Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #206

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #206

…We must shoot down as many Albatross’ as we can – every one of them is a greater threat to our boys than two battalions of Huns…

Albatros D.III Werner Voss, by Arkadiusz Wróbel

European Allies have had Americans flying in their ranks for a couple of years now and are the most comfortable in the sky.

Wright or wrong, you cannot dispute effectiveness of aircraft and if men like Billy Mitchell do not advance the cause, the Germans would have controlled the skies, perhaps changing the course of world history.

 Harv Pearson is seated in the rear of a room of military men, commanders all, planning an offensive beginning at Saint Mihiel on the Western Front. Mitchell, just a colonel, is prominent in the September 1918 meeting, urging to use just about every available aircraft, ‘to chase retreating German forces into tomorrow.’

“We have the opportunity break through that damned Siegfried Line! Doesn’t it make sense to shoot down as many Albatross’ as we can – every one of them is a greater threat to our boys than two battalions of Huns!” Billy Mitchell will use any means to make his point, including the press and their widening audience.

“Colonel Mitchell, you have been in Europe longer than any other adviser, what are some of the others uses for the airplane, other than those hair-raising dogfights?” asks Harv, the only reporter in the room.

“If they would listen to me, I would sink every ship that they have, but they don’t think our bombs can do it, that’s bull***t!”

“What if the ships are in the middle of the Atlantic? The current range of airplanes barely allows you to fly to Belgium and back?”

 “We could land them on boats.” He is thinking on the fly. “Our aces can land in the middle of a herd of cattle, why not on a ship!”

Air warHarv does not know what to say, getting more of an answer than he was prepared for. As far as he knows, there are no ships with an airfield for a deck. What others are whispering may be true, ‘Billy Mitchell is an extremist, bent on unproven things with little regard for his superiors.’

“Gotta go, Pearson; more Albatross’ to shoot out of the sky.” There is a hint of glee in his voice. Was he going to fly a mission? Harv wouldn’t put it past the fiery flying enthusiast.

Alpha Omega M.D.

Episode #206

page 193

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 239

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Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 239

…Willard Libby and Billy Graham, the scientist and the evangelist, tie a bow around  an event of Godly proportions…

A few backstage moments…

“Awards and accolades are great, but that is not what I set out to obtain when I hijacked Martin’s C-14 and took it one step further. Without carbon as a stable, consistent isotope, the rest of the puzzle is just so many oddly shaped pieces. With it, I got lucky and guessed the age of a mummy, one that already identified and verified and was able to guess his (or her) age within 50 years. And yes there are going to be tweaks to the half-life down the road and there will be those that insist on blasting the outside limit past twenty thousand, but I have the numbers on my side.”

Nobel, Nobel, Nobel!” the chant rises among the gathered Libbyites.

“My cousin Syl was up for the Nobel Prize in 1909 for……,” peanut gallery member Eddie stops short of slandering himself.

“In the category of literature, the N-O-B-L-E prize for fiction goes to Eddie “50 Cousins” Dombroski,” mocks Ace Bannion, expressing what others are thinking, but would not say.

Constance has been there for most, if not all of the Cousin stories. “I encourage you to start making detailed notes about your 1st and 2nd removed family, put those stories down on paper. I have two friends who can help you with that,” she refers to Carolyn Hanes of Tallahassee and that wordsmith by the name of Gwenny.”(wink)

“That is a wonderful suggestion Constance,” adds Billy Graham, among the group that is finding it hard to split up, considering what they have gone through. “I feel I need to clarify a few things. Clarify? No, perhaps just add my perspective on things.

“Our God picks his fights judiciously. In recent history, seldom has the world experienced his supernatural power first hand and if they have, HE is not given credit for it. On this day, we and 50,000 or so of our newest friends (and millions we don’t even know) have witnessed the Creator taking charge of an important moment, a blink of his eye, but a turning point for this generation of believers.

“The entire world went dark tonight. If only for a few fleeting seconds, he silenced this planet to take care of His business, there is no other explanation except God and He knows-we know it.”

Constance Caraway P.I.

when the world went dark

Forever Mastadon

page 201

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 72

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Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 72

… Eddie’s dream Part 2…

His dream of grandeur is interrupted by murkily black figure presenting him with a pointed proposition, “You can have all of this Eddie, the fame, the adoration of your cousins, you’ll never have to pay for another beer the rest of your life,” his arms extend out for yards revealing a collage of enticing scenes, all for the gratification of a deficient human being.

“What do you ask in return for all these things?” There must be a price to pay, right?

“You will be transported back in time, before the end of the war,” one of Pentateuch’s beloved achievements (Adolf Hitler), “where you will live out a hero’s existence. All of the present day will not happen, no taxi driving around rude people, and no need of bragging or telling tales, no nagging feelings of inferiority.”

Then the other shoe drops.

“But I do require one thing… the mortal soul that you have been given.”

“My soul,” Eddie shivers in the presence of one so powerful.

“Yes, your soul, handed over for my keeping. I NEED TO KNOW NOW, Eddie Dombroski, are you with me or against me!?”

Before he is able to answer that weighty pronouncement, Eddie is violently shaken by his Mrs. Dombroski (Edie), who was wondering why her husband is wandering around the house sleepwalking.

In an instant, he remembers what he had been dreaming and it is disconcerting. He feels like he has been snatched from the jaws of a hungry predator, just short of becoming a meal.

“I must have been hungry,” he replies, knowing that he won’t be sharing this apparition any time, with any one soon.


On the way back to the U of C, the CCPI band of characters…

  1.  lead vocalist Constance Caraway
  2. drummer Fanny Renwick
  3. featuring Martin Kamen on sax
  4. Willard Libby on radiocarbon base
  5. & Eddie Dombroski as the  wacky dee-jay

… make an unscheduled stop on their tour. Perhaps a stop at Argonne will give Libby a jump start.

O contraire. It turns out to be the trigger mechanism for his stillness, causing the incapacitated man to shrink even further into reclusion. Some memories must be too traumatic to overcome.

Just how much of the ordeal does he recall, or when/where is the moment of his last mental connection to the real world? He definitely has a story to tell, merely lacking the mechanism to deliver it. He has no words to put together either oral or written, to expose that 2 ton elephant in the room.

Constance Caraway P.I.

Forever Mastadon

page 68 (end Ch. 6)

World Wide Words Issue 925 – WIF Style

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WIF World Wide Wors

World Wide Words

Issue 925



Feedback, notes and comments


But and ben. “The term is not one I am familiar with,” John Jefferies emailed, “but it does bring to mind a well-established Irish (Gaelic) word bothán which is a small hut, shed or cabin and would neatly match your description of a small two-roomed house.”

Barbara Roden wrote, “Your explanation of the phrase was especially interesting, as I’m familiar with it from a children’s skipping rhyme that was in circulation after the crimes of anatomists Burke and Hare in early 19th century Edinburgh were exposed:

Up the close and doun the stair,
But and ben wi’ Burke and Hare.
Burke’s the butcher, Hare’s the thief,
Knox the boy that buys the beef.

Dutch speakers noted the close associations between the Scots words and ones in their language. Alexander Bocast commented, “The expressions binnen en buiten and buiten en binnen are not uncommon in Dutch, although they generally contrast the interior of a building to its exterior. For example, a restaurant might advertise buiten and binnen to inform customers that they can eat either inside or outside on, say, a terrace or patio.”

Several British readers complained at my seeming to have adopted the US spelling story instead of storey in this piece for one level of a building. It was, of course, a typing error.

Logomaniac. Medical practitioners pointed out that a person who exhibits what I described as “pathologically excessive (and often incoherent) talking”, is usually said to be suffering from logorrhoea rather than logomania.

Type lice. Rob Graham wrote, “I would like to think that by the end of the first paragraph I was suspicious of this lovely bit of writing. My father sent me to the local shop for elbow grease when I joined the school army cadets and had brass buttons to polish.” David Pearson recalls, “I, too, was the object of many such a prank when in the 1960s I was a fairly gullible teenager working in a factory and later on a building site. Among other things, I was told to fetch a skyhook (before the term became more common, notably in sci-fi) and was sent once for a long stand, at which point the storeman disappeared for 10 minutes and was presumably sitting out of sight reading a newspaper while I stood waiting at the counter.”

By hook or by crook

From Alice Winsome: I know that by hook or by crook means to do something by any means possible, but why those two words? What’s the story behind it?

This curious phrase has bothered many people down the years, the result being a succession of well-meant stories, often fervently argued, that don’t stand up for a moment on careful examination.

As good a place to start as any is the lighthouse at the tip of the Hook peninsula in south-eastern Ireland, said to be the world’s oldest working lighthouse. It is at the east side of the entrance to Waterford harbour, on the other side of which is a little place called Crook (or so it is said: no map I’ve consulted shows it). One tale claims that Oliver Cromwell proposed to invade Ireland during the English Civil War by way of Waterford and that he asserted he would land there “by Hook or by Crook”. In another version the invasion of Ireland was the one of 1172 by Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, also known as Strongbow.

Two other stories associate the phrase with gentlemen called Hook and Crook. Both appeared in early issues of the scholarly research publication Notes and Queries. One linked it with the difficulties of establishing the exact locations of plots of land after the great fire of London in 1666. The anonymous writer explained:

The surveyors appointed to determine the rights of the various claimants were Mr. Hook and Mr. Crook, who by the justice of their decisions gave general satisfaction to the interested parties, and by their speedy determination of the different claims, permitted the rebuilding of the city to proceed without the least delay. Hence arose the saying above quoted, usually applied to the extrication of persons or things from a difficulty. The above anecdote was told the other evening by an old citizen upwards of eighty, by no means of an imaginative temperament.

Notes and Queries, 15 Feb. 1851.

The other supposed derivation was equally poorly substantiated:

I have met with it somewhere, but have lost my note, that Hooke and Crooke were two judges, who in their day decided most unconscientiously whenever the interests of the crown were affected, and it used to be said that the king could get anything by Hooke or by Crooke.

Notes and Queries, 26 Jan. 1850.

Most of these stories can be readily dismissed by looking at the linguistic evidence, which tells us that the expression is on record from the end of the fourteenth century, by which time it was already a set phrase with the current meaning.

During this period, local people sometimes had rights by charter or custom known as fire-bote to gather firewood from local woodlands. It was acceptable to take dead wood from the ground or to pull down dead branches. The latter action was carried out either with a hook or a crook, the latter implement being a tool like a shepherd’s crook or perhaps just a crooked branch.

Little contemporary evidence exists for this practice. Written claims for it dating from the seventeenth century are said to exist for the New Forest in southern England, one of which argued for an immemorial right to go into the king’s wood to take the dead branches off the trees “with a cart, a horse, a hook and a crook, and a sail cloth”. Another version was once claimed to be in the records of Bodmin in Cornwall, whereby locals were permitted by a local prior “to bear and carry away on their backs, and in no other way, the lop, crop, hook, crook, and bagwood in the prior’s wood of Dunmeer.” Richard Polwhele’s Civil and Military History of Cornwall of 1806 argued in support of this claim that images of the hook and the crook were carved on the medieval Prior’s Cross in nearby Washaway, though modern writings describe them as fleurs-de-lys.

The examples suggest that this origin for the expression is the correct one, though some doubt must remain. If so, as hook and crook were effectively synonyms, it was almost inevitable that they were put together to make a reduplicated rhyming phrase.


This word appeared in the caption to a photo I saw recently in a whaling museum in the Azores. (I spare no effort to bring you interesting words.)

The caption mentioned the groove that had been worn by ropes in the loggerhead on a whaling boat. A loggerhead, I have learned, was a round timber block set upright in the stern of the boat. Once a harpooner had struck the whale, he passed the rope attached to the harpoon round the loggerhead a couple of times to hold it fast.

The loggerhead in the photo had been carefully fashioned, so there was nothing log-like about it other than it having been made of timber; however, you might fancifully say that it looked like a wooden head. So it wasn’t an altogether unlikely name for the contrivance. But when I came to look into the history of the word it turns out that the whaling sense was a latecomer.

Loggerhead starts to appear in the historical record near the end of the sixteenth century. An early example:

Ah you whoreson loggerhead! You were born to do me shame.

Love’s Labour’s Lost, by William Shakespeare, c1596.

At that time it meant a stupid person, the closely similar blockhead suggesting the idea behind it. Though presumably derived from log, what a logger was at the time is unclear, because it doesn’t appear in print until much later. The usual view among dictionary makers is that it was a heavy block of wood fastened to the leg of a horse to hobble it, to prevent it straying, an assertion that dates back no further than a dialect dictionary of 1777.

What went through the minds of whalers who applied it to the useful device on their boats is impossible to discover but but we might guess that it was similarly considered to be a dumb block of wood for restraining an animal, although a whale rather than a horse.

We know loggerhead these days most commonly in the idiom to be at loggerheads, meaning to be in stubborn or irresolvable disagreement or dispute over some issue:

The school security guards are now at loggerheads with the city’s police department, who they accuse of attempting to hide the true scale of the problem, to improve their crime statistics.

The Independent, 16 May 2016.

As loggerhead has no clear meaning in current English (its whaling sense being a long obsolete term of art in a specialised and localised activity) the idiom is meaningless in itself, but its form is expressive and it has lasted surprisingly well in the language. It can be traced to 1671 in the related go to loggerheads, to start a fight, though its modern form came into being in the early nineteenth century.

How loggerhead began to be used for a fight is similarly lost to history. One image it calls up is of two thick-headed idiots face-to-face in an argument that is likely to end in fisticuffs. That may be enough to explain the origin. However, some writers point to various implements with bulbous ends, of which one was used on board ship:

They had been sparring, in a spirit of fun, with loggerheads, those massy iron balls with long handles to be carried red-hot from the fire and plunged into buckets of tar or pitch so that the substance might be melted with no risk of flame.

The Commodore, by Patrick O’Brian, 1994.

There are records of the devices being used as weapons during close engagements of ships, perhaps contributing to the genesis of the expression.

Another maritime association is with the loggerhead turtle; in this case the idea is that of an animal with a big, heavy head. A couple of birds, a Falkland Islands duck and several fish have also had the word applied to them at various times for related reasons. In English dialects a large moth, tadpoles and a species of knapweed have also been called loggerheads.

There are three small places in England and Wales with the name. The one in Staffordshire is said to take its name from the local pub, The Three Loggerheads. This almost certainly derives from an old visual joke — the inn sign would have pictured only two stupid men, the third being taken to be the onlooker.

Polish off

From Evan Parry, New Zealand: In conversation about a culinary celebration, my friend used the expression polish off, thus: “I polished off the leftover food next morning”. While its meaning in context is generally understood, where and how did the expression originate?

It does indeed often appear in connection with food, the key idea being that of consuming it completely and probably quickly:

I could easily polish off a packet of biscuits throughout the afternoon, before my dinner of cheesy pasta with buttered bread.

The Sun (London), 15 May 2016.

though it can be used in a variety of other situations, implying the rapid completion of some activity or the subjugation of some adversary:

Freshman Matt McFadden returned the opening kickoff 36 yards and senior Kyle Wigley polished off the drive with a two-yard run into the end zone.

Gettysburg Times (Pennsylvania), 14 Nov. 2015.

He’ll limp to the election; cross the line sadly weakened; and then, in due course, be polished off by another thrusting contender who better understands the political process and can command a majority of the party.

The Age (Melbourne), 24 May 2016.

The idiom has been around since at least the early nineteenth century. Its initial examples were all in the more general sense, extending to getting rid of something, or even to destroy or kill. The application to food seems to have come along a little later in the century, sometimes being simplified to polish without the off. But in his Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue of 1785 Francis Grose mentions to polish a bone, meaning to eat a meal, so perhaps the food sense really did come first.

The idea here is presumably that of clearing the dish by eating everything on it so thoroughly that it ends up appearing polished. This modern work makes it explicit:

He knew that it was polite to leave a little something on your plate when you finished, but this evening he decided to throw etiquette aside and polished his plate to a shine.

Adam, by Richard Allen Stotts, 2001.

The earliest usages of polish off, however, focus on defeating somebody. Some slang dictionaries expressly say that the first context for the idiom was “pugilistic”, that is, linked to bare-knuckle fist fighting:

Bob had his coat off at once — he stood up to the Banbury man for three minutes, and polished him off in four rounds easy.

Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray, 1847.

It may be that a slightly different idea is behind this meaning. Since polishing is the last job to be done to complete a piece of work such as making a item of furniture, to polish off an opponent is to finish him, to defeat him utterly.

(This ends the Lucy van Pelt feature)



Spectral examination? The lead sentence on a Guardian article of 26 May confused Emery Fletcher: “Shortly after receiving the news of his death, Steve Hodel found himself sorting through his father’s belongings.”

Mathematics as it isn’t taught, from the Observer newspaper of 29 May: “Mandate Now claims that more than four-fifths of five developed nations have some form of mandatory reporting.”

Robert Musgrave wrote, apropos of something completely different: “You may be amused that my first introduction to Schadenfreude was via a howling misprint in a cheap paperback dictionary, in which it was defined as the derivation of joy from the misfortune of otters.”

John C Waugh tells us that the New Zealand Herald online on 31 May reported that “A person has been struck by a train in Auckland for the second time today.” Not a particularly unfortunate passenger, but two separate incidents.

An online report by the Australian national public television network SBS had the headline, “Americans are being warned of possible terror attacks in Europe over summer by the US State Department.” Thanks to Judith Lowe for spotting that.

Bill Waggoner found this in a report dated 2 June on the website BoigBoing about a man who “has settled a case with people who live near him in DC, who caught him repeatedly stealing the license plates off their nanny’s car using a hidden camera.”

World Wide Words Issue 925

WIF Style-001

– WIF Style

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion 1996-2016

When “The Funnies” Were – 1920 to Today

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Top 10 Comic Strips from Each Decade

As the newspaper industry dies a slow, painful death, we should take time to celebrate the part of the paper that can’t quite be replaced by the Internet – the comic strip. Yes, you can go to or a few other comic strip sites, but the days of spreading the newspaper out on the kitchen table and sharing the funny pages with your family are long since gone.

With that in mind, we bring you the top 10 comic strips of all-time, from each decade.

10. 1920: The Katzenjammer Kids


Hans and Fritz were mischievous twins who caused Momma Katzenjammer and the Captain all sorts of grief. First appearing in the Sunday comics way back in 1897, the Katzenjammers are still kicking around in syndication today, making them the longest-running comic strip in history.

That is the short version of the story, for the longer version is a bit more complicated. Created by Rudolph Dirks, the artist was the caretaker of the twins until 1912. Requesting a sabbatical long before the eras in which they were granted, William RandolphHearst decided to continue running the popular strip in his New York Journal under the steady hand of Dirks’ assistant, H. H. Kerr.

Miffed at each other, Dirks and Hearst locked horns in a series of court battles to see who ultimately controlled the twins. In a confusing set of rulings, the courts awarded Dirks the right to continue his strip in a competing newspaper, but he had to rename it first. The Captain and the Kids started in 1918 and quickly equaled the popularity of the Katzenjammer Kids. Because the battle took place during the height of the newspaper wars, and the two were so similar in style, many readers were unaware that there were two versions of the same strip out there.

The Katzenjammers found their way into cartoons, comic books, musical theater, and merchandising throughout the 20’s and 30’s. Dirks passed the Captain and the Kids to his son shortly before his death, and that version of the strip ended in 1979. Knerr drew theKatzenjammer Kids until his death in 1949, then a series of other cartoonists took the helm of the franchise. During the 1950’s, Hy Eisman took over the reins and continues to draw the strip in a handful of newspapers today. As Eisman approaches 90 years of age, the future of the Kids is dim, which brings us to …

9. 1930: Popeye


Also currently drawn by Hy Eisman, the heyday of Popeye was back in the 30’s. First appearing in the comic strip Thimble Theatre in 1929, the talented Elzie Crisler Segar changed the name of the strip to Popeye shortly after his appearance. Popeye had become so popular, so quickly, that by 1933 he was the star of his own cartoon series, that turned out to be one of the most popular cartoons of the decade.

By the end of the decade, Segar had passed away, and a team of rotating artists ran the strip for the syndicate. Popeye had become such a ground-breaking money maker for KingFeatures Syndicate that they licensed him for anything. Comic books, movies, cartoons, merchandising, radio shows, and (generations later,) multiple video games across multiple formats.

8. 1940: Little Orphan Annie


Launched back in 1924 by Harold Gray, Little Orphan Annie was one of the most popular comics in the 1930’s, with the story focused on the soap opera of Annie, her dog, and millionaire “Daddy” Warbucks. But as war and rumors of war began to surface in the late 30’s, the strip began to get more and more political. By the 1940’s, the storyline was fully submerged in the real-life story line of World War II. Depending on your politics at the time, Gray was praised or criticized for having Annie involved in war efforts. Multiple story lines involving Daddy Warbucks paralleled Gray’s distaste for US President Franklin Roosevelt.

Little Orphan Annie was the first comic strip adapted to a radio show, and later her adventures were adapted to films and Broadway. Then the Broadway show was re-adapted to film. Annie and the gang survived the war in the comic strip, but the story line continued to be rooted in current events until Gray’s death in 1968. Annie staggered along for 40 more years under multiple cartoonists, until the strip was cancelled in 2010 with, of all things, a cliffhanger ending.

7. 1950: Dennis the Menace


Started in 1951 by Hank Ketcham in only 16 newspapers, Dennis the Menace followed the misadventures of 5-year-old Dennis Mitchell, his nuclear family, and his foil, Mr. Wilson. Within a decade, Dennis’ popularity soared to over a thousand newspapers, a live action TV show, and comic books. As with most popular strips, Dennis then found himself in cartoon form and a merchandising titan, becoming the licensed mascot of Dairy Queen for thirty years.

In 1994, Hank Ketcham retired and passed the torch to some of his assistants, who continue the Dennis the Menace storyline to this day. The latest live-action Dennis movie was 2007’s A Dennis the Menace Christmas, starring Robert Wagner and Louise Fletcher.

6. 1960: Peanuts


The Peanuts gang had an original run of 50 years, from 1950 to 2000. Following Charlie Brown and his friends through the 50’s, creator Charles Schulz continued to add characters, tweak storylines, and really find his footing as a cartoonist. By the early 60’s, Peanuts had hit its stride and was considered one of the greatest comic strips of all time, even landing on the cover of Time Magazine in 1965. Crossing over to cartoons, Peanuts specials, made 50 years ago, are still considered holiday classics today. Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, and Peppermint Patty are all universal icons, known even to the most casual of pop culture observers.

Schulz was also a shrewd businessman, for besides the cartoon and film specials, theatrical productions, sound recordings, amusement parks, and video games, Charlie Brown was a celebrity pitchman for companies as diverse as MetLife, Hallmark Cards, Coca-Cola, and Dolly Madison snack cakes.

Schulz was concerned about the strip’s legacy after he was gone, and thus he ended its original run just a month prior to his death. “Classic Peanuts,” strips that rerun from its golden era, can still be read today.

5. 1970: Doonesbury

Credit: Kerry D. Soper

Springing forth from Yale newspaper’s Bull TalesDoonesbury started where the former left off in 1970. Not quite a comic strip, not quite a political cartoon, Doonesbury started off focusing on twenty-somethings Mike Doonesbury and BD as roommates. Quickly, the strip evolved into the lives of even the most remote associates of Mike and BD, as the strip was as funny as it was scathing in its political commentary.

In 1975, Doonesbury’s creator, Gary Trudeau, won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning for his work with the strip, but other than one animated special and a Broadway musical of the strip, Doonesbury simply presses the hot button too often to effectively cross over into other realms of media. As a matter of fact, controversy dodges the strip to this day. Newspapers opt not to publish some strips, some move it out of the comic section and into the editorial section, and yet others have cancelled it altogether. The latest such episode occurred in 2012, when Trudeau lampooned multiple states for their changes in abortionlaws.

4. 1980: Bloom County


Following the exploits of the talking penguin Opus, the putrid Bill the Cat, and their human companions, Bloom County practically defined the eighties, running from 1980 to 1989 with its pulse kept keenly on current events, winning creator Berkeley Breathed the Pulitzer Prize in Editorial Cartooning in 1987. Like a shooting starBloom County burned bright, but only for a relatively short time. Bloom County spun off to Sunday-only offshoots Outland (1989-1995) and Opus (2003-2008). Both then were well-drawn and moderately funny, but the cutting-edge wit was replaced with a broader, preachier version of Bloom County, with many of the characters left out of the Sunday-only forays.

3. 1990: Far Side / Calvin & Hobbes

Credit: Sean Hartter

In 1994, two of the best movies of the year were Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump, but both were very, very different movies. In the same way, two great comic strips ended in 1995 — the Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes, and the debate rages over which comic strip was better, because they were both awesome in very, very different ways. Your opinion probably says more about you than the quality of work done by Gary Larson and Bill Watterson, honestly.

The Far Side started in 1980 and was simply a one-panel comic showing a unique perspective on the absurdities of life. There were no recurring characters, only recurring types of characters. The star of the strip was the subversiveness that was layered upon the truth. Penned by Gary Larson, the strip was shown in nearly 2,000 newspapers around the world when production ended. From 1989 to strip’s end in 1995, Larson took home major awards yearly. Each one of Larson’s 23 compilation Far Side books reached the New York Times best seller list, but other than a few stabs at animation and selling a ton of calendars and greeting cards, Larson has been fairly quiet since the strip’s cession.

And talking about being quiet, Bill Watterson started the wonderful strip Calvin and Hobbesin 1985, centering on 6-year-old Calvin and his stuffed tiger Hobbes. The beauty of the concept is that Hobbes is only alive in Calvin’s imagination. Watterson took 10 years, minus two hiatuses, to flesh out the exuberance of youth, mostly unaffected by the outside world. Like Larson, by 1990 Watterson had begun to accumulate awards, including winning Syndicated Comic Strip of the Year every single year of the 1990’s until the strip’s completion.

Watterson himself was fiercely protective of the comic strip as an art form, allowing practically no merchandising or alternate formats for Calvin to be licensed. Other than compilation books of the strips, which have sold 45 million units worldwide, anything else with Calvin’s image is a blatant circumvention of copyright law. So legendary is Watterson’s reclusiveness that it inspired a 2013 documentary called Dear Mr. Watterson.

2. 2000: Dilbert


Launched in 1989, it took a few years for Scott Adams’ crude drawings to take hold with the comic strip-loving public. Spot-on observations pertaining to the business world, along with a razor-sharp wit, carried it until the cartooning caught up with the writing. Since then, Adams has won numerous awards for his strip, which centers around socially awkward engineer Dilbert and the characters that rotate around him in his corporate universe.

Dilbert is currently in over 2,000 newspapers worldwide, is licensed to over a hundred products, and was briefly a cartoon in 1999-2000, but perhaps the most awesome thing associated with Dilbert’s image is the Dilberito, a healthy microwavable burrito that briefly invaded the market back in 2000.

1. 2010: Pearls Before Swine


Helped along at its origin by a seal of approval from Scott Adams, Pearls Before Swine entered syndication in 2001 and has slowly gained steam since. Stephan Pastis pens the strip, starring a cast of generically named animals such as Rat, Pig, Goat, and the Crocodile Family. Every so often, Pastis makes a guest appearance in the strip as himself. Still in its infancy as far as comic strips go, most of Pearls’ outside income come from compilation books of the strip, as well as stuffed animals.

Pastis has been nominated as Cartoonist of the Year each of the past five years and, even though his work has been animated in a few places on the Internet, look for a network like Adult Swim or Fox to eventually make a hard sell for animating the strip for the masses.


When “The Funnies” Were – 1920 to Today