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Posted at 7:30 AM ET, 05/20/2009

In China, It's the Year of the Rat-and-Pig

By Michael Cavna


Occasionally, spurred by a precise confluence of caffeine, outside artistic inspiration and blank-eyed deadline desperation, we cartoonists decide to get seriously meta. To play with the comic-strip form itself. To literally break fourth walls. To bust the borders. To reveal the usually invisible hand of the cartoonist -- sometimes by showing the existential erasure of a character.

Or, put more plainly: To blow up some conventions but good.

Today's "Pearls Before Swine" is one of the best convention-twisting strips I've seen in a good long while. Now, here's my questions to the strip's followers: Just how long did you have to read it until you "got" exactly what Stephan Pastis was doing? That he was pulling a right-to-left narrative?

By point of comparison, I'm a sucker for films that require you to piece together intricately jagged, non-linear plots (i.e., Christopher Nolan's "Memento"). And I'm equally a sucker for a three-panel strip that challenges my sense of how to read it.

My next question, naturally, is: Would this work in a blog? Well:

Forget I ever tried it.

That would be very confusing.

Can you imagine if bloggers played with the structure of a post?

Did you know that Post comics bloggers sometimes are inclined to blog from bottom to top?

Hello, Folks...


'SPEED BUMP' (Creators)Enlarge Image


BE KIND REWIND: Too much synergy makes my head spin. And today, my cranium's a carousel. Especially thanks to "Speed Bump" and "Brewster Rockit."

In "Speed Bump," the monks/friars/padre-esque fellows discuss the fact a rap song is stuck in one's head. (There's a Dr. Pa'Dre pun in there somewhere. Something for a Frank&Ernest gag-writer to take up, however.)

Meantime, in "Brewster," we got the continued story of the most contagious dynamic known to man and woman and space alien: The rapidity with which "It's a Small World" can strike your synapses and not let go for hours.

And as we all know, there is only one cure for dislodging "Small World." And that is letting the "Meow Mix" jingle into your head.

(My apologies in advance, "Elyrest.")


'MARK TRAIL' (NAS)Enlarge Image

Thanks to the power of woeful perspective, today we get yet another strip in which a character -- Doc -- refuses. To. Look. Mark. Trail. Dead. In. The. Eye. Unless Khaki Mark can emit death-rays from those inky peepers -- or pull off a "Terminator: Salvation" gaze -- we presume it's just the shoddy art. ("Bad art! Bad.")

Those are my beefs, bickerings and bon mots off today's strips. What are yours?

By Michael Cavna  | May 20, 2009; 7:30 AM ET
Categories:  The Morning Line  
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I think reading Mark Trail from right-to-left improves the story line.

Posted by: filfeit | May 20, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse

Me-ow! I like the joke in Too Much Coffee Man.

Posted by: MSchafer | May 20, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Maybe this

is why I still read Ballard Street. The occasional gem.

Posted by: filfeit | May 20, 2009 8:59 AM | Report abuse

.away go Trail Mark ,God of love the For

Posted by: Montanan | May 20, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

MC>> Can you inquire whether Jack Elrod is actually drawing this strip or if he has an assistant.

Or, better yet, how much of this is re-cycled from yesteryear(s). I swear this strip has is all over the place in terms of the artwork...sometimes detailed, sometimes it looks like a five year drew it.

Posted by: catman2530 | May 20, 2009 10:09 AM | Report abuse

I figured "Pearls" out in the middle panel, but I still read it to the end and then read it backwards. I read a lot of mysteries and it is surprising how many of them will start with the death and then work backwards.

filfeit - You're right! This "Mark Trail" read much better backwards.

And Mark Cavna there is a small piece of Purgatory reserved for people who plant "Small World" and "Meow Mix" earworms into innocent readers' heads. I once had Jiminy Cricket's "Encyclopedia" stuck in my head for days. It wasn't pretty. If you want to hear this go to the link and it will start at just after 30 seconds. It's not long. Now it will be mixing it up with Meow and Small. (It's a small encyclopedia meow meow meow meow.)

Posted by: elyrest | May 20, 2009 10:31 AM | Report abuse

The reason that Doc fails to look directly at Mark when talking to him is that the Mark Trail comic strip is computer-generated, and the Jackelrod 2K9 didn't have in its clip-art database a graphic of Doc's profile pointed in the right direction. Of course, trying to interpret the art in spite of such graphics misfires (which normally result in the insertion of word balloons directed from clip-art squirrels that are larger than any of the humans, automobiles, or houses in the same panels) pales in comparison with the problems that result from trying to make sense of the printed output of the Random Dialog Generator, so don't sweat the pictures of Doc looking the wrong way..

Anyway, there is much to be said in favor of reading the comics out of order, especially by simply skipping a couple of weeks' worth of slow plot development and just skipping ahead to the "good parts". For instance, as we all know, Judge Parker tends to drag a bit when Randy and Sam get to talking with each other, so we can just skip reading it while Rocky and Godiva buy that Arabian horse from Sam and Abby and while Rocky reveals his true nature as a ruthless exploiter of the communities in which he builds his factories by demanding exemptions from all environmental regulations and by threatening to stop operations unless the city makes major improvements to the property, resulting in the raising of taxes to an oppressive level, whereupon a drunken Godiva (who we see is already angry with Rocky) will lead a protest against him by climbing out of that swimming pool and getting on their new Arabian horse, and **THEN** it's time to start reading the strip again, oh please please please please please

Posted by: seismic-2 | May 20, 2009 12:05 PM | Report abuse



Posted by: jimbo1949 | May 20, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Ah, jimbo1949 - you caught it!

Posted by: elyrest | May 20, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

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