The existential question

In today’s Zippy strip, Zerbina and Zippy contemplate their existence — ever an issue for self-aware cartoon characters:


How do we know we exist? And if this perilous sort of existence, created in the mind and (literally) at the hands of an artist, fails to be validated by those in the outer, non-cartoon, world, are we nothing but a dream (sweetheart)?

Perhaps a concern for all of us, but especially pointed for cartoon characters. Who will speak for them, especially now that Mad Magazine is gone?

The response given in the lyrics to “Life Is But a Dream” (as recorded by the Harptones in 1955 — listen to it here (#2) — is that “it’s what you make it”, which I take to be (wise) advice to act as though the dream were real and so to fashion your life as you will. Well, if you vanish from the mind of the dreamer, presumably you won’t know or care.

But even if you’re reasonably firm on your existence, you can be edgy about your realness, about the authenticity of what you believe to be your identity. Cartoon characters, or (again) at least the self-aware ones, tend to be anxious on just this point; no doubt the knowedge that your coming into being was the consequence of an artist’s imaginative acts raises fears that this artist could mess with the details of your identity in any number of ways.

So, in my 7/4/19 posting “Am I a bird?”, we have cartoons in which Superman questions his identity as a volant creature: Am I a bird? Am I a plane? (meaning, Am I really a bird, and it just feels to me like I’m a flying superhero? etc.).


And then Zippy and Zerbina themselves turn out to have more complex identities: at least on occasion, they don’t themselves appear in the strips, but are instead played by actors hired for the job — the character actors Lazlo Crannich, who plays Zippy, and Connie Duplex, who plays Zerbina. Three postings about Lazlo/Zippy and Connie/Zerbina:

on 6/28/15 in “Auditioning to be Zippy”

on 6/29/15 in “The Crannich chronicles”, with links to earlier strips about Lazlo and Connie

on 6/30/15 in “The return of Lazlo?”

Thus realizing in detail the conceit of a Bizarro (“Cartoon characters’ self-awareness” of 8/24/16) in which

the characters that appear in comic strips are in fact actors playing roles, so that they can go on strike (among other things).


In several postings — most extensively in the 3/31/19 “Moon shorts 1: the Moons” — I’ve taken this idea and run with it, envisioning a world in which the men in underwear ads (the one featured in a Barcode Berlin Moon Short ad, for instance), the people in cartoons (Moon Mullins), those in movies (the Sundance Kid in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), tv (Alfie Moon in EastEnders), and fiction (Sonny Kidd aka Sundance in my Sundance and Butch fiction), and any number of apparently real people (Keith Moon, for example; or Robert Redford; or Harry Alonzo Longabaugh aka the Sundance Kid) — all are characters played by actors (real people are characters too, just characters in what we like to think of as “real life”), and some of those actors are characters played by actors, and so on, slipperily and vertiginously.

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

2 Responses to “The existential question”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    October 12’s Dilbert also explore this question (and I think Adams has gone there a couple of times recently., but I can’t find other instances at the moment).

  2. [BLOG] Some Sunday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Zwicky considers the existential question of self-aware cartoon […]

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