Archive for the ‘Understanding comics’ Category

Noodling with formulaic language

October 6, 2017

Today is National Noodle Day. Yes, an event fabricated by people in the food indusry to showcase their products and sell them, on a date no doubt chosen only because it hadn’t already been claimed by any other food. But noodles are delicious, they’re multicultural, and they’re fun.

I celebrated the occasion at lunch with some porcini mushroom and truffle triangoli (stuffed ravioli, but triangular rather than square) from Trader Joe’s, with arrabiatta sauce (a spicy tomato sauce). Pasta in English food talk for Italian food, but  noodles in English food talk for Chinese (and other East Asian and Southeast Asian) food — so today they’re noodles to me. (I recommend a broadminded view on what counts as noodles.)

I also recommend that we adopt a symbolic figure for the occasion, something like the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, Halloween pumpkins and witches, Pilgrims for Thanksgiving, the New Year baby, and so on. I suggest the Flying Spaghetti Monster, with his noodly appendages.

But first let’s get down to some recent noodling with formulaic expressions in the comics: One Big Happy (an idiom), Rhymes With Orange (a frequent collocation or an idiom, depending on who you read), and Mother Goose and Grimm (a proverb):


Adventures in cross-comicality

October 2, 2017

Yesterday’s Mother Goose and Grimm pays a visit to another house in Comics Town:

To understand this cartoon, you have to recognize that the circus Grimm has run off to join is The Family Circus, a comic by Bil and Jeff Keane that is famous for its really cute kids and its warm, wholesome view of family life (characteristics that have made it a frequent target for parody).


Two from 9/8

September 23, 2017

… in the September 8th issue of the New Yorker. Both presenting the usual challenges to understanding — there’s a lot you have to know to make sense of them — and both playing on language.

(#1) by Jeremy Nguyen

(#2) by John McNamee


Three rocks

September 22, 2017

Yesterday’s Zippy:


Great wisdom comes from the 3 Rocks. But not necessarily an understanding of what’s going on in the cartoon, which appears to be no more than playful surrealism, with a trio of talking rocks. Entertaining at that level, but as is usual with Bill Griffith, there’s a subtext: the 3 Rocks are an established thing in Zippy.


Revisiting 1: Will McPhail

August 25, 2017

Cartoons by Will McPhail, last seen here in three cartoons on 4/15/17, in particular a wordless cartoon (in which God slam-dunks in an angel’s halo). Now from the August 28th New Yorker, this complex exercise in cartoon understanding, drawing on several pieces of very specific cultural knowledge:



Pouring it on

August 20, 2017

Today’s Zippy:


Well, about Bosco syrup, Vik Muniz, Hans Namuth, and Jackson Pollack. Zippy about art about art about art, with chocolate.


Further adventures in cartoon understanding

August 9, 2017

Today’s WaynoVision cartoon and a New Yorker cartoon by Seth Fleishman from 7/3/16 (brought to my attention by Juan Gomez):



Then more about Fleishman, who’s relatively new to the New Yorker.


Cartoon comprehension on a hot August day

August 4, 2017

From Bob Eckstein:


What do you need to know to understand this (wordless) cartoon and why people might find it funny?

Easy stuff: you need to recognize that the cartoon is set in a subway car, and (given the way the guy on the left is dressed) that it’s warm, probably summertime.

Hard thing: you need to recognize the green tree thing hanging on the middle guy’s neck.


Today’s comic comprehension test

July 31, 2017

A recent cartoon by Wayno, passed on to me by Chris Hansen:

To understand this cartoon, you need to recognize that the setting — one or two people on a small, otherwise uninhabited, island with a lone palm tree — is a cartoon meme, and that such  a setting is referred to in English by the idiom desert island. (You also, of course, need to recognize the items on the island as desserts; and to know how to spell desert and dessert.)


Vlad the Employer

July 14, 2017

A Jason Chatfield cartoon in the July 10&17 New Yorker:


The cartoon is amusing as the working out of the absurd pun in Employer vs. Impaler. But it also manages to allude simultaneously to the current Presidents of both Russia and the United States.