Giving You a Line

(Cartoonist’s note: This is another summer rerun, a post from five years ago. It caught my eye, because I have, in the intervening time, tried to address some of the issues discussed below. First and foremost, I have ceased to think dogmatically about the “four-line” rule. It’s still a guideline, but if I need a fourth line, I use a fourth line. And I’ve tried to be more conscious of the legibility of the dialog in Arlo & Janis. I hope it all has helped.)
OK, so this comic strip from December of last year isn’t exactly “rare.” It’s Arlo and Janis sitting on the sofa, for cryin’ out loud. However, there is something out of the ordinary going on here. Can you tell what it is? That’s right! In the third panel, Arlo’s dialog runs to four lines. It is an unwritten rule here (where all rules are unwritten!) that dialog in a comic strip not run for more than three lines. You’d be surprised how easy this really is. Dialog tends to be terse and to the point, and much of what I write is dialog. I believe punchy dialog actually lends authenticity; remember that, would-be comic strip artists, and writers of all stripes.

I bring up dialog, because I periodically get emails from readers who complain (always nicely!) that they have a particularly difficult time reading the text in Arlo & Janis. I don’t doubt they have problems. Newspapers so reduce all comic strips these days that they’ve become almost impossible to read, particularly for the demographic that is keeping newspapers afloat. I do wonder, though, if A&J is particularly unintelligible. I look at other strips in the newspapers, and I don’t see many of them being any easier to read. I like to think it’s because Arlo & Janis is the one they want to read. Anyway, I have two points about this subject. 1) I am aware of the problem. I have gone to a thicker lettering pen, but I think this sometimes makes me squeeze the lettering, which probably is the worst thing I could do. I have experimented with computer fonts made from my own lettering. This is promising, but I haven’t been able to develop one yet that really pleases me. Perhaps I need to expand the three-line rule to four lines. In short, I am working on it. 2) I would like your observations and suggestions on this matter. It might help.

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81 responses to “Giving You a Line”

  1. Carol Burnett once did a skit parodying that old Hayes Code rule. The camera closed in on the two feet that remained on the floor while the remaining feet and sound dialog indicating that some baby-making was going on.

  2. I thought Fred & Wilma Flintstone were first – but NO:

    On Tuesday, 18 November 1947, a 15-minute program entitled Mary Kay and Johnny made its debut on the Dumont network. Like the more famous I Love Lucy series that followed it, Mary Kay and Johnny starred a real-life couple, actors Johnny and Mary Kay Stearns. Mary Kay had been modeling junior wear on a weekly TV show when her husband pitched the idea of a television-based domestic comedy to a sponsor. (Many such domestic shows, often featuring real-life couples, were playing on radio, but none had yet made the transition to television). Johnny got the go-ahead to produce a single episode, so he wrote a light comedic script about a newly-married couple who lived in a Greenwich Village apartment, just as he and Mary Kay, also a newly-married couple, did. The show caught on, and Mary Kay and Johnny, performed live, became television’s first sitcom, eventually running for three years on three different networks (Dumont, NBC, and CBS).

    Remember when many TV shows were 15 min.? The NEWS, the Soaps.

  3. Never having see the tv programs mentioned, I need to ask if you mean that the Petrie pair had a double bed on screen.

  4. So, Jimmy, did you chalk up the “illegible” lettering problem then to print cartoons being so small? Since we are in a geographic place where the best place to read A&J is online, we have no trouble. I have a newspaper from before 1950 with quite large comics. I remember that when USPS printed the “Comic Strip Classics” stamps in 1995, someone (Mort Walker?) joked that at last they’ll be big enough again to read.

    But I see your present lettering is larger, with more space around the letters.

    And—today, —there’s a four-liner!

    Only one word per line for Janis, though. That *is* cheating, no?

    Thanks for teaching us. I didn’t know.

  5. Best solution to the ever shrinking comic page would be to recreate Will Eisner’s Spirit insert. Then the comic would have its own pages free from intrusive ads that cause the paper to destroy the content we want in order to add the content that could have been put somewhere else.

  6. The Horror.

    From a dispatch from my neck of the woods in The Deep South, regarding an 18-wheeler overturning on an Interstate highway, causing significant traffic delays…

    “The accident happened around 5:15 a.m. and involved three vehicles, according to (the County Emergency Operations Center Deputy Director). He said four people were transported to the hospital, including the driver of the 18-wheeler. He said the truck was heading south with hundreds of gallons of sweet tea on board.”

    No word from the EOC as to whether counseling services would be available for any Southerners distraught over this tragic loss of sweet tea.

  7. I have no trouble reading A&J in our paper, or most other comics.
    They only FINALLY added A&J less than a year ago.

    However hate trying to read Non Sequitur as the font size is just on the border for me to make me want to grab the glasses (I’m pushing 62). They get too wordy too.

  8. Ghost has dropped another jean size to 36 waist. At his height he looks amazing. Just saying.

    Finally got him a work cowboy hat but not the pony.

    I am at oncologist for final bloodwork before moving on to next stages.

    Feeling great again and lots of energy.

  9. Getting raves from doctors about fast turn around from cancer.
    Oncologist says blood work is perfect, as is bone density. They are running scans to make sure the cancer hasn’t spread but not expecting it to have done so

    Seeing radiologist tomorrow but am finished and just have a few burns still open. Can’t begin pool walking or water exercises until they heal.

    Back in physical therapy to prepare for k ee replacement.

  10. Ghost has exhausted himself dragging me around. He is the most wonderful man unlike any I have k own.

    Everyone agrees he looks like a lawman although I szy kindly town doctor. My male employees described him as looking “lethal.

  11. That photo of Betty Grable reminds me of what we still looked like into 50s and 60s when we were all petite and perky. What happened to perky?

    Around us I see so much obesity, both young and old, male and female.
    Huge hulking and drooping layers.

    Granted I hang out around hospitals and doctors offices but the people I see around me are so old, even those a decade or two younger. Why the drastic aging? No one ever smiles.

  12. Ooh! I like the Wikipedia description of the above: “It’s an attack on phony patriotism, especially in the context of exhibitionist chauvinism.”

  13. Slobs is slobs no mater where they are – I wonder what the house looks like.
    I was going to say pigs but pigs know better.
    It looked like the driver was embarrassed?

  14. Unfortunately it is not PC if not illegal to teach flag etiquette in schools today.

    Few people know how to walk country roads today either.

    And don’t get me started on all the practical things NOT taught today.

  15. I got a good laugh out of it, emb. And I thought the Villagers would appreciate it too. Glad you liked it.
    Did you see the Tolkien- style map of Michigan I posted?

  16. Looks like we are repurposing our original small boutique as a faith based shop. God gave me that answer at 2 a.m. when I woke up to go to the bathroom.

    He speaks at odd times but one should listen 24/7.

    Ghost renamed it Heavenly Deals nut I keep forgetting and calling it Steals.

    The flamingo gets a halo and white angel wings.


    We slready

  17. Thanks for reposting, Mark. I knew you would get a kick out of it. Especially since our sense of humor runs along the same lines…

  18. My phone and internet here at house have deteriorated even further. I did not realize it had cut out part of my post nor posted so oddly.

    Thank you for your concern Llee.

    Ghost and I spent afternoon picking out crosses, angels and faith based giftware for the new shop. It will be beautiful. Luckily he and I agree on those subjects like so many others.

    Ghost can tell you what a beautiful gift the ladies gave him for bringing me down. They wanted to keep Dickens but made no offers for Ghost.

  19. Being British I often have to look up your culture references. I certainly learn a lot. I presume Dick Van Dyke broke the the double bed rule?

  20. Mark, I bet that lamp would cast some, ah, interesting shadows.

    While passing through Broken Arrow this afternoon on the way back from Tulsa, I had to stop at my cellular provider’s store to resolve a minor service problem. Afterwards, Jackie convinced me to stop at what she said was one of your favorite grocery providers (rhymes with “Shouts”) for my first visit. I was impressed. Since we seem to spend a goodly portion of our lives running up and down the BA Expressway, it will be a good place to get some diet related products for Jackie and some healthy foods for me.

    While looking at the meat and seafood selections, Jackie mentioned to one of the staff that it was my first time in one of their stores, which led to the department manager coming out and introducing herself to us. After a nice chat, she gave me a complimentary bratwurst. I have to say it was the first time a lady has ever gifted me with sausage. (Customer service done right.) I’ll be going back.

  21. Glad you liked it, Ghost. And you too, Galliglo. That store is nice, I use the one on Harvard now because it’s closer. Great produce and meat.

    I haven’t been gifted with sausage, but I did have a chance to gift someone there with something. While waiting to check out there was an older woman in front of me. She was telling the cashier how someone stole her car not long before. The car was recovered, but the thieves threw away her reusable shopping bags. I had extras in my car and offered them to her, and she was glad to have them.

  22. Lost: The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961) had Rob and Laura sleeping in twin beds because the censors did not allow couples on television to sleep in the same bed back then. (An exception was Ozzie and Harriet Nelson in “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet” TV series. This couple was married in real life.) From the IMDB website

  23. Yofau is National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day. I celebrated with a double chocolate chip fudge nutrition bar.

    Ghost bought traditional chip cookies at bakery.

    Choose your own chip!

  24. Good article, emb. My ex and I used to go the feed store and buy the big bags of sunflower seed and the premium fruit and nut mix. We would mix it together and store it in plastic buckets to keep it fresh. That attracted plenty of variety, all right. We also planted a sunflower seed variety pack by our back fence. The plants with the smaller sunflower seeds attracted a lot of goldfinches.

  25. Not a fan of the NBA, but even friends that are fans admit the games aren’t much worth watching until the playoffs begin. Which also seem to last several months.

  26. We’re arranging Jackie’s pantry, as well as pulling out the short-dated canned goods and staples to go to a local help-yourself food blessing-box. Since she will be consuming only the food her diet plan is furnishing, I decided it might be interesting to experiment with a Dystopia Diet. A few years ago, I read a number of dystopian novels, and it occurred to me I could pretend that much or all of the food distribution system had collapsed and see how I could manage subsisting on what food stores are on hand. I’ll let you know how I fare on that fare. Wish me luck.

  27. Take care, Ghost, we don’t want to see you fading away from malnutrition.

    Any bird-lovers in the Village, the birdseed article emb posted is very interesting. I noticed for myself years ago that the birds weren’t interested in some of the seed varieties, so after some experimenting, I settled on millet, which we sprinkle around for the ground-feeding birds, and the whole shelled sunflower seeds in the hanging feeders. The latter seeds attract Cardinals, Goldfinches, Purple Finches, other interesting birds depending on the season of the year, and a bonus is there is not much litter to pile up and look ugly.

    I feel that I am getting my money’s worth and not wasting cash on useless seeds and shells.

  28. Ghost and I went beyond cleeaning pantry. We got a lot done in kitchen and big pantry out in laundry. I am exhausted but feel a great sense of accomplishment.

    No one really I have had work for me here at house has ever been more than a shove it somewhere out of sight organizer.

    We are in a give it away, throw it away or put it away mode right now.

    The house has been warehousing inventory for stores to point we could barely inch our way through storage bins. We are reclaiming our home.

    Hopefully we will conquer the mess, room by room.

  29. Trucker
    The Minneapolis paper did an article about GPS sending people down a
    dirt track road after a 2 mile repaved & improved section of highway was opened.

    Took a month and a half after the county officials complained before it was changed.
    The advice was “use common sense and if it didn’t look right it wasn’t right.
    Tow truck co.s liked it though.

    By us the county road takes a jog along the State road for a bit.
    Ever since they paved a short section of our township road it looks like
    a continuation of the County road, and at least 1 car a day comes up
    and turns around in the neighbors driveway.
    The State will not allow the county to put a County Road sign to clarify the situation.

    And of course drivers miss the arrows before the turn.

  30. As I mentioned last year, GPS Navigation on my iPhone 5 tried to route me down a boat landing and into Lake Eufaula. I no longer have that phone.

  31. Today is National Wiggle Your Toes Day. Apparently, we are supposed to observe it by going barefoot or wearing sandals or flip-flops.

    The origin of this Day is unknown. Possibly it was started by a purveyor of flip-flops. Like Steals and Deals. 😀

  32. In fairness, a lot of boat ramps around here use to *be* roads before they built the lake. Of course, it was constructed in the nineteen sixties, so someone badly needs to update their map app.

    Headed to Tulsa. Hopefully, we won’t end up in Dallas.

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