Ever since I was a kid, I loved reading the daily comic strips in the newspaper (or, as I called them before setting such childish things aside, the “funnies”). But one thing always bothered me: why was there such a spread of quality? What right did some of this mundane drivel have to grace the same pages that once held such luminaries as Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side?
Even worse, from time to time the newspaper would rotate out the comics they printed, frequently resulting in the loss of a strip I liked in favor of one I thought was terrible (or, more likely, painfully mediocre). At the time, it struck me as unjust. I know that sounds silly, but it’s really how I thought: it was unfair that a better strip lost out to a worse one.
So, that brings us to this blog post. In this series, I will rank, in my opinion, all of the comics that run in the weekday edition of The Oregonian from best to worst. The good ones are going to get their well-deserved recognition, and the bad ones are gonna be called out. A reckoning is coming.
The following criteria are going to be used to determine the quality of a comic strip:
Funniness: How funny is it? Not all comic strips are strictly comedic, so for serious ones, I’ll replace this with “Goodness,” to represent the dramatic quality of the story.
Art: The general quality of the art. Extra points go to a distinct or interesting style. Major points are detracted for lazy or boring art.
Characters: Does the strip have interesting characters?
Here are all the comics that I wanted to mention but, for one reason or another, didn’t fit the criteria to be included in this list.
Get Fuzzy by Darby Conley
Get Fuzzy is a comic strip about Rob and his two pets: kindhearted dog Satchel and Bucky, a mono-fanged Siamese cat with delusions of grandeur. It’s comedy is mainly character based, although it also has some commentary on the nature of cats and dogs. There’s a plot line where Bucky attempts to secede Rob’s closet from the Union.
Get Fuzzy earns its place as an Honorable Mention because it’s funny, it has strong (if perhaps one-dimensional) characters, and it has good and distinctive art. Unfortunately, since 2013, weekday editions of Get Fuzzy entirely consist of reruns (although new strips are still released on Sundays). As a result, it’s been dropped by many newspapers across the country, including The Oregonian.
FoxTrot by Bill Amend
FoxTrot is, on the surface, a standard sitcom-like comic strip about the Fox family: father Roger, mother Andy, and their kids Peter, Paige, and Jason. Two things set it apart from lesser strips that follow the same formula. First, rather than relying on the same tired tropes, FoxTrot approaches it’s stories and jokes with some cleverness. Second, Amend (who has a physics degree) incorporates a number of science and nerd culture jokes into the strip – and the comic’s been around since 1988, so he’s been doing it since before it was cool.
FoxTrot earns its spot on the Honorable Mentions list because it’s funny, it has good characters (especially Jason, the nerdy son), it actually tries with it’s jokes and plot lines (a surprisingly low bar, as we’ll see later), and it’s carved a niche for itself with its referential nerd humor. Like Get Fuzzy’s Darby Conley, Amend only releases new strips these days on Sunday. Because it doesn’t run weekdays, it won’t go on the regular list.
Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson
Oh man, Cul de Sac is so good. The heartfelt and deeply funny story of the kids who live on a particular street, Cul de Sac approaches its world with childlike whimsy and perceptive empathy. Cul de Sac’s distinctive art style is by far the best of the Honorable Mentions, and probably the best out of this entire list. Thompson imbues such an energy into each character, and they have real expressions. He has a real flair for visual comedy – a surprisingly rare thing in newspaper comics. Man, just look at how angry Petey gets here. It’s great!
Though it didn’t affect his drawing (other than slowing him down), Thompson suffered from Parkinson’s disease for years. He passed away in July of this year at the age of 58. His death prompted a flowing out of support online from the comics community. Due to health reasons related to his Parkinson’s, Thompson had canceled Cul de Sac back in 2012.
Cul de Sac earns its place on the Honorable Mentions list because of its sweet humor, surreal take on a child’s view of reality, and exceptionally high quality art. Unfortunately, The Oregonian dropped it after Thompson quit updating it rather than run reruns, so it doesn’t fit the criteria to go on our list – otherwise, it would be at the very top.