"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 14 May 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Tooning Out



It's been some time since the

mere juxtapositioning of old

media and new media was funny in

and of itself. Nonetheless, the news

that Mary Worth has an email

address is enough to make you

spill your coffee.


[Mercury Center]

Even the most wired among us have

difficulty making it through the

day without getting some ink on

our hands - and, truth be told,

there's comfort in those

smudges. Some might even hold

them up, with the same pride as

the college freshman who refuses

to wash off his club-issued hand

stamp, as evidence of their

literacy. But our reading habits

are more post-literate than

print-savvy, and all we can

really be counted on to read in

the morning are the comics.


[The Comic Strip]

Which brings us back to Mary

Worth and her AOL address.


That aging, ageless matron of the

eponymous, the star of the strip

so old it's been found on cave

walls, is on the net, and, with

a few clicks of the mouse, you

can now offer her as much

unwanted advice as she slathers

on her fictional friends.



You can write to Rex Morgan, M.D.

or Momma, or visit Mike Doonesbury,

Mr. Boffo, or Norman Drabble.


[LA Times]

Of the 39 daily syndicated comic

strips run by the Los Angeles

Times, almost half include -

in a near-microscopic line at

the bottom or along the side of

a panel - a way to reach the

author over the net. Some use

email for simple feedback, or a

mailing-list as the basis for a

fan-club; some have websites

which try to squeeze a few more

bucks from the turnip with

original artwork or merchandise

for sale; and some offer sad

little stabs at interactivity

through their on-the-cheap AOL




Not that any of this means that

Dilbert will get knocked off the

top left corner of the Mercury

News anytime soon. Nor are

we certain that a

spate of commercial

all-comics-all-the-time sites

will overwhelm the search

engines in packing in the




Rather, the insidiousness of this

latest second wave-into-third-

exchange works the other way

around. What's frightening is

not that the funny pages have

invaded computers, but that

computers have infested the

funny pages. Not only as a route

for feedback or back-patting or

monetary exchange, not only as

an alternative to a 32-cent

stamp, but as content, as the

subject of countless (often

painfully unfunny) jokes: the

strip that has a URL along the

bottom often has a computer

being assaulted above it, a

haggard office grunt shouting,

"Which is the 'Any' key?"



Something significant is afoot

when the Web becomes

content instead of carrier, when

"Sylvia" and Suck share source




The funnies are a glimpse into

the American psyche perhaps only

rivaled by late night

monologues. They take quick

bites of culture, chew 'em up,

and spit 'em out in a form

recognizable by the lowest

common denominator -

pre-digested and easy on the

insides. Surely the fact that

Cathy can spend two weeks

"dating" someone from an AOL

chat room means that the net -

in one form or another - has

wormed its way into the American



The comics are the cultural

attache of first resort for

many, the initial contact with

other worlds. When a trend hits

a nationally syndicated comic

strip, you can be sure that it's

ready for the big time, for the

kind of historical shorthand

that not only dominates so much

of the net, but also of the

entire American memory.


[Tabloid TV For Hackers]

"I finished first in my class,"

says the leader of the Lost

Patrol in "Crock" to his men.


"You finished last," one answers.

"We checked it on the computer."


"Thank you, Bill Gates,"

dead-pans the commander to the



Two things are interesting about

this strip (not counting how

little it takes to be considered

"comic" these days):


First, Bill Gates's name is now

recognizable enough to be used

as the punch line of a joke in a

medium that he has nothing to do

with. But even more significant

is the implication that Gates

had something to do with the

discovery of the commander's

class standing.


[Henry Ford]

Bill Gates didn't invent the

computer, he didn't invent

networked computing, he didn't

even invent BASIC - yet he's

regarded, in this strip, as the

implied father of them all. The

creation of this myth-history

for popular culture is the final

step in the acceptance of

computers and the net into the

mainstream. No longer the realm

of specialists and die-hards,

computers need to abide by easy

memes (correct or not) for the

masses. Henry Ford invented the

car, right?


[The Tonight Show]

Comics (and late show monologues)

are the perfect medium through

which this history will spread

and be consumed. Short, simple,

and almost universally popular,

the funnies' embrace of

computers and the net marks a

turning point: computers as

universal as cute animals,

bumbling fathers, and job woes,

gaining their equal share of

bottom-of-the-barrel jokes and

ten-minutes-to-deadline yuks.


The Web is no longer a private


courtesy of An Entirely Other Greg