Thursday, February 28, 2008

Family Circus: My Way

MANY YEARS AGO, while I was working at the PitchWeekly in Kansas City, I had a ritual. Every day I would read the paper, and I would take the Family Circus cartoon from that day's paper and swap out the punchline with the punchline from another single-panel comic from that same day. Usually, Marmaduke or Dennis the Menace. Occasionally, I would use the punchline from one or two days previous to the Family Circus cartoon. But I tried my best to keep to the rules of coincidence, believing that a random other punchline from that day made for a funnier cartoon.

I got the idea from the Far Side, rather from the introduction to a collection of Far Side cartoons. In which, Gary Larson tells the story of how the punchlines were accidentally swapped on his cartoon a couple of times with neighboring single-panel cartoon Dennis the Menace. And each time, the resulting cartoons (especially Dennis) were disturbingly hilarious. Back then, newspapers were laid out onto boards, physically cut and pasted, before being sent to the printer. I'm not sure if anyone even does that anymore, but the upshot being that it was easy to make the mistake then during the cutting and pasting process.

So I started doing this swap myself. And every week at the Pitch, I would photocopy my latest creations and pass them around. This was in the early '90s, before the Dysfunctional Family Circus website came about. The idea for that site was a little different, however, as the makers of the site simply wrote disturbing punchlines (or let readers submit their own) to the existing pictures.

Personally, I like the coincidental comedy better. It's accidentally funny. And, in my opinion, not mean-spirited. While I'm not a fan of Bil Keane's comic, I think it's good-hearted and basically harmless. That's why I like the comedy found when the lines are swapped, versus writing something that subverts the wholesomeness. Somehow, the haphazard nature of coincidence seems funnier to me.

Anyway, I still have hundreds of my original Family Circus creations in my files, and one day I will scan them in and start posting them here. Until then, please enjoy these new ones I've created, both using Marmaduke for the punchline.

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