Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Silent Laughter

Tuesday stripday.

The more I look at newspaper strips, the more interested I get in the silent aspects of humor. As someone who makes his living from verbal humor, it is great to see how pure visual humor can get a laugh. As with words, there are two ways to get a laugh. There is the overt, punchy, loud way and there is the more subtle, laid back, hidden way. Bringing the joke to the audience as opposed to letting the audience get the joke themselves. Writing humor you're always going back and forth between those two. You can't let the audience do all the work, you have to supply specifics, new ideas, funny images... but always explaining the joke, not trusting the audience to make the leap themselves hurts you as well.

What I like about a good cartoon style, is that it can be extreme without devolving into cheap theatrics. The strips I have been showing from Johnny Hart and Howie Schneider all have some wonderful slapstick images from time to time, but never of the look-at-me-I'm-funny kind. They are both helped by a great sense of timing, which shows best in their Sunday strips. In the daily strips they both tended to stay with the sort characterless verbal gags that we see in most humor strips these days. Nothing special. But the Sundays where they concentrate on the silent acting of their characters are always a treat.

This has lead me to appreciate some of the silent strips that have been a staple of newspaper comics for most of the forties and fifties. One of the best, in my opinion, was Louie. I don't know much about it's maker, but what I like about it is that same sense of timing, the almost Buster Keaton-like lack of emotion it displays and the sometimes pretty sharp humor. About half of the gags are about family life and a bit predictable. It is hard to introduce new ideas and images in a silent strip. But some of the Sundays I have seen reveal a less than pleasant view of life. Something I always admire in a gag strip.

The nice thing about Louie is, that it uses almost no slapstick or cartoon elements. It just relies on timing and playing with the audiences expectation. The first two, though published a year apart, are in fact a variation on the same joke.


Mr. Karswell said...

Ooooo, these Louis strips are genius. Question about the last one though with the boomerang: did he throw it through his own window or the neighbors? The two panels of the doorways are identical except the doors are different colors, but still if it's a neighbor's house he just walks right in and... I guess I'm looking into this too much...

Ger Apeldoorn said...

I'd say it's his own home. The trees are the same.