Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Upside down

Combine two of my favorite things -- the singer/songwriter Jack Johnson and the book series Curious George -- and you get, well, you get a movie that a lot of critics saw and went, "eh," and that I never saw at all.

Combine another two of my favorite things -- talking about triathlons and drawing a comic strip for bright, observant readers -- and sometimes that doesn't work out, either.

"Upside Down," Jack sings in the first song on the soundtrack CD, "I want to turn the whole thing upside down; I'll find the things they say just can't be found ..." and it all comes together if I force it to vigorously enough here. In this past Sunday's Frazz, I led off with a panel where Frazz is using one of those extension things to install a light bulb in a ceiling socket that's located more or less right in the reader's face.

A number of those readers have gotten back to me pointing out something upside down that could be found: Frazz has the bulb facing the wrong way. Good heavens! What kind of janitor is Frazz, anyway? Well ... Frazz is a cartoon janitor, of course, so the next question is What kind of cartoonist is Jef? In this case, Jef is a cartoonist who stuck that bulb in there upside down on purpose. See, in that same panel, Caulfield is asking, "A little distracted, Frazz?" Because Caulfield noticed the same thing my alert readers did. And then we segued into talking about racing, an arena in which it's even easier to catch me legitimately screwing up.

Readers, being human, will defend their position. And I will let them win, because I dislike explaining myself (wait a minute; I'm a writer. I dislike explaining myself on anything but my own terms). But since I have one more article of evidence at my disposal, I'll exhibit that here, too. Sunday comics are typically drawn with a layout that allows newspapers to reshape it to fit a certain space on their page. There are a number of formats, and the one I use involves a title panel that can be used or thrown away, at the editor's whim, without affecting the story line. Most cartoonists use the same title panel over and over. I do not; I see it as a chance to give the readers one more laugh and to give myself a chance to stretch a little bit -- if the gag falls flat, there's a whole 'nother Frazz coming right up. This is a less than wholly successful endeavor; as far as I'm aware, only the Los Angeles Times runs my extra gag. But it comes in handy here, because it shows Frazz and I clearly do know which way the bulb goes in the tool:

Not that I need to win the argument, and it's certainly not as if I want to shut my readers down. As Jack Johnson sings, all in that same song, "There's no stopping curiosity." And "Things aren't always what they seem." And "Please don't go away." There's more Frazzes coming. With more curiosities.

(Note: Dig the way the famously green Jack Johnson figures into a conversation about a compact fluorescent bulb! I just noticed that myself. No stopping curiosity, indeed.)


Noel said...

When will we be getting the next Frazz book so that we can catch up on our Sunday title panels?
Another observation: Idea lightbulbs are usually drawn base down. Your's is upside down for the joke, but right side up for the tool... but upside down for the tool in the next panel, but right side up for the joke in that panel.(I'm getting dizzy!)

La Professora said...

Seriously? More than one person thought that you made a mistake with the orientation of the bulb? Here I was, silently agreeing with Mr L. da Vinci's comment, "The perspective on the light bulb drawing is fantastic", and others were actively questioning your grasp on reality? I bet they even pointed out the varying T-shirts as an error, missing the visual reference to Frazz's state of indecision.

In my field, there are manifest and latent contents. Even the most observant reader can spot the manifest content, but the joke lies in the latent content -- I feel sorry for those who see without seeing beyond.

Curiosities welcome here.

Ken said...

Thank you. Apparently not as observant as some of your readers I couldn't figure out why Frazz was asked if he was distracted. It occupied most of my brain's RAM for at least 30s before fading into the background and I moved on to Pearls before Swine. It must have been still in there somewhere as I feel much better now.

Steve (from Chicago) said...

I also was pretty surprised to hear folks have this reaction, both on this site as well as friends I had sent the strip to. (I work with a buddy who is a runner and biker and, as an electrician, changes light bulbs with one of those extension, grabby-things as part of his daily job, so I couldn't resist.)

I hear folks saying "but the light bulb is upside down" and think: do they also say "but you don't need two people to change a light bulb, unless they're dumb!"

Looking for the joke is one of my favorite parts of "Frazz" and if not everybody gets it, so much the better!

Keep on keepin' on, Jef!

JohnQ. said...

Nice! Good to see the author putting as much thought into a cartoon as this reader does!

Nuance, thy name is Frazz!

(Cue the fart joke)

Jym said...

=v= L. da Vinci didn't write that comment. It was Thomas Edison.