Hatcher one above is pretty good). Part of this is because the strip is already very word-heavy and loaded with layers of meaning. Adding a 4th wall break to comment on the strip is almost never worth it for me. Your mileage may vary.

I’d say the best way to read the strip is to just dive in. Start at today and go backwards. Read some random ones (and you can click on the quote above every comic to go to a random one. I am not ashamed to say it took me months to figure that out). The early strips are, in my opinion, not as good. There’s too much continuity, it can be a little dramatic. For my money, Dinosaur Comics is at its best when it’s taking on big ideas in a goofy way. Relationships between the characters are not fertile ground here, and you won’t see many strips like that after 2004. For the best, I think.

Dinosaur Comics is not my favorite webcomic. For a long time, though, it was the comic I read first every day. It’s not always laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s always a fun read. There’s not really anything like it out there. While there are a million video game strips and a million stick figure strips and a million pseudo-dramatic hipster art/namedropping strips out there, there really is only one Dinosaur Comics. Give it a chance. I’ll bet you’ll like it.

A New Series?

Posted in Comedy with tags , on February 19, 2010 by fieldingmellish

So, here’s something I want to try. One thing I do every day is read webcomics. “Oh, what a loser,” you might be thinking. And you would be right. But here’s the thing. I have always loved comics. Peanuts, Get Fuzzy, the Far Side, etc. With the daily comic sections collapsing under the weight of shrinking, aging readership and terrible legacy strips that should have been canceled in 1987, I no longer read most dailies. However, the internet has created a medium for anyone with a dream and MS-Paint to try their hand at cartooning. And of course, this also means we are infested with a plague of terrible comics. But there are also some really great comics out there. And from my discussions with people, it is my feeling that not enough people have made the jump. Whereas if you asked someone in 1991 if they read Peanuts or the Far Side or Rex Morgan, MD, they would at least know what you were talking about. Now, with few exceptions, most people have no idea these things exist. So I want to introduce some of these to you. This probably won’t be quite as in depth or academic as the Sketch Primer series, since these are comic strips.* But I figured it would be nice to share what I think is an exciting trend and something I’m really interested in.

*Except “Questionable Content.” I could write a thesis about that. And I probably will.

So now you have another promise that will not only be broken, but be broken harshly and with great malice. You’re welcome!

The Comedy Book (or Bok)

Posted in Comedy with tags , on December 2, 2009 by fieldingmellish

I’ve been reading my new copy of This Mitchell and Webb Book, and this may shock you, but I really like it. And it got me thinking about the concept of the comedy book. And again, brace yourselves for this shocker, but I think the English do it better than we Yanks do.

Well, that’s not really true. I’m not saying there are no funny books in America. Woody Allen’s three books are about as funny as they get, for example. I’m a big fan of George Carlin’s Brain Droppings. Steve Martin has written some fun books as well. I’ve read and enjoyed all of these and more. But really, they’re just so, I don’t know, book-y. I like reading Woody Allen’s essays parodying existential novels or about absurd takes on philosophy, religion, death, the mafia, whatever. But the Mitchell and Webb book, when taken with its spiritual successor, the Monty Python books (or boks, I suppose), show a sort of new way forward for what a comedy book can be.

I suppose it’s not really fair to compare a book of essays or stand-up bits to a book with lots of pictures and goofy formatting. But these English-style broad comedy books (call them sketchbooks, I suppose. Or Boks. Let’s go with “Boks”) are quite a bit more interesting for the casual reader. There’s a sort of anarchic freedom that comes from having no limitations on your writing, except that it’s going to have to fit between two covers of as-yet indeterminate size and it can’t be constructed so as to get the publisher sued. Mitchell and Webb can zip from short comedic essay to bits from That Mitchell and Webb Look to parodies of newspapers and magazines and give the reader something very different on each page. I’m not saying it’s better than Getting Even or anything. It’s different. And there’s nothing really like it in the US.

The closest parallel I can think of without researching anything is the Daily Show’s America, the Book. It shares the illustration heavy, frenetically paced tomfoolery of the Boks. Even so, it’s still limited by the fact it’s clings relatively closely to parodying traditional textbooks, which forces it into discrete chapters with similar formatting. The fun zaniness is tempered by the depressing cynicism of the content as well.

Again, let me be clear about this. American humor books (all 11 of them*) are good. I just wish that when Monty Python wrote the Big Red Bok back in the 1970s, the style made the trip across the Atlantic. It’s a very fun type of book, which can be skimmed, picked up and opened to any page, and enjoyed. Like Mitchell and Webb themselves, there’s not really anything like it here.

*This is probably a rant for another post, but I get immensely depressed when  I go into Barnes and Noble and check out the humor section. There’s very little actual “humor” there. It’s mostly old Garfield compilations, Jeff Foxworthy books, and books with titles like “You Know You’re Over 50 When…” and “Evil Cat Pictures” and “101 Ways to Be a Supervillain.” It doesn’t really paint American Humor in a positive light.

I suppose there could be a correlation/causation thing between having lots of interesting sketch comedy and having interesting boks. Still, Mr. Show never had a book. I bet it would have been hilarious. So if you get a chance to check out one of these style books, do it. You probably won’t be disappointed.

Hello, friends! Jim Nantz here, taking a break from preparing for next years Masters. Did you know you can subscribe to receive Moonside updates via email? Check out the box at the top of the page! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go ask Nick Faldo what color socks to wear on my date tonight!

In Defense of Family Guy, Part 2 of Surely Thousands

Posted in Comedy, General with tags , on October 22, 2009 by fieldingmellish

Well, the title isn’t quite accurate. It’s more a defense of Seth MacFarlane. As you may have heard, Cleveland, the slow-talking Black member of the Family Guy cast got his own spin-off. And I’ll be honest, I thought I was going to hate it. I didn’t really like Cleveland all that much to begin with, and it seemed like Seth MacFarlane was looking to make a few extra bucks to add to his surely Scrooge McDuck-like collection of money. I thought it was going to be a cash-in. Then I watched it, and you know what? I liked it. No, it wasn’t Family Guy. But it wasn’t American Dad either. Continue reading

Sketch Primer 3 – Mitchell and Webb

Posted in Comedy with tags , on August 9, 2009 by fieldingmellish

Well, it’s taken me a long time to actually get around to writing this primer. I think part of the problem is that Mitchell and Webb are sort of at the height of their popularity right now. It’s easy to talk about Mr. Show and The Fast Show because it’s possible to put them in context. They have an arc that was completed, they disappeared, they survive as hazy memories. Mitchell and Webb are, to borrow a phrase from the delightful American sporting highlight program, The Center for Sports, now. They are the biggest comedy force in England, and easily have the best sketch show on the landscape. The same could have been said for a number of shows, but it’s hard to place them in context until after they’ve been gone for a few years. Mr. Show, for example, was the best sketch show in America for awhile, but if I was writing a Sketch Primer in 1995, I wouldn’t have been able to say that. I wouldn’t have been able to bemoan the tragic cancellation and what it said about our country’s view on comedy. Without time, there is no context.

That said, I will tell you right now that you should stop reading if you don’t want to hear why I think Mitchell and Webb have the best sketch show since Monty Python’s Flying Circus. If you would rather do some shopping or play Civilization than read a several hundred word handjob about a show you likely haven’t even seen yet, please do. Because I’m not going to say very much bad about them. Go ahead, I’ll wait………….. Continue reading

Stand-Up and Sketch in America

Posted in Comedy with tags , on May 12, 2009 by fieldingmellish

I was going to put this in the Sketch Primer series, but it’s more of a musing than an analytical argument. So instead, it’s a regular post. I was thinking about sketch comedy, and why it’s not as popular in the US as it is in England. Funny thing is, it was. In the 70s, sketch was hugely popular in the US. With the rise of SNL and the Not Ready for Primetime Players, plus the importing of Monty Python, people in the 70s watched a lot of very good sketch comedy. And they watched it in great numbers. The sketch comedians were like rock stars. And now, 25+ years later, the US is an abyss of sketch comedy, where great performers and writers are given nothing but scraps, which are quickly taken away. So how did we get here? My theory, and I stress this is a very rough theory, is that we got here because of stand-up.

The transition point looks to me right around 1980. But for the sake of the theory, we’ll say that sketch died in the early to mid-80s. A few things happened:

1) The breakup of the original Saturday Night Live team. This was inevitable, with the success they had, but it was still a blow. what made it worse is how bad SNL became in the immediate aftermath. Everyone saw SNL in the Doumanian years and thought, “hey, I guess the cast was what made the show funny.” And this is partially true of course. But here’s a great what-if for you: What if NBC had worked to keep Lorne Michaels at the helm rather than drive him away in 1979?

2) The end of the Python phenomenon. In 1982, Monty Python performed in front of a packed house at the Hollywood Bowl. They had officially conquered America. Throughout the 70s, Monty Python had rocked the comedy world, especially in the US. Holy Grail in 1975, Life of Brian in 1978, and the Flying Circus running for the first time throughout the decade. People forget this now, but Monty Python was cool in the 70s. They hung around with models and movie stars and Beatles, they were doing tours and publicity, they were on TV and in the movies and in the record store. They were rock stars. They made Meaning of Life in 1983 and that was it. The Flying Circus, only 45 episodes deep, fell out of favor as it aged, and as the zaniness of the 70s gave way to the sardonic sharpness of the Reagan years. And there was nothing left to fill the gap. Again, people were left feeling like it was once-in-a-lifetime thing, when really it shouldn’t have been. As great as Monty Python was, it’s not like Rock and Roll ended after the Beatles broke up.

3) The rebirth and rise of Stand-Up. This is the most controversial idea, I think. Over the course of the 80s, the underground comedy scene was dominated by a new class of up and coming stand-up comedians. Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Richard Lewis, Paul Reiser, the list goes on. They came of age in the mid 80s, and took the comedy world by storm. All of a sudden, stand-up was the hot thing. People didn’t watch SNL, they went to the Comic Strip. HBO started doing more stand-up specials, giving new life and new audiences to people like George Carlin, a veteran who nevertheless increased his following in the 80s. The talented young comedians went into stand-up. They didn’t write sketches at Camp Tamiment or do improv with the Groundlings. They wrote stand-up bits. It was observational, mostly. Gone were the Bob Hope one-liners and the Woody Allen storytelling. It was “Did you ever notice…” and “What’s the deal with…” And people loved it.

Eddie Murphy is the perfect example. He was terrific on SNL. He may have saved the entire series. He could play characters, do voices, and just plain act. He had great timing and a great comedic style. But he didn’t get his own variety show when he was too big for SNL. He made movies, sure, like Jerry Lewis did. But he also did stand-up specials. It as natural. That’s how he got his start, after all, when he was a teenager. But what if SNL was more than a stepping stone? What if there was more of venue for him to showcase his sketch talents? What if stand-up hadn’t replaced sketch as the preferred medium?

David Cross is a funny stand-up. But he’s too good of an actor to be stuck on a small stage with a microphone and a stool. He deserved to be seen in Mr. Show. He deserved to play characters and play out premises. And it’s a shame it didn’t work out. It’s not like stand-up is inherently funnier than sketch. And who knows? Maybe this is cyclical. Maybe the new generation of great sketch comedians is alive and working right now. Maybe in England they’ll just keep churning out great sketch while the US goes in fits and starts. But maybe we’ll see a resurgence in great sketch. But I doubt it. Not as long as SNL is the only game in town, and not as long as stand-up is the platform to fame and fortune.

Sketch Primer 0 – What is Sketch Comedy?

Posted in Comedy with tags on April 23, 2009 by fieldingmellish

Part 1 – Mr. Show

Part 2 – The Fast Show

Before I go any further in the Sketch Primer series, I thought it would be nice to give some of my readers who don’t have a background in sketch, but want to learn, a little introduction to the world of sketch comedy. I’m going to cover the basics of what makes a sketch, then I’ll talk a little about what makes it good. Maybe they’ll even be a little history thrown in. And hey, we all just might learn something. Join in, after the break…

Continue reading