There’s Talk and There’s Talk

I was talking yesterday about comic-strip characters and how they age, or how they’re allowed to age. Some characters, like Dennis “the Menace” Mitchell, never age. The Bumstead family ages, but at a glacial pace. When the strip began over 75 years ago, Cookie and Alexander were children. Now, when they do appear, they’re teenagers. A very few characters, like Lynn Johnston’s Patterson family, age in real time. And some, Like Arlo and Janis, waltz along in something like 3/4 time. In the previous post, I touched on the difficulties faced by the creators of characters who never age. Today, we’ll talk about the peculiarities of aging comic-strip characters. The obvious problem is, they get old! On the plus side, this presents the comic strip author with a continually evolving premise and the potential of new material. On the negative side, much of the new material involves physical ailments and ennui! Who wants to read about that? Fortunately, a lot of people. The challenge is to bring along new, younger readers as well. I try to solve this by presenting Arlo and Janis as being somewhere between the age of 50 and 70. It’s not a perfect strategy, but it’s mine.

38 thoughts on “There’s Talk and There’s Talk”

  1. I think that you use the right strategy. Obviously if you have a strip that has the person in a work place setting (Blondie, Beetle Bailey, Dilbert et tal) you probably don’t want to have the person age. So when was the last time that Arlo and Janis worked? Are they still working?

  2. Back when Blondie started, JJ, Blondie was an unmarried flapper, with several boyfriends. Only later did she get serious about Dagwood, and eventually marry him. For a long time, Alexander was a baby, called “Baby Dumpling,” and later Cookie’s name was suggested by a reader.

  3. I was wondering the same thing as Steve from Royal Oaks. We used to occasionally see A & J at their respective workplaces. We know they aren’t wealthy. And retirement has never been specifically discussed. So we can only conclude that they live in perpetual weekends. That’s a little bit weird. I used to enjoy the occasional workplace humor as it related to our hero and heroine. Or conversely, let them be officially “retired”. No shame in that.

  4. Mr. Johnson, you comment reminds me of a line of a song by Jimmy Buffett, “That’s cause everyone here is just more than
    contented to be living and dying in three quarter time.”

  5. I’ve always imagined A&J as being in the late twenties to mid-forties (ages in years). To think of them as, say, 65 takes something away from my perception. Were they in the 65-70 range, Gene would be 45 or even 50!! That doesn’t seem to mesh.

    I’d just as soon have them at some constant age, with the different strips merely being anecdotes of various past events. There’s no reason all the events need to be portrayed as current.

  6. I have heard that Blondie had rich parents who disinherited her when she married Dagwood. Or was it the other way around? Wonder if any of those strips are online now? Hm-m-m-m….

  7. Of course, just because older people have physical ailments doesn’t MEAN they have to be reflected in comic strips: nobody reads Arlo and Janis to read about their health scares.

    And Bookworm, it was Dagwood’s parents who disinherited him for marrying a flapper — though if they ever refer to that again, she’ll probably be retconned as a hippie chick and War protester.

  8. Here’s a quote from John Rose, who does the Snuffy Smith comic, that is relevant to Jimmy’s discussion.
    Question 5: At 100 years old Barney Google and Snuffy Smith have seen many changes. How has the strip adapted over the years to remain relevant to generations of comic fans?

    We mention many of the changes here in this interview. For example, it started out as a strip about a man and his wife. It then became about a man and his race horse, and then about that same man and his hillbilly friend Snuffy Smith who eventually became the star of the feature. In addition, for a number of years, it also focused on these two men being in the service — one was in the Army and one in the Navy. It may seem like not a lot changes in Hootin’ Holler, but small, gradual changes do happen over time. One change I did make many years ago was to make the characters literate. I felt that was important in today’s world.

  9. Peter Parker/Spider-Man was a couple of years older than me when he started, and graduated high school, and aged through college. Dozens of retros and decades later, he’s back in high school (or something). Marvel has one “world” where the original characters aged real-time, I read a story once in that world. Weirdly nostalgic.

    I remember when Hi & Lois added the baby. I thought they were going to go Gasoline Alley and start aging the family. Hahahaha. No. She’s still talking to sunbeams.

  10. Ageing the characters is more interesting. If you do it right you can gradually have the children take over the strip. That way things can move along with changing times and changing readers. You could eventually have a lot of retirement home humour which by that time many of your readers will be able to identify with.

  11. NO WAY is Janis anywhere close to 70! She’s no older than me, and I’m decades away… well more than one decade away from… oh, never MIND!

  12. In early 50’s for A & J is good. Still young enough for pranks… old enough to have some wisdom… Gene should be getting close to 30 now, so that would work… We identify so much with A & J, just about any age works!

  13. So I am 75 yet I identify with Janis and always have probably until cancer changed that. It was reason I got hooked on strip, she is only female character besides Cathy I can identify with. Much as I liked For Better or Worse that wasn’t me.

  14. Maybe not ‘perfect’ but quite close. But then based on what I’ve seen from you over the years, perfect was never a consideration, I am your subject! You get more ‘Likes’ than any other on Go Comics, and for good reason. 95% of the time I could swear you spied on my life, my thoughts, my priorities. The comic above is a ‘perfect’ example of this. None of my friends, people I’ve known for over 50 years, view life’s things as I do, and apparently you do. We are of such different and diverse backgrounds, yet you nail it. Well done.

  15. I have really enjoyed the strips the last two days talking about Apollo. The command module astronauts had to feel extremely lonely as they circled the back side of the moon while the other two astronauts walked on the moon. Wouldn’t you be afraid to go to sleep?

  16. Trucker Ron–

    I think the radio blackout was in the neighborhood of 60 minutes. I recall articles commenting about how the CM pilots were further away from other humans than anyone else in history. I also remember how the radio blackout was so dramatic when the missions had to make braking burns to park the ship in orbit. Reporters were breathlessly recounting that a misfire would send the astronauts sailing off into space, never to return so the countdown to reestablishing communication was nerve-racking.

  17. All this NASA talk made me think of my first brushes with the space program, first at the Seattle World Fair and then at New York World Fair. I remember tiny capsules, burned and scarred by travels that we were allowed to touch and handle up close.

    Prompted by that memory I wikipedia’d the fairs. My memory was right verified by a photo from a blogger of his siblings’ feet beneath capsule

    As a long time Nassau Bay resident I knew many astronauts and other NASA personnel. I think I have delivered flowers abd balloons from one end to the other of Johnson Space Center. The rest I saw on countless school field trips.

    During my time with government the NASA facilities in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas were all my territory. i doubt I missed much. I was in Hawaii during Appollo 13, infinitely glad they xame home alive. They had followed me it seemed.

    Jimmy you brought back personal memories up to 1987 when personal involvement with NASA personnel ended. I noted so many people I knew had become even more famous when I last visited the Johnson Space Center as a tourist.

    Should have saved souvenirs!

  18. My wife’s best friend works for NASA and many years ago for Christmas, she gave me a tile from the space shuttle. It was probably used during testing. The shuttle tiles were very much like Styrofoam and made a great conversation piece. Ironically at about the same time, I interviewed with a company that made bumpers on automobiles. (I didn’t get the job). They used a plastic foam with a plastic fascia formed over it.
    When I was touring a Ford plant with my boss, who was an Engineer, and the Ford Buyer, who was also an engineer, they asked our tour guide “When do they take the styrofoam off the front and back of the vehicle and put on the bumper?” I told them that “they don’t take them off, they are part of the bumper”
    Of course they made fun of me….until they got to the part of the line where the put the fascia over the “styrofoam”

    I probably have shared both stories here before.

  19. I try not to complain but today I realized how robbed I feel by cancer. I won’t go into details, so much is gone but I am alive. But I suddenly realized first I gave up cooking which I loved, now I don’t care what or where or if I eat at all

    Like many things, no joy but survival Time for nap after pain meds

  20. Have been having the time of my life at Summer Theology Workshop. Attendance has been low because of illness [3] and an unavoidable last-minute conflict [2], but stimulating discussion has been great, weather good [mid-June can be iffy in central MN], and food scrumptious. Doubt any of you are w/in easy driving distance of Paynesville, MN.
    Peace,

  21. Really folks, love and prayer are enough. I am just flat out tired of cancer. Unfortunately I will have cancer, chemotherapy and all its side effects the rest of my life. I am selfish and self centered, I want my life back. Until recently I believed some version of that was possible. It has hit me dramatically this past few weeks just how handicapped I have been left, along with captive to a disease that relentlessly can strike again and again even with aggressive treatment.

    More than that, Ghost is by his generosity, kindness and love just as surely suffering as I. This makes me feel awful guilt. Don’t want or need pity, understanding helps.

  22. No pity. Understanding and empathy insofar as we can give them when we have not walked in your shoes. Taking my cue from the way you used to sign your posts back in the day—-Love, Nancy Kirk

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