The Morning Line: Comic Language Still on a Low-Salty Diet
Standup comic Lewis Black loves to curse the censors. Literally.
We were reminded of this the other night when chatting with Black after a performance. Black's philosophy, as he makes clear in his act: Among adults, there are no "bad" words -- there are just timid folks who cower in fear to these oh-so-scary words.
Comparatively, however, standups have much more freedom than most humorists. And toward the other end of that spectrum sits one oft-frustrated group: comics-page cartoonists.
The mainstream "family" newspaper is a fairly G-rated enterprise, of course, and there's little demand for working "blue." But even with that in mind, many comic-strippers believe they're trapped in a time-warp: Other media can use saltier language, but funnypage cartoonists must largely use language that could readily slide into any "Leave It to Beaver" episode.
So what are cartoonists to do when they want to get even mildly edgy? Well, the options are few:
1. Resort to words that suggest a stronger word. In today's "Prickly City," for instance, Scott Stantis offers "well, crud" -- which to some adults suggests "well, crap."
2. Resort to near-spellings of the stronger word. In his new "Dilbert" collection, Scott Adams explains how in one strip, he wrote "crappus" as a form of faux-Latin. In another, he skirts the censors by writing: "Oh, carp."
3. Go ahead and use that semi-controversial word and hope clients don't drop your strip like a hot $$&* potato! I was once advised by a syndicate editor that I COULD use the word "sucks," but I risked invoking the wrath of newspaper editors. (From then on, my use of the word depended on just how much I needed to eat that month.)
4. Resort to one of the greatest inventions known to cartoonists: Dingbats -- also knows as the random punctuation when, strung together, stands in for expletives.
But can funnypage cartoonists write: "Dingbats $&*#@ suck!!" Not really?
ELSEWHERE ON THE PAGE...
We see that "Curtis" is the only strip in The Post that references both a "Barry" and a "Michelle." In the same week that the Obamas visit the White House, we wonder whether these names will pop into other strips -- or how long till a character named "Rahm" moves into Curtis's neighborhood.
| November 12, 2008; 9:00 AM ET
Categories: The Morning Line
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