Hey, I’m in the funny pages

My TDIET stripWell, the other shoe has dropped. As I mentioned in a post last December, an idea I submitted to the daily comic strip They’ll Do It Every Time was accepted by cartoonist Al Scaduto and is running in today’s papers (although most people, like myself, probably read it online these days). Sadly, as we know, Al S. died suddenly less than two weeks after I got an e-mail from him notifying me that he had just worked it up for publication. So instead of unalloyed pride, this is an odd and bittersweet occasion for me. (What I really wish I could do is e-mail Al and tell him what a treat it was to see my idea in the comic pages, and thank him for doing what he does.) Rather than continue on with a new artist, the comic strip’s syndicate, King Features, has decided to end TDIET‘s nearly eight-decade run with Al’s last panel on February 2. (As others have noted, it would have been interesting to see what a new artist would have done with the strip, but let’s be real — some people just can’t be replaced, and let’s just be glad Al was around to keep it going for as long as he did; without him, TDIET would have likely been consigned to comics heaven years ago.)

As I said previously, I’ve loved comic books, comic strips, and cartoons in general since I was a kid. I’ve also been scribbling cartoons myself since kidhood, particularly of people’s heads (though when I get beyond the shoulders and bust area, proportions and perspective get a bit iffy). I even enjoyed a brief “career” as a cartoonist of sorts for a semester or so as an undergrad at Boston University. I contributed a strip to BU’s Daily Free Press called Geometrics, in which I employed a template to delineate circles, triangles, parallelograms and so forth, which spoke as cartoon humans do — whatever the geometric equivalent of ‘anthropomorphic’ is. The first strip, which set the tone for the enterprise, portrayed a parallelogram sitting on a bar stool, talking to a triangular bartender, as follows:

T: What you drinkin’?

P: Old Cosine. Straight up.

T: Drinkin’ to forget?

P: This cute little icosahedron I used to know…

T: You had the hypotenuse for her, huh?

P: (drooping at the ends by now) With both angles.

T: Don’t you think you’ve had enough?

P: (separated into two halves): Not until I get a pentangle on.

Maybe you had to be there. A few years down the road, still living in Boston, I published my own zine, which I called X It Out (which, just like my surname, very few ever seemed to know how to spell correctly) and, with rather high pretension, subtitled “Boston’s Magazine of Reality.” (I despised the word zine, and for a very long time avoided referring to my own effort as one.) While engaged in this grand pursuit, I enjoyed publishing and even collaborating with talented cartoonists, including John Klossner, who illustrated some of my fever-dream ideas for general consumption (you can see some of the resulting art here). After four issues, my zine fever had run its course and I felt I had taken the thing as far as it could go; I pulled the plug and didn’t look back, and life, after a fashion, went on.

That said, I never stopped reading the comics, even through bad patches (for me and the strips), and eventually picked up on the glory that is The Comics Curmudgeon and its thousands of avid collaborators and many separate realities (Aldo, we hardly knew ye).

Getting back to TDIET: the strip had a long tradition, going back to originator Jimmy Hatlo’s time, of accepting ideas from readers, whom the cartoonist duly acknowledged; indeed, it was a rare day when nobody was credited. Last June I had e-mailed Scaduto with an idea, which he politely replied was, although decent enough, one he had already used. Then, last October, I sent Al a second missive:

<<Why is it that every time you go to the supermarket, the friendly cashier asks, “Do you need any help out to your car with that?” — even if you’re, say, a burly construction worker who’s only buying a loaf of bread, some tomatoes and a jar of peanut butter — two pounds in all, tops.

But — When you buy 200 pounds of concrete mix at the home-supplies warehouse — or grandma buys 150 lbs. of sand for her grandchildren’s sandbox — then where’s the help when you actually need it?

I’m missing something here — right??!>>

I heard nothing back from the cartoonist for about six weeks, until he dropped me an e-mail on November 25 saying he’d be using the idea in the January 23 strip. Huzzah! You can see the loaf of bread he milled from my grist here. As was his prerogative, he changed the situation/contents of grandma’s bags somewhat; no complaints here, as everything is in service of the all-important gag. Apropos of this, back in 2001 the New York Times ran an article about cartoonists who gather monthly on Long Island to socialize, including the following quote from the man himself:

<<”I don’t do jokes,” Mr. Scaduto said. ” I do satire of human behavior. You get a situation or a gag or something and it’s 50 words and you work on it and work on it and work on it until you chop it down to 15. It’s not easy, it’s very difficult.” And he lamented the dwindling opportunities for cartoonists, most of whom are independent contractors, and their aging readership. Magazines like Colliers, The Saturday Evening Post and Look that ran cartoon panels have folded along with many of the newsstands, five-and-dimes and candy shops that once stocked comic books. Newspapers have cut back sharply on the comic pages.>>

None of which should be news to any fellow comics aficionados, and the situation certainly hasn’t improved in the past few years. A shame, I think, for the future of such good-natured, well-rendered strips.

In the end, all TDIET was about was observational humor, which it was doing long before Jerry Seinfeld and even Robert Klein ever existed. And yet, some self-proclaimed hipsters (who may not be as clued in as they think) still disdained it as an old-fashioned relic.

Wyizzat? Howcumzit?

J’ever notice? They do it every time. There oughta be a law.

((The urge ——> to e-mail them to the moon.))

Thanx and a big tip of the hat, Al.

Sigh.

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