Sunday, October 26, 2008

To Serve Man

Ah, cannibal jokes! They never get old! Or do they?

There was a period, from probably the 1920s through the early 70s or so, when cannibal jokes in cartoons and comics were commonplace. The cannibals were often tied to black stereotypes and wore skimpy native garb and had bones in their hair and so on. The best such can be enjoyed in the context of the time or because of the ingenuity of the artists involved; the Betty Boop entry I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You takes a basic cannibal situation and turns it into a brilliant fever dream, helped more than a little by the oddball inclusion of Louis Armstrong singing his famous jazz tune about wanting his wife's lover to drop dead. But in general, it seems to me that the "Look, it's a cannibal! Laugh!" era is dead, slightly outlasting the "Look, an Indian! Funny" and "Look, a black person eating watermelon" cliches.

One cartoonist continues to rely on them, though, in a way that isn't especially offensive racially or politically so much as it's just cliched, dull, poorly executed, and unfunny. The strip is Reality Check a one-panel Far Side/Bizarro rip-off which began in 1995.

It's one thing when newspapers continue to carry comic strips which are past their prime but were once genuinely funny and creative and inventive, and which still may have occasional flashes of either wit or insanity. It's another when a strip has *never* been amusing or well drawn. The "artist" may be a very nice person, but it amazes me that this strip is still fairly widely carried, when the artwork has always looked fairly amateurish (most webcomics these days are more appealing visually) and the jokes are either incomprehensible or cribbed from old Clean Jokes for Kids books or from Joe Miller's attic. For some reason, cannibals show up frequently in his strips (as do aliens, superheroes griping about their lives, Frankenstein, and the Pillsbury Doughboy, plus lots and lots of generic people and talking animals). Yet this past week, *every* daily strip was a cannibal "joke." Some involved old and very basic puns (some of which he's used before) about how some names or phrases used to describe people also apply to food. OH THE HILARITY!

Cannibalism humor doesn't have to be tasteful (ahem ahem), but it requires more than ancient puns or the sight of severed limbs. Too many of these strips involved randomly detached feet and hands, and the joke below doesn't even make any sense!

Now, to cleanse the palate, here's how Harvey tackled the subject. The connotations may have been somewhat unintended; the story is "Deliciously Disguised" from Little Dot in Dot-Land #43, in which Little Dot disguises herself as a rabbit, haystack, and tree, only to find that animals constantly wish to consume her edible-looking outfits. The capper comes with the arrival of Little Lotta:

So we learn that Little Lotta's appetite is so rapacious that the thought of consuming human flesh, even that of a close friend, does not disconcert her. Lotta was probably attempting a joke (a variation of the "I could eat a horse" cliche), but I can't help feeling that Dingly Dell has been spared a Lotta Rampage only due to the lack of giant sandwich bread and condiments. Little Dot, good for her, asserts her rights as a woman and an individual not to be devoured, and her righteous wrath propels her into the air. You go, girl!

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