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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 04/28/2009

Barrel of Laughs: Why Dennis Is Buck-Nekkid In TWO Strips Today

By Michael Cavna

Yesterday, "Pearls Before Swine" and "Candorville" gave us the kind of lively comic cross-pollination that enriches both strips.

Today, it gets even better. Dennis the Menace, that OH-so-irresistibly-mischievous cowlicked rapscallion of an overalled imp (aka: The blond pox on Mr. Wilson's house), cameos in both. Sans clothes, Dennis is rendered as perhaps the most telling symbol of economic woe since, oh, the original "yellow kid" appeared in Joe Pulitzer's penny papers.

So what's the story, exactly, with the comical cross-pollination?

"I work about eight months ahead" of publication, "Pearls" creator STEPHAN PASTIS tells Comic Riffs, explaining how he and "Candorville" artist DARRIN BELL hit upon the idea of cartoon congressional hearings separately. "I just called and exchanged e-mails with Darrin and said: 'Dude, I got something coming up that's identical to what you just did.' He said, 'We can make a joke out of it.' "

And from that spirit of cooperation comes not only sharp humor in both strips, but also a pantless scamp in both. (If only today's "Dennis the Menace" had been in on the joke, too --it would have hit the missing-trousered trifecta.)

Pastis, in fact, would like to see a half-dozen cartoonists take an identical scene -- say, a barfight -- and feature their own takes on it, on the same day.

"The effect is named for the Kurosawa film -- it's called the Rashomon," Pastis explains. "It's literally the different characters telling the same story. And a barfight is just what I thought might be a typical event. That in real life, a middle-aged dude might say: 'It was great ' A woman might say: 'It was horrific.' And a bartender might say: 'Ohh, again.' "

So why would the funnies be a prime forum for this effect?

"When you literally look at a comics page, you're looking at 40 different worlds," Pastis says. "But I like the notion that behind the page, all these connect into one room. In a [comic-strip] parody, you play in that other guy's world for a day. But I think it'd be great to do that with mary strips -- with a single event."

Officially, I second the motion.

By Michael Cavna  | April 28, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  The Morning Line  
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Pastis' idea reminds me of the big April Fool's Day stunt from about 10 years ago when a bunch of artists swapped strips for the day and did each other's strips in their own style (some that I remember include Scott Adams with "Family Circus," Lynn Johnston with "Dilbert," Bill Amend with "Zippy the Pinhead").

Did the strips from that day ever get compiled and printed anywhere? I would love to see them again.

Posted by: NotDoc | April 28, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

First off, there HAVE been Rashomon moments in the comics, especially when connected with larger causes such as world hunger where the comics became pretty much a statement of conscience. And something like Christmas is always good for a cross-strip synergy because despite varying deadlines EVERYONE can see it coming.

As for a Rashomon event proposal, and as a bow to the Dennis theme cited today, I'd like to see a day where at least one character in participating comic strips was naked to some extent. This isn't just a question of mere titillation; to some folks nudity is equated with pornography, especially certain members of the Meese Commission in the mid-80s. As a political statement it's pretty trivial, I'll admit, but it certainly would give new meaning to the words "comic strip."

Posted by: drazen1 | April 28, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

@Posted by: drazen1 | April 28, 2009 9:36 AM

Excellent idea! Let's get Abby and this new chick April straight out of their Kits in this weeks Judge Parker....

Posted by: JkR- | April 28, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

The brilliant and very missed "Liberty Meadows" by Frank Cho -which the WaPo ran for a few years - would occasionally break the fourth (fifth?) wall between comic strips. Cho had the same approach that Patis outlined above about a backstage green room in the comic strip world. I recall a run in Liberty Meadows where some of the characters got lost in other strip panels - or - in a very memorable run - the character Frank the vet was set up on a blind date with "AACCKK!" Cathy.

Posted by: HP11 | April 28, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Lio on Sunday April 19th went backstage of a Pearls Before Swine strip and last week had an encounter with the Gil Thorp strip.

Posted by: nottenst | April 28, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

I think Stone Soup used characters from other strips as well - I believe it was a book club arc that lasted a week maybe. Cathy from Cathy, Connie from Zits (nobody could remember her name...she was always referred to as "Jeremy's mom"), Elly from For Better or For Worse, Rose from Rose Is Rose and Alice from Dilbert were the characters that I remember. Also, I remember Rose having a couple of telephone conversations a long time ago with a friend thought to be from another strip - maybe Stone Soup's Val.

Posted by: LibbyJ51 | April 28, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

fr drazen1:

>...As for a Rashomon event proposal, and as a bow to the Dennis theme cited today, I'd like to see a day where at least one character in participating comic strips was naked to some extent. ...<

If I remember correctly, the much-loved Opus from Bloom County was naked in at least ONE strip, when he was told to remove his bowtie!

Posted by: Alex511 | April 28, 2009 6:08 PM | Report abuse

Tom Inge did a whole book on breaking the 4th wall - 'Anything Can Happen in a Comic Strip'. And re: The Rashoman Effect, Frank Miller's Sin City comic books all intersect in a bar scene that's in each comics narrative (not original to me - a presenter at the International Comic Arts Festival pointed this out years ago). King Features' Earth Day that Michael posted about last week was the only large cross-strip event that's happened recently iirc.

Posted by: Mrhode | April 28, 2009 8:27 PM | Report abuse

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