Archive for the ‘Understanding comics’ Category

Comes a pause in the day’s occupations

November 18, 2021

… that is known as Miller Time … when you deserve a beer break today.

None of this makes sense unless you know the advertising slogans: It’s Miller Time (for Miller High Life beer, not for novelist Henry Miller, playwright Arthur Miller, or bandleader Glenn Miller), You Deserve a Break Today (for McDonald’s, hawking hamburgers, not beer). But Calvin knows:


(#1) The Calvin and Hobbes strip distributed today, originally published 10/9/86, alluding to “Miller Time” slogans in Miller High Life beer commercials from the period

Calvin is supposed to be 6 years old — admittedly, with the sensibilities of a boy of roughly 10, but, still, not expected to be familiar with the ways of beer-drinking, so his father is alarmed that Calvin seems to be looking forward to a brew after the occupations of his day. (Whatever happened to the Children’s Hour? Television happened.)

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Bug on the couch

October 24, 2021

The 10/23 Wayno/Piraro Bizarro, a Psychiatrist cartoon, with a bug — specifically, a mosquito — on the couch (Wayno’s title: “Interspecies therapy”):


(#1) Consider the mosquito, how it grieves (if you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 8 (an unusually large number) in this strip — see this Page.)

Not just the Psychiatrist meme (with all of its conventions), but also:

— the intersection of the human world (in which people go to therapists) and the insect world (in which mosquitoes have six legs, antennae, compound eyes, and proboscises)

— the bug-on-windshield trope

— Rorschach ink blots, as used by clinical psychologists

— autopsy photos

— fatal polytrauma, such as sometimes occurs in car crashes

Fully appreciating the cartoon then calls on a wide range of knowledge, both factual and cultural. I’ll take for granted here the (extensive) conventions of the Psychiatrist meme and go on to the rest.

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Enduring classics

October 10, 2021

Let me slide into this one.

In yesterday’s posting “Gilligan’s aisle”, I marveled at the fact that a profoundly silly tv show from 1964-67 (Gilligan’s Island) was still available enough to the pop-cultural consciousness to serve as the hook for a punning Bizarro cartoon. It’s achieved some sort of classic status.

And then today’s Rhymes With Orange comic turns on a computer game that counts as antique in that world: the computer tiling game Tetris (released in 1984, for the Electronika 60 computer). The comic:


(#1) Incomprehensible to anyone who doesn’t know about the game Tetris and how it looks on the screen; otherwise, this just looks like a peculiar depiction of the idiom rain cats and dogs (whose etymology is unknown, though you can find a pile of inventive speculations about it)

But it seems that pretty much everybody knows about Tetris, so the comic works.

Then, as a bonus, it turns out that today’s Rhymes is a re-play of one from 2010, eleven years ago.

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Gilligan’s aisle

October 9, 2021

The 10/2 Wayno/Piraro Bizarro:


(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page.)

A pun on isle ‘island’ vs. aisle ‘a passage between shelves of goods in a supermarket or other building’ (aisle sense b in NOAD (below)). But none of this makes any sense unless you know significant details of an American tv comedy from about 55 years ago: Gilligan’s Island (1964-67), in particular, that the show was about seven castaways from a shipwreck, including the goofy Gilligan, attempting to survive on a tropical island. Hence the tropical fruit-flavored rums and liqueurs. (It’s a nice subtle touch that the cartoon Gilligan appears to be lost in his attempt to choose a bottle.)

So: Gilligan’s aisle … Gilligan’s Isle … Gilligan’s Island.

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Clash of the titular Peppers

September 1, 2021

Today’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro, a cartoon that would be totally incomprehensible without several pieces of pop-cultural knowledge:


(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page.)

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Terrible pun day

July 15, 2021

Yesterday’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro:


(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 5 in this strip — see this Page.)

A pun so terrible it’s wonderful: derivative / the riveter. A distant pun phonologically, sharing the prosodic pattern WSWWW and the medial material /ǝrív…t/, plus the pairing of /d/ vs. /ð/ initially, but with the distant matching of /v/ vs. /r/ finally, and with a single word matched with a two-word sequence. As with notably imperfect puns in general, it’s probably understandable only if you recognize the model for the pun: Rosie the Riveter, the name of the figure on the left in the cartoon and of the figure in the “We Can Do It” patriotic poster from WWII.

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Omega Omega Top

June 14, 2021

The Wayno/Piraro Bizarro of 6/11, a cartoon that’s totally incomprehensible if you don’t know know one piece of American popular culture:


(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page.)

I would have entitled the strip Ω Ω Top, but Wayno and Dan went for Omega Omega Top instead. (More on the title below.)

In any case, to have any hope whatsoever in understanding the cartoon, you need to know that there’s an American rock band named ZZ Top. (The name of the band is pronounced /zi zi tap/, which is written as ZZ Top. Contrast this with the statistical test whose name is written as the Z-test, a name is pronounced as /zi tɛst/ by American speakers, but /zɛd tɛst/ by British, Australian, and most Canadian speakers. The band’s name is pronounced /zɛd zɛd tap/) only as a joke, or as a mistake by someone unfamiliar with the name.)

To begin to understand why the cartoon might be funny, you need to know that Ω is the (upper-case form of the) last letter of the Greek alphabet, just as Z is the (upper-case form of the) last letter of the Latin alphabet (as we use it in writing English); that the figures in the cartoon are playing ancient Greek musical instruments (two stringed, one percussion); and that the instruments and the appearance of the players match those of ZZ Top (two guitarists, one drummer; sunglasses for everybody; stetson hats and long beards for the guitarists). So the cartoon provides a complex mapping between ZZ Top today and music-making in ancient Greece.

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The St. Patrick’s Day spriticide

March 21, 2021

The event: the leprechaun has been murdered, with a porcelain figure. How to describe the event as concisely as possible? Today’s Rhymes with Orange strip shows us a police detective who can do it in three words. (And it’s been set to music!)

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A jointed-limb portmanteau and a sugary front-clipping

March 18, 2021

Two recent Wayno/Piraro Bizarro strips, from the 15th and (for St. Patrick’s Day) the 17th, both of linguistic interest: among other things, the portmanteau arthropodcast in the first; and the front-clipping ‘shmallows (for marshmallows, of the psychedelic sort) in the second:

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Smell the roses in a field

February 26, 2021

Two cartoons in my comics feed on 2/25 (otherwise known as Yay! Pfizer1 Day! at my house) on language play: a Wayno/Piraro Bizarro playing on formulaic language (the metaphorical idiom / cliché stop and smell the roses), and a Piccolo/Price Rhymes With Orange with a play on the ambiguity of field.

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