Penguin cartoons

Today’s cartoon crop includes a Tundra strip (passed on by Chris Waigl) with a penguin as the central character (and a pun and an implicature) and a penguinless one (today’s Pearls Before Swine) that’s about characters from one strip appearing in another — but then leads to another cartoon penguin (and portmanteau animals and a hand signal):



Strip #1. By asserting a generalization about common knowledge — everyone knows (that) penguins can’t fly — the penguin implicates that it can’t fly (and therefore must drive).

Folded in there is a play on two senses of intransitive fly. From NOAD2:

(of a bird or other winged creature) move through the air under control: close the door or the moths will fly in | the bird can fly enormous distances.

• (of an aircraft or its occupants) travel through the air: I fly back to New York this evening.

Now, on Tundra:

Tundra is a comic strip written and drawn by Wasilla, Alaska, cartoonist Chad Carpenter. The comic usually deals with wildlife, nature and outdoor life. Tundra began in December 1991 in the Anchorage Daily News and is currently self-syndicated to over 500 newspapers.

Tundra is primarily drawn in two styles, single-panel gag comics using puns in combination with wildlife and the outdoors, and a three-panel strip that employs regular characters: Sherman the Squirrel, Dudley the Bear, Chad the Cartoonist, Andy Lemming, Whiff Skunk, and Hobart the Wise [a monk]. (link)

(It’s significant that Chris Waigl lives in Alaska and so sees this strip regularly.)

Strip #2. Pearls Before Swine has been indulging in metastrips recently (as I noted here). In this one, not only does the cartoonist (Stefan Pastis) appear as a character in his own strip — as Bill Griffith regularly does in Zippy the Pinhead  (and Chad Carpenter does in Tundra) — but a character (Steve Dallas) from a different strip appears as well (something Griffith also does every so often in Zippy):

Steve Dallas is a fictional character in the American comic strips of Berke Breathed, most famously Bloom County in the 1980s.

He was first introduced as an obnoxious frat boy in the college strip The Academia Waltz, which ran in the University of Texas’s Daily Texan during 1978 and 1979. Steve then reappears in Bloom County after graduation as a self-employed, unscrupulous lawyer.

He was the first character to have been featured in all four of Breathed’s comic strips. He appeared regularly, albeit much older, in the Sunday-only Opus. (Wikipedia link)

Two views of Steve:



I’ll get to some details of #4 in a little while. Right now, what’s most important is that Steve Dallas leads us to that most famous of cartoon penguins, Opus:

Opus the Penguin (Opus T. Penguin) is a character in the comic strips and children’s books of Berkeley Breathed, most notably the popular 1980s strip Bloom County. Breathed has described him as an “existentialist penguin” and the favorite of his many characters. Until November 2, 2008 he ran in the comic strip Opus.

… Opus’ appearance changed since his inception – he originally looked like a common penguin, but between 1982 and 1986 his nose grew dramatically (developing its signature bump in the middle, of which Opus is very self-conscious). Mike Binkley, during one Sunday strip, points out the fact that Opus more closely resembles a puffin, a revelation which shocks Opus. (In the final panel of the same strip, Opus responds by telling Binkley that he looks like a carrot.) Opus says he is attracted to “svelte buoyant waterfowl”.

… Over the years Opus has served as Steve Dallas’ legal secretary, journeyed to Antarctica in search of his mother, played the tuba in heavy metal group Deathtöngue (later renamed Billy and the Boingers), wooed (and was briefly married to) an abstract sculptor named Lola Granola, worked as a newspaper personals editor, lifestyle columnist and comic strip writer, had brief, experimental stints employed as a farmer, garbageman and even a cartoonist (or, as he called it, a stripper, which he would also be at one point), and run for vice president on the National Radical Meadow Party ticket, along with his running mate Bill the Cat. (Wikipedia link)

In this early strip (about misperceptions of speech), Opus’s nose/beak is still fairly realistic:


(Note the Wikipedia reference to the heavy metal group Deathtöngue, whose name appears, without the umlaut, on Steve Dallas’s shirt in #4.)

Digression on portmanteau animals. While we’re in Bloom County, here’s a Breathed character of linguistic interest, the basselope:


The basselope is a hybrid of the basset hound and the antelope — a hybrid with a portmanteau name. The model for it is the celebrated jackalope:

The jackalope is a mythical animal of North American folklore (a so-called “fearsome critter”) described as a jackrabbit with antelope horns or deer antlers and sometimes a pheasant’s tail (and often hind legs). The word “jackalope” is a portmanteau of “jackrabbit” and “antalope”, an archaic spelling of “antelope”. (Wikipedia link)


(Note the wonky subject-verb agreement in the last sentence of the postcard’s text.)

The hand signal. Back to #4 and the gesture Steve Dallas is making in it:

Hook ’em Horns is the slogan and hand signal of The University of Texas at Austin. Students and alumni of the university employ a greeting consisting of the phrase “Hook ’em” or “Hook ’em Horns” and also use the phrase as a parting good-bye or as the closing line in a letter or story.

The gesture is meant to approximate the shape of the head and horns of the UT mascot, the Texas Longhorn Bevo [seen on Steve Dallas’s shirt in #4 with its tongue sticking out]. The sign is made by extending the index and pinky fingers while grasping the second and third fingers with the thumb. The arm is usually extended, but the sign can also be given with the arm bent at the elbow. The sign is often seen at sporting events, during the playing of the school song “The Eyes of Texas”, and during the playing of the school fight song “Texas Fight”. It is one of the most recognized hand signals of all American universities.

Bonus: penguin cartoon postings. An inventory of some penguin cartoons, on Language Log and this blog.

First, from Language Log Classic, a posting “Spheniscid-American? Polar American?”, with this Glen Le Lievre cartoon (which is no longer available in the LLC archives):


Then on New Language Log, in the posting “Ar(c)tic”, an Alex Hallatt Arctic Circle penguin cartoon.

On to this blog:

6/22/11  It doesn’t always stay in Vegas (link): a Michael Shaw penguin cartoon

12/14/11  Recognition (link): a Shannon Wheeler penguin cartoon

1/23/12   Happy Penguin Awareness Day (link): a captioning

3/4/12   The news for penguins (link): the claymation tv series Pingu; a 1937 animated cartoon “Peeping Penguins” by Dave and Max Fleisher

5/13/12   The penguin chronicles (link): an American Scientist cartoon by Leighton; two captionings

4/17/13   Penguins and tuxedos (link): 7 cartoons — a Bizarro with penguins in t-shirts and open-necked shirts instead of tuxedos; a Carol Stokes cartoon on the Emperor’s new clothes; a Rob Cottingham cartoon on Linux; a Phil Selby cartoon with a foul-mouthed penguin; a Savage Chickens on the Last Supper; a Rob Middleton cartoon showing a penguin with Sigmund Freud; a Randy Glasbergen cartoon showing a penguin in the executive office

6/2/13   Penguin cartoon (link): a Rhymes With Orange showing a penguin that is not a flight risk

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