Comic archetypes

Back in what seem like the mists of time, but in fact just the early 90’s, I was fortunate enough to have a well-paid job and practically no responsibilities, allowing me to take numerous extended vacations, several of which I spent touring around the US. I tended to travel quickly, too quickly in retrospect, which allowed me to cover a lot of ground (I think I managed 28 of the contiguous states, plus DC), but not really get to know anywhere well. I found myself in a near-continuous state of dislocation, and consequently latched on to anything that could give me some sense of stability. In every new city I would purchase a newspaper and turn to the comics page, one thing I could depend on to be more or less constant no matter where I went.

There isn’t really a tradition of serial comic strips in the serious papers here, so I thought no more of these stories until a couple of years ago, when I began following them again, courtesy of the excellent online comic page at the Houston Chronicle. I’ll admit that my original motivation for this was to be able to better enjoy the snarky (and very funny) commentary over at The Comics Curmudgeon, but as time has passed I have come to appreciate the qualities of a good serial narrative in their own right. I particularly like the slow pace of the comics page, where the events of one afternoon can be spun out over months of three-panel strips, providing a calming antidote to the frenetic tempo of modern culture. Of course the politics, particularly on gender issues, of most of the strips seems to have been frozen around 1952, but I guess that just contributes to the ironic charm.

Conservative they may be, but the traditional serials can still serve up surprises. Just this week, for example, we discovered that Mary Worth is a Jungian. I can’t say that I saw that coming.

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