Thursday, November 11, 2010

Still a few bugs in the system

The occasion of Doonesbury's 40th anniversary has reminded me of the extent to which everything I know I learned from comics. Not from superhero comics (like many of my hipper colleagues) but specifically from Garry Trudeau, whose omnibus volumes I started collecting at an age when I didn't yet understand half of what the characters were talking about.

Trudeau is one of the great masters of dialogue in the history of American culture. Observe the fine calibration of his timing, the division of lines through the progression of panels. Many of his best strips feature a pause — a "blank" third panel with no dialogue, followed by a punch line where a character backs off on the position they'd taken in the second panel, realizing the absurdity of their own argument. Or look at the way Mike, the silent observer, is deployed in the example above (larger image), from the "Boopsie Poses for Playboy" sequence, May 23, 1979.

More of the strip's greatest hits at this link.