Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Reply All" and the Downfall of Civilization

In Mary Renault's The King Must Die, there comes a time when the hero, the Greek mythological figure Theseus, has attained fame as a bull leaper in the court of King Minos of Crete. As a celebrity of sorts, he attends the parties of the court and sees how debased the culture has become.

Their pottery, for example, had been the finest: "the colors are more and richer than ours at home, the patterns gay yet free, and full of harmony.... It was a pleasure to take their pots in your hands, to feel the shape and the glaze." But by the time Theseus was in Crete, the pots were being decorated into uselessness. At one dinner party, the host shows off his potter's workshop, and while the guests exclaim over the wares, Theseus makes a small clay bull, like a child might make from mud, but he knows it's badly done. "Just as I was about to roll it up again, there was a crying and twittering, my host and his friends holding back my hand, and crying out that it must be fired. 'How fresh!' they said. 'How pure!' (or some such word). 'How he has understood the clay!'"

Theseus thinks they are making fun of him, but they insist not. They swear "they had spoken in earnest, and that I had done what their very newest craftsmen were winning praise for. To prove it they led me to a shelf, covered with such wretched botched things as you will see at home far up in the back hills..."

This example of cultural decline stuck with me since I read it as a teenager. Because I feel drawn to folk art, I'm a bit sensitive to the high culture/low culture implications of Renault's point, but at the same time, I recognize the validity of questioning fashions that devolve into ugliness.

I'm afraid that was a heavy, tangential introduction to the latest daily comic added at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. It's called "Reply All" and is created by Donna A. Lewis, who has a day job as a lawyer for the Department of Homeland Security.

Reply All 6 panel strip about bikinis and sunscreen
The strip is staggeringly badly drawn. Not to insult teenagers, but it looks like something done by a talentless one.

Lewis makes free use of cut and paste so she won't have to draw quite so much. Note the same exact drawing of the brown-haired character in panels 4 and 5. Panels 3 and 6 also use an identical drawing, except the character's mouth is open.

Close up of a panel showing the bad type and word balloon style
While I can't stand anything about how it's drawn, I hate the type even more. You may have noted that comics are hand-lettered, or, these days, use fonts that are based on hand lettering. "Reply All" disposes of that convention, substituting generic Arial instead. And Lewis has no concept of spacing: The type bangs into the unneeded, heavy black rules that border her word balloons, making it feel cluttered and incompetent. Yet the space between the lines of text is much larger than it needs to be, interfering with the coherence of the block of type.

According to the PiPress story about the new strip, Lewis is primarily a writer. Okay, I thought, maybe it will be well-written and funny, even though it's hard to look at.

But no. I looked through a couple of weeks worth of strips and didn't laugh once. It's full of obvious observations that lack the twist required to make you laugh.

Googling the strip, I found the Washington Post describing it as "fabulous." Compared to what? There are hundreds if not thousands of talented cartoonists out there -- as evidenced locally by the recent City Pages comics issue. You can't tell me the PiPress couldn't have found a better strip than this, even in syndication.

Yeah, I know I'm exaggerating about the downfall of civilization. But "downfall of the comics page" wouldn't be going too far.

7 comments:

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

I don't know why they bother. As you once pointed out, the comics have shrunk. They are so small I can't read most of them. I suspect they think this one will appeal to younger people.

Michael Leddy said...

It looks like it’s “drawn” with Microsoft Paint. Ghastly. The cartoonist should stick to her day job (assuming she’s better at lawyering than cartooning).

Ms Sparrow said...

I agree. The thing is so totally unappealing that I would have never even looked at it.

CraveCute said...

I agree with your comments. This is all "cut & paste". Horrible!

David Steinlicht said...

Thanks for writing this -- so I didn't have to!

Patrick Cartwright said...

You are completely correct. Reply All has supplanted the equally terribly drawn "Mr. Boffo" as the worst comic strip in the newspaper today. How someone gets a strip in the paper with no drawing skill and no comedic talent is beyond me.

zack anderson said...

I'm still a young person under the age of 23 and I'm still I'm love with the classic tales of Garfield and Foxtrot and even Sherman's Lagoon. This comic should be replaced by another comic voted on by readers of the Sunday comics