Marmaduke creator Brad Anderson has died and it’s worth taking this opportunity to remember what a pile of hot, steaming garbage not only Marmaduke but the entirety of the newspaper comics has been for decades. On the “funny” pages, it’s amazingly still basically 1958, with children now drawing their parents ancient comic franchises. You have Family Circus with its suburban, idealized white family untouched by any social changes. You have Beetle Bailey with the same sexist jokes that were stale in 1973 and that is evidently only read by people who think the military jokes are funny because it reminds them of their time in the Army just after the Korean War. There’s B.C.’s revanchist politics. Garfield sure hates Mondays! For Better or For Worse was interesting enough for awhile, but even there the creator decided to stop moving through time and just go back to sentimental material about kids. Peanuts is now in Car Talk territory with long retired or dead artists being recycled for the ancients who can’t imagine not reading or hearing it (Car Talk is an abomination under any circumstances but the conversations about 1991 Ford Escorts is really keeping it fresh years after any of them have been on the road).
Of course, it wasn’t necessarily always this way. In the 1980s, alongside the already stale comics of mentioned above, you had The Far Side, Bloom County, etc. Doonesbury was still relatively fresh (and you have to give Trudeau for continuing to try long after others on the newspaper comic page have given up). And then The Boondocks came along to desegregate the funny pages and it had to be moved to the editorial pages in many papers because it upset the old white people who read the comics. The sop I guess was that Mallard Fillmore was also moved to the editorial page but the sheer existence of that piece of trash shows how low the bar is for right-wing voices to be heard in the media.
What of course drives everyone crazy is that the level of talent in the universe drawing comics is off the charts, as the internet has shown. One can argue that the internet has been a net negative for musicians because of downloading, Spotify, etc., for filmmakers because of bootlegging (although obviously the internet has also drastically reduced low-budget filmmaking start-up costs and opened a lot of opportunities), and for authors because of the decline of the bookstore and PDFs. But for comic artists, it’s been an unmitigated positive and demonstrates just how unnecessarily awful the newspaper comics have been for a very long time.
Marmaduke is especially terrible. Brad Anderson created a entire career out of one joke–Marmaduke is a large dog. That is literally the entirety of this comic. And yet it’s been an indispensable part of the comic page since the Van Buren administration. Literally the only good thing to ever come out of Marmaduke was Marmaduke Explained, a riff on how bad the comic is. Attempts to spin this off into television or film (for christ’s sake) are even worse. Check out the lead-in for this attempt to create a Marmaduke/Heathcliff cartoon show.
What the hell is that? It’s clear there’s still no joke other than Marmaduke being big and Heathcliff being whatever. That theme song may be the worst thing in television history. And yet Brad Anderson was rolling in the cash!
I mean, good for him, but my god does the newspaper comic page need to die in a fire.