Strip down and enjoy a good funny page or graphic novel
YOU MAY have noticed my column runs on Sundays. It used to run on Thursdays. Sadly, now my column's farther from the comics. I'd like for people to laugh at the funnies and peripherally associate that humor with me.
When I was a kid in Stockton, reading the comics as I ate breakfast before heading to the school bus stop, I was fond of "Zits" and "Foxtrot." I saved them for last, to read as I slurped down the dregs of my Carnation Instant Breakfast through a bendy straw.
I eventually developed a theory of comic strips: The more punchlines in the last panel, the better they were. The likes of "Shoe" or "B.C." have maybe one punchline per strip. "Dilbert," "Zits" and "Foxtrot" have two. "Get Fuzzy" will have three or more punchlines per strip. "Luann" or "The Born Loser" have about zero.
"The Family Circus," "The Lockhorns" and "Born Loser" often start off disadvantaged in this metric, with their single-panel format. At least "They'll Do It Every Time" and "The Family Circus" try innovations in divvying up that one panel.
Now that I have free time, an Internet connection of my own and disposable income, I've branched out to comic books, graphic novels and online comics. Like every Bay Area citizen, I read my share of Daniel Clowes ("Ghost World") and Adrian Tomine ("Summer Blonde"). But, just as the discomfort humor found in "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "The Office" doesn't appeal to me, the Clowes/Tomine approach of closely observing human awkwardness doesn't grab me in a good way. If I want that, I have everyday life.
Sadly, my favorite comics author now lives in Southern California (hiss! boo!). Brian K. Vaughan is the auteur behind three great ongoing series. "Ex Machina" is a superhero fantasy about a civil engineer who gets supernatural powers, tries vigilantism and gives that life up to run for Mayor of New York City. If you like "Batman" and "The West Wing" then you are like me, and I like "Ex Machina."
"Runaways" is Vaughn's suspense/romance series about teens who find out they have superpowers because their parents are supervillains. Lots of critics compare it to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and for good reason.
Vaughn's most famous work is "Y: The Last Man," which follows the last man alive (and his female protectors) after a plague wipes out all of Earth's other males. "Y" reminds me of both Ursula K. Le Guin's award-winning sci-fi classics: "The Left Hand of Darkness" and "The Dispossessed."
Vaughn works in comic books, the type you could pick up at Comic Relief on Shattuck in Berkeley.
I have never found a U.S. comic book shop that stocks my childhood comics, the Indian "Amar Chitra Katha" series. ACK will teach you about Indian mythology and make you marvel at how completely different India's value system is from America's. You can read some and order them online at http://www.amarchitrakatha.com [http://www.amarchitrakatha.com].
Online is also home to some of my favorite webcomics (a quick Google search will be your ticket, and it's best to read them in order from the start). The Bay Area's own Keith Knight writes up his wacky life in "The K Chronicles." And the Bay Area also hosts Chris Onstad's inexplicable "Achewood," a profane and hilarious strip that features talking animals. "Achewood" has no real punchlines, much the same way that the square root of negative one is not technically a real number.
Ryan North's "Dinosaur Comics" shares intellect, offbeat humor and a love of obscure references with Dorothy Gambrell's "Cat and Girl."
If you hate spam, here's a way to make lemonade from the lemons in your inbox: read the spam parody strip "Spamusement" by Steven Frank.
For raunchy, cynical humor and story arcs, R.K. Milholland's "Something Positive" and Bernie Hou's "Alien Loves Predator" gladly provide. Just don't read them at work.
To round out my list, I have to include the sci-fi humor strip "Starslip Crisis" by my friend Kris Straub, even though he's also from Southern California, because it's good. Several of the webcomics I've mentioned play with size and shape, but "Starslip Crisis" is a four-panel strip with a few punchlines at the end, every day. Newspaper comics: watch out!
I've been thinking about newspaper comics because of Joshua Fruhlinger's comics satire blog, "The Comics Curmudgeon," at http://www.joshreads.com [http://www.joshreads.com]. Check it out and laugh at "Apartment 3-G" with him, and associate that laugh with me, and with the intentional jokes in the daily paper.
Sumana Harihareswara writes for Bay Area Living each week. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.