“The Born Loser” isn’t winning today by insisiting on recognition of Columbus Day as if this were 1965.
There once was a time when a U.S. federal holiday was also a holiday for all who lived in the U.S. Banks closed. Schools shut down. The stock markets ceased their gyrations. And as a result, Americans – under the yoke of a more monolithic culture – all took time to ponder the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria. But Columbus Day today is about as meaningful these days as, well, a newspaper comic strip. So we’re surprised cartoonist Chip Sansom insists on hewing to old tradition by devoting today’s comic to the holiday and not something more humorous or topical.
Perhaps Mr. Sansom lives under the illusion that the kids at whom newspaper comics once were named would love to read about a national holiday whose relevance is virtually non-existent. Maybe he assumed that parents, stuck with kids at home, are just waiting for some humorous reference to Columbus Day in their local newspaper so they can get on with an entire pre-planned day of watching a Columbus Day parade, making ship-shaped Columbus Day crafts and kneading dough for a special no-doubt-highly-anticipated Columbus Day-themed Italian dinner!
Too bad all this stuff vanished along with lead paint, Gumby and Pokey and other cultural touchstones of a U.S. of A. filled with unsafe and stilted products and culture.
Simply put, Mr. Sansom, no four-color panelist in their right mind is devoting a strip to Columbus Day today, because no comics scribe has the luxury of boring his or her readers. With newspaper readership in decline, and younger readers learning earlier than ever to get their entertainment and information from back-talky, video-streaming devices that weren’t invented when “The Born Loser” first saw the light of day, the comics have to make do with a new bag of tricks.
That’s right, no more bad puns(we’ve heard them all) or references to shared cultural experiences (in today’s modern world, there’s too much fragmentation to make anything except national disasters and the Super Bowl universally shared). Instead, Mr. Sansom, we recommend the following techniques:
*Let your characters go wild: In recent months, we’ve seen Blondie admit to salivating over a man who isn’t her husband, Alice Mitchell gussying herself up for a wild night with an illicit lover and Hi and Lois Flagston engaging in role play at the local market. Why can’t your characters do the same? Perhaps Wilberforce might get drunk, Hurricaine Hattie graduate to sixth grade or Brutus serve his mother-in-law with an open-hand slap after years of verbal and emotional abuse. This sort of thing will help your strip “go viral,” or get young broadband-usage sucking teens and tweens to pass along the antics of your characters to their friends, and so on…
*Make fun of yourself: Break down the wall between your characters and your readers and let your characters act as if they are aware of the way in which they are seen by the comics-swilling public. In a recent revival of Aquaman, for example, DC Comics has nearly everyone the hero meets make fun of him and his fish-talking ways. Likewise, a recent Frank Miller interpretation of Batman has the Caped Crusader acting more than a little unhinged, which is just the way most fiction readers view him.
But we digress.
C’mon, Chip, we know you have it in you. After all, we remember this gem from HolidayTime circa 2009, when your hapless protagonist, Brutus Thornapple, practically admitted to sucking down booze to keep from going insane. More, please. And next time Columbus Day rolls around, you’d do well to stay far away from even recognizing it exists.
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