There was a time when I read the “funny pages” of the newspaper religiously. I would wake up
I feel pretty lucky. I grew up at a time when a new generation of comics creators were breaking ground and established creators were still going strong. My world was Bloom County (and later Outland), The Far Side, and Calvin and Hobbes. Stan Lee and John Romita were chronicling the adventures of Spider-man every day. The kids of For Better or For Worse were growing up – same as me. Every day I engrossed myself in the daily comics.
As I got older, life got in the way. There was less time for comics. I no longer read everything, just the “good stuff”. Then the good stuff started to disappear. Between the changing tastes of the American public and the retirement of my favorite creators, the comics page became a lonely place. So I moved on.
Recently I was introduced to a comic strip that just might pull me back in: Frazz. Created by Jef Mallett, Frazz chronicles the ongoing story of an elementary school janitor who also happens to be a triathlete. Frazz’s world is populated with entertaining adults, witty children, and a careful balance of snark and compassion. It is a unique find in an otherwise homogenized world of easy laughs and comfortable humor.
Mallett makes it no secret that he was heavily influenced by Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. The influence shows in how Mallett constructs his strips for impact, as well as for message. Instead of building for a laugh in the fourth panel, Mallet often inserts two or three moments into a strip that are designed to entertain, educate, and make the reader ponder. Instead of being done after just one glance, the reader can go back over the strip to look for the cultural references, to dig the pop culture, or simply enjoy the joyous expressions on the characters’ faces.
What I found most enjoyable about the strips was that everyone gets a chance to shine. There are no one-dimensional characters. Even the regular butt of the jokes, Mrs. Olsen, is given opportunities to get the upper hand and teach the kids a thing or two. It makes for a more human and believable community of characters than some of the other cartoons out there.
Frazz is good for the casual reader, but it also rewards the long-time follower. Frazz’s infatuation the first grade teacher, Miss Plainwell, grows and develops over time. Instead of him being in a perpetual state of puppy love, the readers witness a relationship bloom and develop. It is refreshing to see a creator allow his characters to grow and live beyond their initial concept.
Like the best strips of yesteryear, Frazz isn’t simply slapstick (although it has enough basic humor to appeal to my 10 year old), but includes smart enough jokes that adults can enjoy an intelligent laugh. This comic could be the long awaited return of my morning reading ritual over a bowl of Cheerios.
Frazz is available every day for free atwww.comics.com/frazz. And if you want the nostalgic experience of flipping through colored “funny pages”, it has also been collected in three volumes by Andrews McMeel Publishing. Go check them out!