Friday, March 8, 2013

Recommended Reading for 3/8: Get Fuzzy

While many consider the newspaper comic strip a dying art form, there are still some great strips being published day in and day out. My personal favorite right now is Get Fuzzy written and drawn by Darby Conley. I've always thought of it as Garfield on PCP, where the jokes (and animals) fly fast and loose. It's funny, smart, and occasionally a bit heartwarming.

Get Fuzzy fits the classic set up of many a story: an apartment shared by a man, his dog, and his cat. One of the key differences is that these animals talk. They are very much intelligent... Well, maybe intelligent is the wrong word, but that is more to do with how bright they are than what they can do, but we'll get to that. They are not, however, completely anthropomorphic. You don't see animals going out to work, or of a size with people. Animals still act like animals, only they can talk about it.

Our human protagonist is Rob Wilco. Rob's a nice guy, works in advertising, politically liberal, and the one real thing I have against him is he's *shudder* a Red Sox fan. Hey, I'm from just outside New York. Yankees all the way. He's kind of geek, which redeems him mostly for his lousy taste in sports teams. He plays video games, and loves Star Wars. He's a guy that I'd like to go out and grab a drink with after work. But his life is made far more complicated by his pets.

Satchel Pooch is a Shar-Pei/Labrador Retriever mix, and is by nature very sweet, if kind of completely stupid. Satchel does a lot of the typical dog things, like chasing things and eating everything in sight. But he also helps out the other pets in the building when he can, and sends letters to his parents in Canada. But Satchel's eating often gets him in trouble, as he eats things he's not supposed to, and gets sick, behavior any dog owner understands. He's also pretty gullible, which makes him the ideal victim for the final member of the Get Fuzzy household.

Bucky Katt, named partially for his one buck tooth, is a Siamese, and the cat equivalent of evil incarnate. Lazy, selfish, and violent, Bucky is that cat that everyone who dislikes cats would use as an example of why they do. Bucky's always up to some harebrained scheme or another, usually involving either finding a monkey to eat or getting himself on TV or the movies. Needless to say, he has never achieved either of these goals. I had to choose an action shot of Bucky for the image above just because, while he's often laying down and sleeping, you don't understand the true Bucky unless he's performing some act of terror on his housemates. One of the most amusing traits about Bucky is he honestly believes he is the smartest creature in the apartment, but is clearly wrong, as his "intelligent" speeches are full of malapropism, and his arch conservativeness is really just an additional way to get under the skins of the much more liberal Rob and Satchel.
When I talked about Rob above, I mentioned some of his more geeky tendencies, and one of the great bits about Get Fuzzy is the way it's littered with pop culture references. At one point, Rob's vintage Star Wars action figures are destroyed, and Satchel tries to cobble together new ones from the pieces, creating horrible Frankenstein-esque creations. Bucky and Rob once had a great argument over whether or not Severus Snape of the Harry Potter series was evil or not. And when Rob told staunch Republican Bucky about who his party had selected for their Vice Presidential candidate for 2008, well, I'll let the strip speak for itself.
"Nobody expects the Alaskan politician!" still makes me laugh so hard I almost cry.
I have spent the past day or so attempting to find another favorite strip of mine, one that I feels sums up everything that is great about Get Fuzzy, but to no avail. Bucky attempts to pitch Rob (who he addresses as Ma'am) on the idea of Bucky Katt's Home for Monkeys, where they would be allowed to enjoy days of breaking rocks in the sun, so they would be exhausted and he could eat them. Naturally, Rob sees through the insanity, but it's the fact that Bucky really thinks this completely insane idea could fly that makes the strip sing. The dialogue is so pitch perfect that it doesn't necessarily need the usual format of many comedy strips of set up in panel one, action in panel two, punchline in panel three; the rapid fire insanity of the character interactions is humorous enough.
Get Fuzzy is more than willing to embrace the absurdity of its talking animal premise, and make Bucky and Satchel extreme examples of how people pictures cats and dogs without making them caricatures. There are also moments where Bucky and Satchel step out of their normal roles. Bucky has pushed Satchel to the point where he loses his affable attitude and Satchel smacks Bucky one, usually sending Bucky to hide in his closet. And once, when Satchel's prized possession, a watch, broke, Bucky had it fixed, although he did it in such a way he had plausible deniability to maintain his tough cat image.
Like all great comic strips, Get Fuzzy has a cast of minor characters to support its principals; I mean, what good would Charlie Brown be without Pigpen dirtying things up, or Garfield without Nermal to mail to Abu Dhabi? The supporting cast include include  Fungo Squiggly, the ferret who lives next door who is friends with Satchel and is Bucky's archenemy, although that is more in Bucky's head than anywhere, which is good for Bucky, since Fungo is a tough character. Mac Manc McManx (pictured above) is Bucky's British cousin who pops over to the States every so often, and speaks in British slang and with an accent so unintelligible that no one understands a third of what he says. My personal favorite is Chubby Huggs, a rotund cat who lives down the hall and believes that hugs solve all problems. And frankly, as he once broke up a near fight between Bucky and Fungo by hugging them both into submission, well, he might be right.
Get Fuzzy is a breath of fresh air for me. When I just need to settle in and read something that makes me laugh until I cry, I grab one of my collections off the shelf and visit that strange little Boston apartment. If you ever have that day where you feel like you can't think anymore and your brain is much, read a couple strips and you'll get a chuckle and realize that, well, at least you're smarter than Bucky.

There are currently twelve regular Get Fuzzy collections, volume one being The Dog is Not a Toy (House Rule #4), with a thirteenth due out in late Spring. They strips are also released in treasury editions, collecting two of the regular collections each. All of these are in print and  available at bookstores and comic shops. If you want to keep up with Satchel and Bucky's adventures daily, you can check your local paper or go here.


No comments: