Sometimes you really need a good laugh—and that seems to be especially true after the week we just had. I write about a lot of comic books here, but most of those are graphic novels: book-length stories that may include humor, but aren’t all built around punch lines. This week, I’m focusing a little more on comic strips—some of these run in newspapers, and some are online only, but all of them have been compiled into binge-worthy collections.
Here are 8 doses of the best medicine, arranged roughly in order of age appropriateness.
The Mutts: Spring Diaries by Patrick McDonnell
Mutts features Earl the dog and Mooch the cat in sweet, goofy snippets of life. I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of the strip, though I do like the drawing style. Mostly I think it’s because the humor is fairly innocuous and I prefer something a little more biting, but that does make Mutts good for younger readers, too. This collection gathers up a lot of strips that take place in the spring: a lot of singing birds, rain, and a caterpillar’s transformation. The latest collection, Summer Diaries, just hit store shelves earlier this month.
Phoebe and Her Unicorn: Unicorn Bowling by Dana Simpson
If you haven’t read Phoebe and Her Unicorn yet, what are you waiting for? This is one of my favorite current strips: it features a little girl named Phoebe and her best friend, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils (who happens to be a unicorn). The humor is witty and the characters are adorable—and it definitely takes place here and now, in a world that includes cell phones and social media and parents who play video games. It’s hard to sum up a specific collection (this one is the ninth book), but this book includes Phoebe attending a unicorn camp for a change, a talent show, and some more interactions with Phoebe’s frenemy, Dakota.
Breaking Cat News: Lupin Leaps In by Georgia Dunn
Breaking Cat News features a handful of cats as they report on the goings-on in their household, from the strange behavior of their humans to things seen outside their window—and, this time, to the mysterious “ceiling cats” that moved into the floor above them. It’s a funny take on cat behavior—their quirks and foibles are now portrayed from their own perspective, and they’re generally seen wearing suits and ties with little microphones. In this collection, the human’s baby has grown to be a toddler, the cats eventually meet the aforementioned ceiling cats (who speak Spanish), and Elvis (the cynical Siamese) has an adventure with Tommy, the backyard cat.
There’s also some additional fun in the back of the book: how to draw BCN correspondents (including various other animals), and some BCN paper dolls to cut out and play with.
FoxTrot: Mother Is Coming by Bill Amend
It’s actually been a while since I’ve read FoxTrot, now that I don’t generally see a newspaper, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover (while reading the introduction to this collection) that FoxTrot has been around for 30 years. Well, 31 by now. Bill Amend’s quirky family doesn’t ever age, but the references to pop culture continue to keep up with today’s times. As you can see from the cover, Game of Thrones gets a couple of call-outs (though it’s not a major theme throughout the book). Other references include Kickstarter, Instagram, Hamilton, and Star Wars (which, let’s face it, never goes out of style).
Another thing I hadn’t realized until reading this collection is that FoxTrot is now a Sunday-only comic (since, uh, 2006), so this book is entirely full-color, large-format strips. This book includes just over 130 strips.
Zits: Dance Like Everyone’s Watching by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman
Like FoxTrot, Zits is another strip that I enjoyed when I was younger and haven’t kept up with quite as much: and it’s another one where the characters don’t actually age, though some of them have evolved somewhat since the last time I checked in on them. Jeremy, however, is still a teenage boy in a flannel shirt and jeans, eating a lot, making a mess, and hanging out with his friends. What has changed is me: I now have a teenage (daughter), and I have to admit that reading these strips as the parent of a teenager gave me a different perspective on the humor. When the strip first started appearing in newspapers, I was a senior in high school, just a little older than Jeremy. Now, I’m at the other end, identifying more with his parents. Sure, my kid’s not exactly like Jeremy—but some jokes about teenagers are pretty universal.
Pearls Before Swine: Pearls Takes a Wrong Turn by Stephan Pastis
I mentioned above that I like humor with a little more bite to it—well, that’s Pearls Before Swine for you. Of the comic strips covered so far in today’s column, Pearls is the most likely to result in complaints to the newspaper, and it’s no wonder. Rat is mean, Pig is dumb, and Stephan Pastis is frequently pushing the boundaries of what he can get away with in a newspaper strip. (The Comic Strip Censor is a recurring character.) He also spends many of the Sunday strips setting up elaborate puns.
Unlike any of the other collections in today’s column, this book also features commentary from Pastis. Many of the strips have a little bit of explanatory text below them: sometimes a little more explanation, sometimes just silly comments. A lot of them talk about how much more lenient newspapers are now compared to when he started. This collection includes the strips leading up to and following the 2016 election, so there’s also quite a bit of political humor: Rat decides to run for president, and it’s pretty obvious where he’s taking his cues from.
The Ultimate Cartoon Book of Book Cartoons edited by Bob Eckstein
If you love books (and I assume you do, if you’re a regular reader of this column), then you’ll get a kick out of this book. It’s a collection of 133 single-panel comics about books: bookstores, libraries, authors, editors, book clubs, and more. They’re the sort of cartoons I’d describe as New Yorker cartoons (and in fact you’ll recognize many of these cartoonists from the pages of the New Yorker), but the book itself is from Princeton Architectural Press. I love the various tropes covered in this book: rich authors and poor authors, popular trends in book publishing, people who love books, people who are books.
The Book of Onions by Jake Thompson
This book is a collection of strips from Jake Loves Onions, a biweekly comic. It’s definitely not for kids—strong language, gore, innuendo—and a lot of the humor is pretty morbid. There are plays on words, visual gags, and a whole lot of jokes about life being terrible that may, as the cover suggests, “make you cry laughing and cry crying.” Definitely not for the faint of heart, but if you enjoy some dark humor, you may get a kick out of these.
My Current Stack
I’ve mostly been reading the funny pages this week, but I did finish the copy of Monstress Volume 3 that I picked up a few weeks back, and I also started Ian Doescher’s Get Thee Back to the Future, a retelling of Marty McFly’s adventures in Shakespearean English.
Disclosure: I received review copies of these comics.