Adventures in cartoon understanding: Victor alignment

Today’s Wayno / Piraro Bizarro (Wayno’s title “Job Satisfaction”):

(#1) To understand this cartoon, you need to know something about what a tire and auto service garage does, and you need to recognize the significance of the name Frankenstein (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 5 in this strip — see this Page.)

The cartoon’s set in a garage — Frankenstein Tire & Auto Service, whose name makes explicit some connection to Mary Shelley’s novel or to one of the two canonical films derived from it (James Whale’s 1931 drama, Mel Brooks’s 1974 comedy Young Frankenstein) — with an outrageous pun in It’s aligned! connecting the work of a tire and auto service — wheel alignment being one of its major services– to the films, via Victor Frankenstein’s crying out It’s alive! in deranged joy in the films.

So: you need to know both about wheel alignment and about Victor’s exclamation in the films. It’s not enough to know your Mary Shelley, since “It’s alive!” appears in neither of Shelley’s versions of the text (the original of 1818 or the 1831 standard edition). You have to know either the 1931 film based on Shelley (with Colin Clive as Victor) or the outrageous 1974 takeoff of the 1931 film (with Gene Wilder as Victor) — both of which have Victor’s deranged-joy It’s alive! scene in them.

Wheel alignment. From Wikipedia:

Wheel alignment sometimes referred to as breaking, or tracking is part of standard automobile maintenance that consists of adjusting the angles of wheels to the car manufacturer specifications. The purpose of these adjustments is to reduce tire wear and to ensure that vehicle travel is straight and true (without “pulling” to one side).

It’s alive!

— the “It’s alive!” scene from the 1931 Frankenstein, with Colin Clive as Victor Frankenstein, which you can view here

— very briefly, the same moment of deranged joy in the story, played for laughs in Young Frankenstein (1974), a moment you can watch here

The Victor we see in #1 is Gene Wilder’s Victor; a still from the movie:


The pun. original alive /ǝlájv/, punning aligned /ǝlájnd/, so the (imperfect) pun rests in syllable offsets, /v/ vs. /nd/. /v/ and /d/ are both voiced obstruents, but differ in both place and manner of articulation. Despite this, they count as equivalent in half-rhyming and imperfect puns with some frequency, and the pairing sounds pretty good to me. A half-rhyme from a master:


The cultural resonance of the Frankenstein story. Connecting the Frankenstein story with wheel alignment is something of a task, but I’d expect everyone who looks at the cartoon in #1 to immediately recognize the Frankenstein name and the skeleton of the Frankenstein story; it’s part of common modern Western (popular) culture. It has a lot of resonance, a lot of cultural power.

On this resonance, see my 5/29/18 posting “It’s alive!”, about a Cantor Arts Center (at Stanford) exhibition “Betray the Secret: Humanity in the Age of “Frankenstein””, with four subsections all dealing with the question: how do we differentiate between the boundaries of life and death when machines intervene with natural bodies?  I wrote back then:

 I was especially impressed by the Philosophers & Monsters section, which tracked the growing sense of Nature, not as a balancing, benevolent force, but as a repository of mysteries — dangerous, possibly demonic.

It’s alive!

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