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Posted at 8:05 AM ET, 07/30/2009

Painfully Funny: The Strip That Puts the Pun in 'Punch!'

By The Reliable Source

Back in the land of the daily funnies...


'DILBERT' (UFS)Enlarge Image

After nearly a week in the Super-Sized Surreality of Comic-Con, it's good to step back into the comfort of the daily funnypages. Everyone pretty much looks the same, and -- looky here -- this Riffster can pick up the "Mark Trail" storyline without having even to retrace my steps to the recalcitrant toxic drums and the lone gunman. Niiice. Say this about most serials: They're like an old pair of Hush Puppies -- comfortable, reliable and more than a half-century old.

Now as I cast my eyes about the page, an old feeling begins to stir: Why, it's my admitted intolerance for how "Frank & Ernest" puns are delivered. Perhaps I'm just cranky from my twice-delayed flight from LAX, but today's "Follow the Mummy" pun pains me more than the Econo-class seat that turns your kneecaps into a pair of student-driver brake pads.

But here's the thing: It's not just the punning. If it were, I'd be equally agitated by today's "Dilbert," which features the ol' "assaulted/ salted" punning (wordplay I'd bet even "Frank & Ernest" has deployed in the past.) So why does "Dilbert" not hector my senses in the same way? (Why, in fact, do I laugh at today's cubeville yuk?)

The simple answer, of course, is that this "Dilbert" is FUNNY. But the real answer is: Context Is King.

In "Frank & Ernest," f'rinstance, most everyone is smiling. Ick. In real life, this would warm my heart like an E.T. heat lamp. But in a comic that features nary a cute kid or fuzzy animal, it's all too cloying. Without a victim -- a pawn or sucker or dupe or a "mark" for the joke -- it's simply a strained pun that could have countless, equally lame variations. (Look -- the Goldilocks bears are winking: "Follow the honey!" Ooh, wait, no -- Hugh Hefner is winking: "Follow the bunny!" See, you, too, can write painfully formulaic "Frank&Ernest" for pun and profit!) Ugh.

"Dilbert," by contrast, is obviously plying its humor on several levels. The mischievousness begins immediately with the mondo-foreheaded foodie. Then the insta-identification: Our collective irritation (at least in most of America) with anyone who's just a little too precious about what they put in their pie-hole. (Even those of us who seriously relish watching food gurus Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern and Giada de Laurentiis.)

Next: Toss in a pinch of French: Ah, Scott Adams is bringing this gag to a full boil. Wham-o! We share the emotional release in that great traditional of Violent Cartoon Acts. Alice has graciously provided the foodie with a much BIGGER pie-hole, so really -- unless the foodie and his forehead are dead -- it's a win-win for everyone.

Lastly, NO one is smiling at the "camera." Well, maybe Wally, but his mouth is obscured, which even heightens the sense: He's only smiling on the inside. Right along with us.

If only Alice could transfer to "Frank & Ernest" for a coupla semesters. Can you imagine how suddenly funny and revivified the strip would be if Alice were allowed to pummel them about the noggin whenever their puns warranted the abuse? As in: almost daily.

"Frank & Alice." Yes indeedy. Now that's a strip I would knuckle down and read.


IT'S NO "CIRCUS" TO JEFFY: Yesterday, we featured the Comic-Con panel session at which Stephan Pastis appeared. The stunt-loving "Pearls Before Swine" cartoonist has now blogged about his efforts to get "Family Circus's" Jeff Keane to join in his high jinks. Even Pastis's blog provides good laughs. Worth the quick-click.

Is there a comic you love -- or loathe -- today? If so, Comic Riffs invites your comment and share them links.

By The Reliable Source  | July 30, 2009; 8:05 AM ET
Categories:  The Morning Line  
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The main thing that I have always hated about Frank & Ernest is not the atrocious puns, it is the woefully sloppy drawing. That comic has always looked disheveled. The eternal smiles and the bug-eyed looks on the characters only makes it worse.

Posted by: kilby | July 30, 2009 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, while I admit to liking Dilbert, this strip made no sense. The pun is just WAY too awkward. No one says "that french fry is a salted one" so trying to equate "assaulted" with "a salted" really makes no sense. The reach was too long for this pun to even be a pun.

Posted by: Dougmacintyre | July 30, 2009 9:04 AM | Report abuse

Have you ever encountered the British strip "Bristow"? It somewhere between Frank & Ernest and The Office. I used to read it daily in the Sydney Morning Herald back in Oz. I still follow it online. It varies from being very funny to excruciating. The central character is Bristow who is 18th inline to the chief buyer and chronicles an office worker going nowhere and doing as little work between office politics. There are some good ongoing characters like "The Blondini Brothers (scaffolding to the gentry)" and continuing references to past events such as "The Great Tea Trolley Disaster of 1986".

Posted by: Neale | July 30, 2009 9:37 AM | Report abuse

Dilbert just isn't funny. I do love F&E: maybe it is just my second childhood now that I am 67.

Posted by: ZeldaJane | July 30, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Dilbert is FUNNY! The best part is Wally, still chewing on his sandwich unfazed by it all.

Posted by: jimbo1949 | July 30, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Dilbert made me unconfortable for some reason, maybe because she has to work the rest of the day with gore all over her sleeve.

Posted by: 2old2readcomics | July 30, 2009 7:56 PM | Report abuse

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