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Posted at 9:35 AM ET, 10/20/2009

'Riffs Picks: From iPhone art to the 'Addams Family' obit, today's eye-catching images

By Michael Cavna

Taking care of cartooning's breakout hits...

In comics, the '80s are remembered by many with a halycyon glow, thanks especially to a trio of beacons: the brilliant creative lights who launched the masterworks "Calvin and Hobbes," "Bloom County" and "The Far Side." Largely because of them, the '80s are often cited as a golden age of comics. And then in the '90s, such strips as "Dilbert," "Zits," "Mutts" and "The Boondocks" lent plenty of creative heft to that decade.

Now, in these shifting times for comics strips, the industry especially needs its beacons -- its cartoonists whose voices connect with a large audience. And that's the reason I solicited opinions yesterday about "Pearls Before Swine."

Stephan Pastis's popular and hilarious comic is often cited -- frequently in the same company as "Get Fuzzy" and "Cul de Sac," to name two -- as proof that comics are still fresh, revitalized and relevant. On-the-bubble strips of lagging popularity may need their defenders, but hot-property comics entrusted with the promise of cartooning's future sometimes need the most minding of all. Amid the fossils, new creative blood must be tapped and well-treated.

So, who will emerge in the next decade to become beacons of comic-strip cartooning? Heck, I'm not even sure who will emerge next YEAR. (There's always the distinct possibility that the next "Calvin and Hobbes" will be a webcomic that succeeds to absurd levels on multiple platforms.) All I know today is that we need to help cultivate that next generation of bright and brilliant comic artists. Because as with a sports team or a film or a TV show or sometimes even a newspaper, even a few superstars can be enough to keep many fans showing up, paying up and staying excited about the form of entertainment or information at hand.

So today, I ask readers the 'Riffs question of the day: Do you have any favorite budding or lying dormant strips that you hope will break out in 2010?

Now, on to today's 'RIFFS PICKS:
Our fave images this minute, culled from across the mighty mighty Web...

5. THEY REALLY ARE A SCREE-UM: Vic Mizzy, the man who wrote the "Addams Family" and "Green Acres" theme songs, has reportedly died in L.A. at 93. The Associated Press writes: "Mizzy has said that he didn't mind if people only remember him for the finger snaps at the start of the 'The Addams Family' theme song. After all, he said 'two snaps got me a mansion in Bel Air.' "

It was the great and ghoulish cartoons of Charles Addams, of course, that magazine master of the macabre, that birthed the 1964-66 TV series (as well other TV series and feature films, natch). His many project included the syndicated strip "Out of This World." So today, we pay tribute to Mr. Mizzy and hope Mr. Addams's many fans will do the same. To that end, 'Riffs posts this video of Vic Mizzy from two years, followed (right before the 3-minute mark) with the theme song itself:

TODAY'S 'RIFFS PICKS (continued)...

4. A 'BRUSHES' WITH GREATNESS: As artwork created on the iPhone app Brushes grows ever more popular and common, Comic Riffs is eager to see how the cartoon possibilities play out. One renowned painter who might indirectly point the way for cartoonists, too, is DAVID HOCKNEY. Here he is an engaging New York Times slide show of his iPhone creations.

3. GO 'FORTH' AND MULTIPLY: On today's funnypages, there is one strip in particular that I'm immediately repelled by -- yet I'm simultaneously drawn to its dialogue in a way I'm not entirely comfortable with. The bane of my persistence is Sally and Ted's yapping about their would-be steamy sex life in today's SALLY FORTH. I feel so voyeuristic -- perhaps because I suddenly cannot get the song "Mustang Sally" outta my head -- and yet, it's addictive, rather like watching the Gosselins without the same insane degree of supreme narcissism, or the Duggars without the same supreme powers of procreation. "Sally Forth," get thee to a TLC soundstage but fast.

2. WHERE THE WILD O-RINGS ARE: Funniest mash-up of this still-young week: Sendak meets starfleet in Tuesday's very funny "BREWSTER ROCKIT" -- which is even more amusing than Monday's "Brewster Rockit."

Annnd the top images for today:

1. BALLOON BOY STILL GIVETH: The Washington Examiner's NATE BEELER delivers -- ploop! -- his funny take on "Reality TV." ("Falcon cannot hear the falconer / The central cortex cannot hold.")

What's left for the reader to figure out, though: Does the news coverage of real events thus now qualify as "reality TV," since what transfixed a nation (and apparently much of the world) was not "reality TV" but rather, um, REALITY, as perpetrated by former reality-TV actors? (Head. Hurts. I now realize this a koan that perhaps only Mr. Spock, or Regin Philbin, can ever really know.)

The single most powerful cartoon I've seen out of the Alleged Balloon Boy Hoaxathon, however, is by the San Diego Union-Tribune's STEVE BREEN.
Chillingly poignant. Bravo.

By Michael Cavna  | October 20, 2009; 9:35 AM ET
Categories:  The Morning Line, The Riffs  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Should 'Pearls' be cast before swine? Time to Defend That 'Toon
Next: 'Riffs Picks: From the Washington Dreadskins cartoon to Comics Volunteerism week, today's top contenders


Dog Eat Doug ( is a recent discovery that I'm really enjoying. The art is wonderful and the characters and dialogue exceed what you'd expect from a "boy and his dog" strip. This analogy is far from perfect, but think Calvin and Hobbes meets Red and Rover?

Posted by: mgoff1 | October 20, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Is it national service/volunteer week? We have good deeds happening in Big Nate, Frazz, Red & Rover, Curtis, Mutts, to anem a few -- what gives? I hope it's inspiring, of course, but I feel like I'm missing something.

Posted by: capecodner424 | October 20, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Ink Pen, What the Duck, Agnes, F-Minus, Basic Instructions, Perry Bible Fellowship

Posted by: greasypores | October 20, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Brushes is awesome. I used to have another drawing app, but never felt very comfortable using it. But Brushes is just fantastic... especially for doing thumbnails and mockups and stuff you'd normally do in a pocket sketchbook.

Posted by: tidalwv | October 20, 2009 12:07 PM | Report abuse

My votes:

I'd offer xkcd as the best strip out there right now. (Of course, one might need to be a bit of a nerd to really get properly into it.)

F Minus is brilliant when it hits (and it hits more often than it misses), and Last Kiss does very excellent things with absurdity.

And finally, continuing-story strips usually have lots of issues, but Pibgorn is consistently engrossing, not just for the story but for the artwork.

Posted by: dfbdfb | October 20, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

I vote F Minus, New Adventures of Queen Victoria, and of course xkcd.

Here's a question for you Michael. As much as I enjoy and love them, can comics like xkcd and Queen Victoria be considered "great" in light of their art work? Randall does great things with stick figures, but can you compare stick figures to Calvin and Hobbs or Zits or even The Far Side? And NAQV looks as though it copy-and-pastes its art work into each panel. Of course, that is part of its charm, and I REALLY like these strips, but does uber-simplistic art work lower the intrinsic value of a comic?

Posted by: ishkabibbleA | October 20, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

oh, and I also love Girls with Slingshots.
The artwork IS beautiful to look at, I like the continuing storyline, and there's a pretty big cast of interesting and authentic characters. But the character demographic (nerdy 30-something hipsters with various social, sexual, and chemical dependency problems) might not make it a winner in all circles.

Posted by: ishkabibbleA | October 20, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Wondermark (though I think I've praised its virtues on this blog before). I'll be checking out these others.

Posted by: RKaufman13 | October 20, 2009 5:53 PM | Report abuse

ishkabibbleA, I agree that New Adventures of Queen Victoria is one of the best among the crop of relatively new strips. As for whether the paste-up art makes it unworthy of comparison with the undeniably "great" strips such as C&H, I have to wonder: would the Queen Vic strip be in any way "improved" if it were drawn in that wonderfully expressive C&H-style by Watterson? I'm not sure that it would. The rigidity of the paste-up artwork forces more of the concept to be expressed through the storyline and dialog, and that's not necessarily a completely bad thing, particularly in the modern era when comics are so tiny that artistic nuances tend to be almost invisible. Perhaps comics that invert the very definition of the medium by relying more nearly on verbal expression than visual portrayal will become the norm in the future, given their diminished size. I was about to make a reference to the completely non-visual old strip-within-a-strip "Sawdust" in "Dick Tracy", but mentioning "Sawdust" (OK, for that matter, "Dick Tracy") in a thread devoted to "great comics" has short-circuited my brain, so I'll quit.

Posted by: seismic-2 | October 20, 2009 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Well I for one enjoy the smugly witty repartee of Sally Forth & family. Besides, the lady is hot.

Posted by: PartialObserver | October 20, 2009 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Jorge Colombo's been using an iphone to draw New Yorker covers - I think you can see some on their website.

And, yes, what is it with all of these volunteering strips this week?

Posted by: Mrhode | October 20, 2009 10:58 PM | Report abuse

I have been reading Cow and Boy for a while and like it.

Posted by: buckeye96 | October 21, 2009 7:42 AM | Report abuse

seismic-2, you make a good point. Especially concerning the shrinking size allotment of newspapers. I imagine it's similar to any art form: the fundamentals and requirements shift over time. eg Pollack isn't "bad," even though his work is hardly representational.

Posted by: ishkabibbleA | October 21, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

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