Welcome to a Silver Celebration of Arlo and Janis!

Hello! Welcome to my little online celebration of 25 years of Arlo and Janis. Each day this week, there will appear in newspapers a “vintage” episode of A&J, and there will be a series of strips here on the Web that roughly will correspond to the period featured in print that day. The online comics will include my own observation and comment. Those of you who come to this site regularly know we do something like this all the time, but this week will be like arloandjanis.com on steroids! That’s just a figure of speech, by the way. No performance-enhancing drugs were used in the production of this Web site. Quite the contrary. Now, let’s enjoy the retrospective, already in progress:

July 29, 19851985-07-29-first-strip.gif

This was the first Arlo and Janis comic strip to appear in newspapers, July 29, 1985. I really wanted to do a comic strip about a society of talking dogs, called “Baskerville,” but talking-animal strips were out of favor with newspaper editors at the time, and young families were all the rage. Most of the family-oriented strips targeted at the baby boomlet of the 80s are gone now, and most of the mega-strips launched since then have involved talking animals, but I’m not complaining. Incidentally, a lot of us are again talking of moving to the country and growing much of what we need.

October 11, 19851985-10-11-gauzy-blouses.gif

I had a girlfriend in college who owned a filmy “peasant blouse.” It was the sort of top a young woman today might wear over a frilly bustier or camisole and get by fine. However (How shall I put this?) underwear wasn’t as “in” then as it is now. At lunch in a local hangout one afternoon, we got into a discussion about whether her apparel was “see-through.” I said it was, and she insisted, not without indignity, that it was not. For a ruling, I turned to a friend and asked, “Can you see through her blouse?” He never did say yes or no, but he turned bright red and stammered unintelligibly. She conceded the argument, but she didn’t stop wearing the blouse. The 70s were a great time to be alive.I bring this up, because this was the first A&J strip to be censored by my handlers at United Media. Originally, Arlo asks in the first panel, “Do you still have those thin gauzy blouses you used to wear without a bra?”

October 31, 19851985-10-31-trick-or-treater.gif

In front of my parents’ house was a boxwood hedge. It paralleled the house, with a narrow concrete sitting area in between. This arrangement was just off the walkway leading to the front door. On Halloween, my father would sit behind the hedge in a lawn chair, in the shadows. When a group of trick-or-treaters rang our doorbell, he’d speak up in his baritone voice, merely saying “Hey!” We always had to hose off the front porch the next morning. This stunt also was a lesson in the power of subtlety for all budding cartoonists in the family.

November 11, 19851985-11-11-veterans-day.gif

Speaking of Daddy: this was my first Veterans’ Day cartoon, and it was based on my father’s reaction to his experiences in northern Europe. There probably would be no A&J without my father, and I’m not referring to the obvious metaphysical reasons. I inherited my father’s dry wit. This was softened somewhat by my mother’s gentle outlook, producing a pequante yet mellow blend of sensibilities with aromas and flavors of courrant, chocolate and a hint of toffee from toasted oak aging.

December 30, 19851985-12-30-blown-away.gif

Actually, there was about this time an effort to reduce violence on television, particularly gunplay. It was decided the best way to do this was to replace shootouts with speeding cars careening about and crashing into one another with exhilarating regularity, almost always with no injury or loss of life to people involved. It’s great being a cartoonist in a society where you just have to laugh.

June 14, 19861986-06-19-something-big.gif

You might not believe this, but here goes: I remember seeing a reprint of a Dennis the Menace panel that ran in the early 50s, when the feature was new. It was a bored-looking Dennis telling a friend over the telephone, “They had a big fight, but they made up, and now I’m all alone down here.” There have been scantily clad women in the newspaper comics almost from the beginning, and it has been acceptable to depict wolfish characters drooling over them, but Hank Ketcham was the first cartoonist I know of who dared suggest normal married people actually did… something! In a number of panels in the early years, Henry and Alice exhibited a subtle but unmistakable carnal interest in one another. Dennis the Menace, my nominee as unlikely pioneer of marital relations in the funnies. The panel was a favorite of mine as a boy, but not for that reason.

March 26, 19871987-03-26-perfect-job.gif

A lot of cartoonists, myself included, have compared drawing a comic strip to producing a little play every day. I start with an idea, the script; I cast the play, which in the case of A&J has never been difficult, but I still must assign dialog to specific characters; I design the set, and so on. Apart from this familiar analogy, I also contend that drawing a comic strip has very much in common with stand-up comedy: a pithy observation or a snappy joke must be presented unadorned and complete. This is where comedic timing, the great intangible, comes into play. One tends to have it or not. Timing is essential to most humor, but the rapid-fire nature of stand-up and comic strips makes timing particularly critical. There is one big difference between a stand-up comedian and me. When I die, I’m home drinking coffee, not on a flood-lit stage in front of a glowering audience.

May 27, 19871987-05-27-mill-closed.gif

At the time I was born, my father worked for West Point Manufacturing Company, a producer of textiles. “The Company” was headquartered locally and operated more than a half dozen large mills and ancillary facilities in east Alabama. Most of the mills ran around the clock, and from its creation in the 19th century through World War II, West Point Manufacturing Co. never laid off a single employee because of hard times. It was a trade-off. The Company owned the people as surely as it owned the looms and spinning machines, but there was a not-always-easy brand of loyalty that protected all parties in the queer symbiotic relationship. When I was a boy, The Company “went public,” absorbed a smaller textile concern in a nearby town called Pepperell Mills and became WestPoint Pepperell, of which you’ve probably heard. Still, life continued normally until 1986. That was the year corporate raiders, pumped up on junk bonds, wrested control of The Company in a hostile takeover. The raiders soon came to financial grief, and thus began a chaotic downward spiral that eventually wrecked everything. To make a long story short, there are no textile jobs in the area today.