The Zippy strip for 2/20, in which Bill Griffith gets to goof on surf vs. serf:

(#1) Zippy’s title: “Serf City!!”, playing on the song title “Surf City”

panel 1: the serf wakes up in his cell and gets up — the idiomatic phrase surf’s up, roughly ‘the waves are good for surfing; let’s do it’, so figuratively ‘conditions are good for action; let’s get on with it’

panel 2: the serf surfing the net — the (metaphorical) verb surf ‘move from page to page or site to site on’

panel 3: the serf channel-surfing — the (similarly metaphorical) synthetic-compound verb channel-surf ‘change frequently from one television channel to another’

The lexical resources here. First, from NOAD:

verb surf: 1 [a] [no object] stand or lie on a surfboard and ride on a wave towards the shore: he’s learning to surf. [b] [with object]ride (a wave) towards the shore on a surfboard: he has built a career out of surfing big waves. [c] informal ride on the roof or outside of a fast-moving vehicle, typically a train, for excitement: he fell to his death while surfing on a 70 mph train. 2 [with object]move from page to page or site to site on (the World Wide Web): the device allows you to surf the net and send emails.

verb channel-surfinformal change frequently from one television channel to another. [cf. sense 2 of surf]

noun serf: an agricultural laborer bound under the feudal system to work on his lord’s estate.

And from OED3 (March 2012) on the noun surf, under Phrases:

surf is (also was, etc.) up.
a. Indicating that the condition of the waves is currently suitable for surfing. [cites from 1962, 1986, and:]
– 2000 S. Ingham in J. Adams et al. Girls’ Night In 575 The waiter seemed so laid-back that his only worry could be whether the surf was up.
b. As int., esp. as  surf’s up, with implication that the opportunity to surf should not be missed. Also figurative. [cites from 1963 (song title), 1988, 1990, 2011]

Two surf songs. The first big hit (in Zippy’s title for #1), from 1963; and a Beach Boys elegy of sorts (alluded to in panel 1 of #1), from 1967.

— “Surf City”.  From Wikipedia:

(#2) On the cover, two boys and one girl; the actual beach ratio was probably much more heavily male (but then the song is from a fantasy world)

“Surf City” is a 1963 song recorded by American music duo Jan and Dean about a fictitious surf spot where there are “two girls for every boy”. Written by Brian Wilson and Jan Berry, it was the first surf song to become a national number-one hit.

Hard-punching melody, adolescent lyrics. You can listen to Jan and Dean doing it on YouTube here. (More on the song below.)

— “Surf’s Up”. From Wikipedia:

(#3) The single

“Surf’s Up” is a song recorded by the American rock band the Beach Boys that was written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks. It was originally intended for Smile, an unfinished Beach Boys album that was scrapped in 1967. The song was later completed by Brian and Carl Wilson as the closing track of the band’s 1971 album Surf’s Up.

Nothing in the song relates to surfing; the title is a play-on-words referring to the group shedding their image.

That is, the surfing is up ‘ended, finished’. Complex chording, elegaic feel to the lyrics. You can listen to it on YouTube here.

Note on the serf in #1. Cartoonists often, maybe usually, create their characters (especially the faces of their characters) as “types”, or assemble them in their imaginations, but very often they use models. Not infrequently, family and friends (other cartoonists, in particular), thus inserting little in-jokes in their drawings.

But often they use as models famous people, or characters from art — fine art, popular art, advertising, book illustrations, other cartoons, whatever. Griffith in Zippy the Pinhead and Piraro and Wayno in Bizarro (two strips that are notably dense semiotically) are especially given to repurposing existing characters for their strips.

So I look at the serf in #1, with his remarkably individual face (except that he strongly resembles Edgar Allan Poe), and think that he’s got to be based on some model. If not Poe (but, then, why Poe?), then somebody, maybe even a Russian serf, in a painting or drawing. Unfortunately, I don’t recognize the model. Fortunately, understanding and enjoying the comic don’t depend in any way on recognizing him; he’s a kind of visual easter egg.

“Surf City”, the words. Well, the beginning:

Two girls for every boy
I bought a ’30 Ford wagon and we call it a woodie
(Surf City, here we come)
You know it’s not very cherry, it’s an oldie but a goodie
(Surf City, here we come)
Well, it ain’t got a back set or a rear window
But it still gets me where I wanna go
And we’re goin’ to Surf City, ’cause it’s two to one
You know we’re goin’ to Surf City, gonna have some fun

Simple masculine pleasures in Surf World.

Another lexical note. Tucked into those lyrics (“it’s not very cherry”), the American slang adjective cherry. From GDoS on some uses of cherry (ultimately derived from the noun senses ‘hymen’, ‘female virgin’):

noun cherry: 4 (a) (US) an old car in near-mint condition [1st cite 1954 as a hot rod term]

adj. cherry: 3 of goods etc., in mint condition, brand-new [1st cite 1983, in a Stephen King novel, about a car]

Some opportunities not chosen. There’s only so much you can pack into a few panels of a comic strip, so here’s some raw material for anyone who wants to play some more with serf and surf.

— some surf compounds that would be ripe for word play with serf: surf bum, surf music, surf punk, surf rat, surf safari, surf shop, surf shorts, surf-speak, surf talk, surf wax

— further song titles: “Surfin’ Safari”, “Surfer Girl”, “Surfin’ US”

All three are based on the verb surf, so for a play on serf, you’d need to verb the noun serf, as an inchoative ‘to become a serf’ (Reluctantly, Igor serfed in 1582) or causative ‘to make (someone) into a serf’ (The Czar serfed Igor in 1582); no verb serf is attested in the OED, but nouns are always open for creative verbing. Some judicious verbing would also open to way for puns like to serf and protect, serfs you right!, and so on.




3 Responses to “surfdom”

  1. Stewart Kramer Says:

    The resemblance to Poe seems strong, but the stern and ominous monochrome figure watching him channel-serf is also hard to identify.

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