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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Saturday, December 8, 2007

MYTHS WITHOUT FANTASY




The following analysis was a messageboard response to the imputation that all myths, literary or otherwise, had to involve "fantastical, larger-than-life heroism or villainy:"

...I haven't actually checked dictionaries to see if any of them employ this definition, but I would certainly say that "larger than life" is a colloquial meaning of "mythic." This has ramifications for one of my specialized definitions of mythicity, since I defined myth in terms of "emotional tonality." Following Cassirer, who offers the term "tonality" in this sense, I would say that "mythic emotion" manifests more strongly where the fictive representations have a larger-than-life quality, and I think that can be shown by contrasting two famous comic-strips that belong to the same subgenre. Additionally, though both are "cartoonish" and exaggerated, neither has explicit fantasy, or heroes & villains as such.

BLONDIE and BRINGING UP FATHER are my choices. Both belong to the subgenre I would call "the perplexed paterfamilias," in which the bulk of the humor is the repeated humiliations of the male breadwinner. In the case of McManus' Jiggs in BUF, he's a lower-class guy who's been catapulted into high-class life, with the consquence that his social-climbing wife Maggie is constantly nagging and abusing him to become more refined.

Dagwood, the real star of BLONDIE, is on the other hand permanently stuck in the middle-class rat-race, but his sufferings are, if anything, far more exaggerated than those of Jiggs. Slapstick violence, found in both strips, is amped up to an often-bizarre level in Chic Young's BLONDIE (which bears little or no resemblance to the milkwater strip that runs today). Of course both strips also used a fair amount of simple verbal humor as well, but I think both are best known for slapsticky shenanigans: Jiggs getting thumped about by his harridan wife, or Dagwood being harried by his boss, his neighbors, his children or his wife (though Blondie usually confined her abuse to nagging, rather than violence).

The crux of the difference between these two similar strips, IMO, is that Jiggs' humiliations are more particularized, and so less "mythic." BUF is probably the better drawn and written strip of the two, but though Jiggs has some "universal" aspects (otherwise no one could relate to him), his sufferings are fairly unique to his situation.

Chic Young's Dagwood, in contrast, is EveryHusband-- or maybe EveryGoat, since far more than Charlie Brown he is the Goat of the World, constantly under attack by someone out to aggravate or humiliate him. Occasionally he brings these sufferings on himself but more often than not he's just the "schlemozzel," the guy that things always happen to. If then one accepted that "mythicity" could be equated with "emotions of a larger-than-life character," then I would say that a demonstration of Dagwood's superior Goathood would make him a more mythic character than Jiggs, even though none of their adventures involve either "fantasy" or "heroes & villains."

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