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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 08/18/2008

The Morning Line: 'Frazz' & the Evolution of a Comic Mystery

By Michael Cavna


FRAZZ: Is it (primordial) soup yet? (UFS) Enlarge Comic

When a cartoonist develops a rep for lacing his comic with sly references, we begin to read that strip in search of secondary cues and clues. Suddenly it's no longer just a quick-gag comic -- it's a Sphinxian strip chockablock with hidden riddles.

So we did quite the double-take upon scanning today's "Frazz." There's the neophyte swimmer Caulfield and then -- WHOA -- that is not just a caveman. That is a "B.C." caveman. Normally we would just read this as a knowing visual wink to the reader, but we're talking "B.C.," folks! As in the handiwork of the late Johnny Hart, who laced his strip with references to Christianity.

You're surely way ahead of us here, but for the four people who aren't, here's the cause for our Pavlovian yapping: Hart's prehistoric strip seemed to preach Christian Creationism, but his character here is smack-dab in the middle of a reverse Evolution. Now these are provocative waters we're literally wading in to.

Surely Jef Mallett is tweaking, perhaps even skewering, the "B.C." creator. (This is the same Mr. Mallett who once commented on a controversial Hart strip that included an outhouse whose door went "SLAM" Mallett and several other cartoonists told The Post at the time that the strip -- with its apparent Muslim crescent symbols and possible spelling-out of "ISLAM" -- could be read with a religious interpretation.)

Do our eyes deceive us? There was only way to know for sure. Dial 1-555-MAL-LETT on the hotline.

So what is up, exactly, Jef? Is there a subtext we should be suspicious of?

"The thought was, I would do the reverse Evolution into a swimmer," Jef says by phone, warmly indulging our inquiry. "Obviously that involves a caveman. The thought was, 'Hey, there is a perfectly iconic caveman on the pages of the funnies already.' That was about as far as I went. For anyone my age (46), 'B.C.' was a favorite comic strip. There was no doubting Hart's talent. It was a fun inside joke."

Besides, adds Mallett: "Despite getting accused of it, I don't try to do any preaching in the strip. If there's any kind of tone, it's: 'Come on, people! THINK!"

Well that settles that. We'll take Jef at his word: No subversive shenanigans here. Finally at peace over the Evolution Strip, we can move on to...


MOTHER GOOSE: Darwin looks for his Beagle (KFS) Enlarge Comic

...The Darwin fish symbol sauntering through "Mother Goose and Grimm"! Nooo. Now this is getting fishy...

By Michael Cavna  | August 18, 2008; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  The Morning Line  
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Comments

Hart voted for evolution long before he voited against it. He had one early strip where the cavemen were sitting on the shore and one was describing how life began (as "slime on the shore" IIRC) and gradually became people. While describing the process, it happened and ended with the newly evolved life asking what day it was, getting the answer "Father's Day" and answering "how about that" and walking off. Again, memory is fuzzy but it was along those lines.

Now, in the Darwin Fish thing, he wrote "I'd", and really crunched the apostrophe. Clearly this is a reference to Hart's other strip, "The Wizard of Id" and Hart's creationism slant. You called the wrong cartoonist.

Posted by: f2 | August 18, 2008 7:47 AM | Report abuse

Jus' pickin'....

Don't the sun's rays reflect "off of" and people reflect "upon"?

Posted by: f2 | August 18, 2008 8:10 AM | Report abuse

OK, he threw in a "BC" reference. We get it. Please don't try to milk it for any other significance. It means neither more nor less that a visual reference to "Krazy Kat" showing up in a "Calvin and Hobbes" strip where the family is at an art gallery and one of the pictures shows definite signs of George Herriman artwork. But let's not get all grad student about it.

Posted by: Daniel J. Drazen | August 18, 2008 8:41 AM | Report abuse

On another topic, in "For Better or Worse" today, it looked like Grandpa was driving the limo. It feels like this wedding is going to go on forever. . .

Posted by: Sherry | August 18, 2008 9:04 AM | Report abuse

fr Sherry:

>On another topic, in "For Better or Worse" today, it looked like Grandpa was driving the limo. It feels like this wedding is going to go on forever. . .<

So don't READ it. There! That was simple, wasn't it? I've always loved FBORFW, and will miss it a LOT when it stops. www.fborfw.com is a great site, well worth visiting.

Posted by: alex | August 18, 2008 10:09 AM | Report abuse

What? Mallett doesn't preach??? He CONSTANTLY preaches. Only his religion is physical fitness -- His positive characters are all marathoners and triathletes; his nemeses are all fat and out of shape. And it's not enough that people be into sports, they must be into skinny-fit-guy sports. Football/baseball etc. are Fat Guy Apostate Sports.

He had one positive out-of-shape character (the young teacher Frazz plays hoops with) and even that couldn't stand. He's now Born-Again Fit.

Posted by: proxl | August 18, 2008 1:48 PM | Report abuse

I'd really like to like Frazz. I want to, but Jef Mallett's comic is a sensitive guy, bicyclist Prickly City. It could be funny but it's smug, preachy, and condescending. The fact that Mallett doesn't even see his own preachiness is merely the confirmation of his self-involvement.

That being said, it's his comic and his point of view, so if that's what he wants and can get paid for, so much the better. I just wish it wasn't so, because the potential is there for a good comic.

Now Get Fuzzy, that's a good comic. It even has a somewhat similar point of view, it's just not preachy and smug.

Posted by: Mallett Don't Preach | August 18, 2008 2:34 PM | Report abuse

And Frazz spent all summer teaching a minority kid how to swim. No stereotyping there.

Posted by: yellojkt | August 18, 2008 4:39 PM | Report abuse

If instead of using "B.C" as his prototypical cartoon caveman, Mallett had used "Alley Oop", then what political / religious inference would you have drawn from **that**?

Posted by: Seismic-2 | August 19, 2008 3:50 PM | Report abuse

That the anniversary of Alley Oop just occurred and several strips featured a nod to him?

Posted by: Mike Rhode | August 19, 2008 6:08 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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