Monday, September 07, 2009

Cul de Sac

In the movie The Iron Giant, there's a scene where the young boy, staying up late to eat junk food and watch scary scifi movies on TV, hears a large crash and thinks aliens have landed. He excitedly equips himself with supplies--a toy gun and a flashlight featured largely in this--and bounded out of the house to investigate. At this point, Uncle Pookie leaned over in the dark of the movie theater to whisper to me, "That's OUR child!"

Earlier this summer, I discovered the fairly new comic strip Cul de Sac and made it part of my morning read. Soon after I found it there was a strip in which four year-old Alice, who enjoys dancing on the manhole cover near her house, begs a scarf of her mother so she can run around waving it. Final panel has her, scarf tied around her face like someone in a Western, holding up her little friend Dill, who insists there's "no such thing as a bandit ballerina." Alice: "Then I'm the first! Stop and admire my dancing or I'll blow out your tires!" At which I exclaimed, "That's OUR daughter!"

Since then I've seen the YouTube video called "The Talking Stick", which gave me a similar reaction and seen a few other strips that reinforced the idea that Alice Otterloop is a fairly good approximation of what Uncle Pookie's and my DNA mixed together into a female child might look like, especially if said child took a bit more after Daddy than Mommy. It's not perfect, of course--neither of us were tantrum-throwing types, for instance, which is lucky as neither of us had mothers who would have put up with it, and I for one was a disgustingly obedient child and well-behaved, unless you count occasional grouchiness as misbehavior. (Yes, thank goodness you grew out of that, I hear someone murmuring.) But it's fairly close, and the strip overall is a good one.

Bill Watterson (creater of Calvin & Hobbes, for which blessings be upon him) wrote years ago that, while there'd been a lot of strips about little boys and childhood as seen by little boys, it still remained for us to have a strip on childhood as lived by a little girl. Reading Cul de Sac made me think this might be the one Watterson was talking about, or pretty close, so I was all the more pleasantly surprised to learn Watterson had written the introduction to the first Cul de Sac collection. I haven't bought it yet, but I think it's going to be in my next Amazon purchase.

It's a very good strip. Thompson has an interesting drawing style, a good sense of humor, and an eye for great little details, like how odd it is for small children when they notice their parents called by other names for the first time or how impressed little kids can be by things teenagers and adults ignore, like a shopping cart in a drainage ditch or the awesome responsibilities held by a teenager with a cool job like cart pusher. Thompson also has some non-cookie cutter characters too--for instance, how many eight-year old neurotics (Alice's older brother Petey) are there in comics? Petey encounters some weird kids his own age. And adorable little Dill, who's a bit eccentric himself, has a pack of never-seen older brothers whose exploits lend excitement to the strip.

You really want to give this strip a try.

As long as we're near the subject, my favorite little girl character in comic strips before Alice Otterloop and aside from the supporting character of Susie Derkins in Calvin & Hobbes, was Carmen in Prickly City. Carmen is a cute-as-a-button, little libertarian Republican who hangs out with a coyote called Winslow, but the strip's not in the running to be one of the ones Watterson was talking about, as it is a political strip, rather than being about childhood. It fell out of my small morning comic read about the time of the Democratic National Convention last year, victim of the election fatigue I was feeling pretty keenly by then, but it's a fun little strip. You can read it here.

No comments: