31 October 2006

Trick or Treat?

See it here.

The Dinette Set has something for everyone in celebration of Hallowe'en.

For some, an hilarious treat in which Burl comes face-to-face with his own mortality, though obviously this is one of his friends playing a joke. Fans can flood the Dinette Set forums with speculation about which of Burl's prankster friends is under the sheet.

For others, a frightful trick in which Burl comes face-to-face with his own true mortality. This is a harbinger of the future, come to offer Burl one last chance to amend his ways before the grim specter of death calls him home.

For the remainder, an impossible dream in which the artist announces her intention to kill off Burl, and with him the comic strip, and then retire. Dare we dream?

Smell my marginalia:
  • Joy is so startled by this apparition that she has 4 separate indications of her fear: a pair of head bobble lines, a hand bobble line, and candy falling like sand in an hourglass.
  • Interestingly, the pumpkin face that was on their front door just yesterday is gone.
  • The artist aims one at commenter Pinball, for whom Joy's pants must be a nightmare.

30 October 2006

Torch Song

See it here.

Hmm, I picked the wrong day to come back.

Today's Dinette Set is a singularly puzzling panel. In a strictly narrative sense we have an unfamiliar neighbor leaning on the car, begging for a ride. Burl informs the man that they are going exactly where he is going, and that he may join them. Dale adds the neither helpful nor humorous capping comment that they must stop for gas along the way.

Searching for humor, the reader is given two potential options. Perhaps we are meant to focus on the obesity/laziness angle playing out in leaning man's gym bag and the fact that a carful of men are driving, rather than walking, to a rec center just a few blocks away. Alternately, perhaps we are to marvel at the energy inefficiency of driving "just down the next block over."

Unfortunately, either way there's not much in the way of a joke going on, meaning that something else must be going on, subtextually.

The only conclusion I am able to draw on that score is based on several rather odd details coupled with the big black car. The first is the pumpkin face, conspicuously visible due to the strange perspective at which the house is drawn. Second is the large and menacing pair of bolt cutters in the garage. Third is the concept of a wrestling league for men Burl's age.

From all of this, the reader can piece together a hidden narrative involving the wrestler being a bully or homoerotic threat in the locker room. Burl and his posse, always up for a spot of gay-bashing, decide to pick up their nemesis in an intimidating black sedan. Instead of going to the rec center, however, they will be driving to the gas station, and then out to the woods where the bolt cutter will be used to remove all fingerprintable digits while the gas will be used to torch any potential evidence.

I feel safe saying there can be no other possible interpretation.

Men's all-star marginalia team members:
  • What the hell is going on with the left rear tire? Why is it outside the wheel well?
  • Is that leaf thing an elaborate hood ornament or some sort of plant growing near the light? It looks like it is attached to the front of the car.

16 October 2006

Meta-Post: Schedule

The next two weeks will be hit-or-miss. I have to plan for and then do some travel. I will do my best to post whenever I can.

13 October 2006

Super-size us

See it here.

At first glance, it is tempting to throw one's hands into the air and declare today yet another thematic repeat of the past two days, emphasizing Burl's extreme cheapness through the device of a pair of free Meal Deals.

Tempting, but in classic Dinette Set fashion, the inherent tension between dialog/narrative and artwork leads to the larger truth if you are willing to peel away the layers of the onion and discover what lies inside.

The reader's attention is quickly drawn to a seemingly extraneous detail, the gender of the person at the window. Joy's dialog clearly indicates that she is female. The drawing is much less definitive on this point, although to be fair, it may be asking to much to identify his/her gender, given that it is not possible to even identify what s/he is supposed to be doing.

The simple presumption is that s/he is trying to get Burl and Joy's attention to let them know s/he gave them extra Meal Deals. Probably Meal Deals belonging to the sinister shadowy figure piloting the battleship-sized vehicle blotting out the sun behind Burl and Joy and threatening to run them off the road should the truth be discovered.

But the sign on the front of the establishment belies that interpretation. It clearly states that if you buy one Meal Deal, you get one free. So, suddenly, it becomes conceivable that Burl and Joy actually got what they ordered: two Meal Deals, and two free meal Deals. At which point the employee is, instead, trying to warn them that they have forgotten the 72 oz. drink that comes free with every Meal Deal.

And so, with an almost Socratic pedagogy, the panel leads the reader, step-by-step, to the more global commentary. In its avuncular way, The Dinette Set delivers a gentle tsk-tsk regarding the excesses of life in America, with 5,000-calories-per-day diets and 5-gallons-per-mile autos.

Would you like marginalia with that?
  • I would love to give credit for the clever Einstein reference "MC2", but I'm at a loss to explain how Special Relativity bears on today's panel. And an bad pun about Einstein is still a bad pun.
  • The neckline of Burl's shirt can only be described as "plunging" if I am seeing it correctly. It is possible that I am not seeing it correctly, however, due to the choice to make the shirt out of horizontal stripes against the backdrop of vertically-striped seat upholstery.
  • Burl's head is swivelled 180-degrees to talk to Joy, who is 90-degrees from him. Do you figure Dale and Marlene are in the back seat?

12 October 2006

Cheapness: Redux

See it here.

Let me see if I can summarize my feelings about today's panel succinctly: This is the exact same joke as yesterday.

Admittedly they moved to a different store to shop for Britta's birthday present. They picked up Verl somewhere along the way. They are shopping in some sort of "secondhand crap" store rather than a book store. The density of marginalia is far lower. The words are different. The picture is different.

But none of that can alter the fact that today's panel is 100% redundant with yesterday's.

Perhaps the artist sent two panels to the syndicate and asked them to pick the one they liked best, but they misundersood and published them both on consecutive days.

Perhaps this is an intellectual exercise wherein the reader is supposed to compare and contrast the two panels and draw a larger conclusion from their similarities and differences.

More likely, this is either a bankruptcy of new ideas or a completely unnecessary strengthening of an already pervasive theme, Burl's cheapness. I'll let the reader decide for themselves which explanation they favor.

The names of the marginalia have been changed to protect the innocent:
  • As if repeating the same panel were not enough, Joy's "Buy One Get One Free" T shirt makes a comeback, which is something I am sure none of us ever wanted to see again.
  • The Holy Grail appears to be on the shelf in the back, just below the ceramic elephant.

11 October 2006

Putting out the trash

See it here.

In general, today's panel lacks a unified concept to draw what is, even by Dinette Set standards, a very busy panel into a single unified whole. The best that can be said about it is that the garden-variety Dinette Set cheapness joke is deployed as a foreground for a trash-dumping exhibition of book title marginalia ideas that, for whatever reason, could find no other home.

In general, the jokes fall into one of a few categories:
  • Jokes at the expense of the cultural elite: such as David Sedaris' Barrel Fever, The Devil Wears Hanes, Told By An Idiot.
  • Jokes at the expense of the nearly illiterate: Full House: the Best 41 TV episodes, Reading Books for Dummies, Biography of The Olsen Twins.
  • Jokes that should have been reconsidered: C is for Cheap, Reading Books for Dummies, The Little Ice Age.
The New York Times Best Marginalia List
  • Da Cubs? I assume that's a reference to the decades old "Da Bears" SNL joke? The point, however, escapes me.
  • Whatever Joy's shirt is supposed to say, the last three letters of the cut-off word appear to be "THF". Off the top of my head, I can't think of a word that ends "THF".

10 October 2006

Another outbreak

See it here.

Dear lord, what is going on in Dinette Set land?

This marks two panels in under a week which are brazenly dealing with age, the erotic, and the erection.

Big and small for ladies, the Jolly Green Giant, up and down male symbols, the movie Cocoon. Even worse, in the portrait atop the TV, Burl appears to have sprouted a vintage 70's porn 'stache.

And this time they have the temerity to drag Carey Grant's good name into their sickness. I imagine his estate will be looking to sue.

Once again, CDC guidelines are in effect, so if you have been exposed, even mildly, claw your eyes out and seek out the most potent sedative you can find.

09 October 2006

Where's the beef?

See it here.

The Dinette Set explores the awesome power of Madison Avenue to shape public perception and the pervasiveness of that power.

It starts with the appearance of an article in a magazine regarding GM cars. The article, of course, is ostensibly an independently-penned piece, but in fact is more likely the product of a collaboration between the two companies' PR departments. All of which is a clever critique of the conglomeration of advertising and traditional media (or in this case the semi-traditional tabloid media) into a single, vertically-integrated, advertising one-stop-shop.

From such a tiny acorn sprouts an instantly mature oak of doubt in Burl's mind regarding the attractiveness of his own GM vehicle. The panel limits itself to Burl's rather impotent outrage at his local GM representative. But the author's clear intent is to suggest that, within a week, Burl's doubt will have transformed into desire, and Burl will replace his perfectly serviceable vehicle with a new one, guaranteed to not be ugly.

Furthering the overall effect, examples of "putting lipstick on a pig" as metaphor for advertising litter the walls. Alongside them are brazen example of product placement with brand loyalty implications. But the most stunning example of the power of marketing is reserved for the coffee cups, which effortlessly reverse Burl and Joy's gender, using only a text label.

I can't believe I ate the whole marginalia:
  • Talk about putting pressure on yourself, the brand name "Excellent Cookies" would really limit your options.
  • Ding Dongs, of course, require no marketing. They are, after all, Ding Dongs.

07 October 2006

The truth is out there

See it here.

An interesting subject gets examined in today's Dinette Set, which is the growing tendency in American society to utterly ignore Occam's razor: entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem (entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity).

In more popular form, Occam's razor is usually understood to mean that the simplest explanation is usually the best explanation. Or, as Wikipedia says: "when multiple competing theories have equal predictive powers, [select those which] introduce the fewest assumptions and postulate the fewest hypothetical entities." And Wikipedia is never wrong.

When confronted with crop circles, there is a single rather obvious potential answer--that they are a hoax-- which requires only a belief in a single entity (hoaxers) and two assumptions (they can create crop circles
and keep it a secret). Of course that does not stop a large number of people from violating Occam's Razor and favoring the explanation that they are the work of aliens, which introduces a much more complicated set of entities and assumptions.

And then there is Burl--the American Everyman. When asked for his opinion, Burl goes even further and posits a massive global cover-up and hoax perpetrated by every media outlet in the world who has agreed to publish these faked photos (and videos) while ignoring the fact that the actual physical sites are devoid of crop circles. All without a definable benefit, unless you count residuals for repeat showings of Ripley's Believe it or Not.

At a time when almost 50% of Americans believe in ghosts and when only Turkey (among 34 surveyed nations) has fewer people which believe in evolution than the United States, it is clear that The Dinette Set is making a brave and principled comment on a controversial issue: the willingness of the American population to believe convoluted explanations for rather simple things.

Scientists doubt the existence of marginalia, but here is the proof:
  • I have never seen it, but The Reluctant Astronaut is on-point, and a Don Knotts reference to boot. How much more could you ask for?
  • I'm going to guess that Burl's cup is meant to be an ironic suggestion that his rampant imagination is caffeine-fueled and he ought to switch. Alternately, it is saying that 100% caffeine-free coffee is a myth. I can't be bothered to look up information on that last supposition. But I am sure more information on 100% caffeine-free coffee may be found on the internet.
  • Could Joy's cup be a reference to Apollo landing hoax theories? The truly bold step would have been a Bart Sibrel reference.

06 October 2006

Fight the power!

See it here.

The county fair is a deeply contradictory symbol of American rural life.

On the surface, the mere thought of a county fair conjures up the halcyon days of childhood cotton candy binges (which eventually result in adult onset diabetes) and the first early fumblings of independence and sexuality of early adulthood's group dates. A wonderland of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes, the county fair is a miniature traveling version of The Happiest Place on Earth.

And yet, there is always the dark underbelly to consider. Toothless carneys serving ptomaine-ridden fried food from food stalls and operating unmaintained death-traps masquerading as rides, always leaving town one step ahead of the health and safety inspectors. Booth games, whose origins are unabashedly rooted in graft, openly fleece pigeons who believe they can win the giant panda for their sweetheart, be they daughter or date. And pricing that would force Bill Gates' family to limit their activity.

This dichotomy is the artist's clear intent in setting the panel at the county fair and on a death trap of a ride. That is as far as it is possible to divine intent, however, if we examine the panel in traditional fashion by examining the narrative and dialog literally.

What Burl and Jerry's oblique discussion of ski lifts would have to do with any of this, is unclear. For that matter, what Burl's supposition that Jerry would have lost one of his skis while riding the lift is meant to signify is mystifying. Likewise, why any of this would be considered funny is similarly shrouded in mystery.

But if we examine the entire panel as a meta-comical commentary on the bittersweet existence of a syndicated cartoonist, it suddenly becomes clear. The dialog is not meant to be read in traditional narrative fashion. Rather it is a punchline-free tone poem underscoring the artist's protest at unreasonable deadlines imposed by syndicate overlords.

Power to the people!

2 bucks for three shots at the marginalia!
  • Are we supposed to be in Branson, Missouri, Village of the Damned? Or is this the traveling Branson Experience?
  • Jerry appears to be wearing very effeminate loafers.

05 October 2006

This panel has been quarantined

See it here.

I wish I could tell you that there's some deeper meaning to be gleaned from today's panel. But, sadly, it is exactly what it appears to be, a thinly-veiled discussion of Viagra-fueled sex between the aging Dinette Set characters.

I am now going to follow CDC guidelines for anyone who has come into contact with this particular panel, which involves clawing my eyes out of their sockets and drinking until the memory of the panel is erased from the conscious mind.

If you've been exposed, I suggest you do likewise.

04 October 2006

You've come a long way Burly

See it here.

Today, narrative and visual elements do battle, with the end result a panel which is significantly more than the sum of its parts.

The narrative revolves around Burl not showing proper chivalry or perhaps civility at the door to the cineplex. The clear intimation is that Burl should be a nice guy and help hold the door while allowing others to enter first. Burl's riposte is the first clue that the panel is working at something deeper than this simplistic gag, however. In fact, read carefully, Burl is being fairly pragmatic. If everyone held the door, he sagely points out, we'd all be standing outside.

The visuals make one feeble attempt to amplify the surface gag, adding a rainstorm to heighten the urgency of getting inside and the nobility of the man holding the door. But, as we have seen in a previous panel, no one is yet getting "soaking wet" according to the artist's shorthand. So this small detail is easily overlooked as an artistic red herring.

Rather, what the visuals strongly enforce is that Burl is taking his appropriate place in the line, allowing the two ladies he and Dale are accompanying to enter first. The visuals make it clear that any other expectation is unreasonable. Clearly no more than one person is required to hold the door. And, by setting the panel at the movie theatre, it is made clear that Burl should not realistically be expected to allow the entire line to enter before him, lest he not find a seat at his desired movie.

Furthermore, for all his noble talk, Dale is acting no more chivalrously than Burl.

In the final analysis, the panel examines the confusing role of the male in a post-feminist era. What exactly is the role of the male supposed to be? What are the boundaries of acceptable behavior? How can a male, especially one of Burl's generation, straddle the line between excessively infantalizing the female of the species and treating them with proper respect? As is typical of The Dinette Set, the panel raises questions, but leaves it to the reader to come to their own conclusions.

Sir Walter Raleigh laid his coat across the marginalia:
  • Is it just me or is the man holding the door rather confusingly similar in appearance to Dale?
  • Wouldn't a movie theatre tend to have an automatic door?

03 October 2006

Just desserts and tragic irony

See it here.

Usually when The Dinette Set makes the decision to challenge conventional conceptions of the purpose of a comic, most often by refusing to include elements which would be recognizable as traditional forms of humor, it does so for the purpose of elevating the art form to explore and ennoble the human condition.

Not so today.

Today The Dinette Set explores the darker side of human impulse. Clearly emboldened by the rather effete image of the service person on the outside of the van, Burl and his posse engage in a bit of gay-baiting. It starts with Jerry, whose own heterosexual masculinity is re-affirmed by both shirt and arm hair, engaging in a bit of sing-song taunting and ends with Burl's rather clumsy, but obvious, Jaccuzi-based sexual come-on.

As is always the case in The Dinette Set, however, the universe retains its moral center and will engage in a bit of punitive bashing to set things right. One can only imagine the carnage which occurs in the next few moments as the psychotic-looking repair man, adorned with crudely rendered "prison tats," shoves his toolbox deep within one of Jerry's orifices before eviscerating Burl with one of the knives the van indicates he carries.

Dale alone will escape, ironically screaming with girlish horror as he flees the scene.

All the detectives found was a pool of blood and the following marginalia:
  • Interestingly, the psychotic repair man, despite having motion lines near his head, appears unable to swivel his head a full 180 degrees.
  • One wonders why the artist chose to make the back window of the van out of opaque glass.

02 October 2006

It takes a global village

See it here.

Today's Dinette Set is a deliberately disorienting experience. Throughout the entire panel, questions fly at the reader fast and without answer. Who are the Voyd's and why do they need sympathy? Why is it easiest for Burl to put the letter in their mailbox on his way to work rather than doing it right away? If they can put it in the mailbox, why don't they just visit them and deliver it in person? Where does Joy believe they live? Where do they actually live? How did the Voyd's move across town without Joy and Burl noticing?

This last question is the only one with a fairly obvious answer. Anyone living in close enough proximity to Burl and Joy that they could hand-deliver mail would be expected to sneak away in the middle of the night without leaving a forwarding address.

Most curious, however, is the circular nature of the narrative. We start with a declaration that it is easiest to hand-deliver the sympathy card to the Voyd's mailbox. Verl does what she can to introduce a complication, the fact that the Voyd's have moved across town. But we end, essentially, right back where we began. Burl goes right by the Voyd's house on his way to work, making it only marginally less convenient than it was originally.

Which is the crux of the panel's commentary. The world is shrinking into a global village where physical distance is irrelevant. Conceptions of what makes someone a neighbor are changing along with the technologies which have caused the world to shrink. Examples stuck amongst the marginalia in support of this daring proclamation are luminaries such as the USPS, the grapevine, and Sprint Messenger Service.

The only marvel left in the panoply of marvels would be the knowledge that Burl and Joy have actually heard of instant messaging. So much so that one suspects "Sprint Messenger Service" is just an unfortunately fictitious name for an an actual physical messenger service. I say "unfortunate" because today, of all days, would be the single worst in which to make an IM joke.

You have marginalia:
  • The sheer load of marginalia devoted to jokes about mail makes one suspect The Dinette Set harbors some sort of grudge against the post office or was outraged by the latest postal rate increase, whenever that happened. I find it hard to believe anyone thinks about the post office that much or mails enough letters for postal rates to matter.
  • Anyone want to hazard a guess what the "to do" item crammed between the dialog balloons is supposed to say. For that matter, how about the 411 post-it.

01 October 2006

Mother Earth fights back

See it here.

Read rapidly, this panel might pass for a simplistic joke regarding Joy and Burl's infantile inability to postpone gratification of their desires, despite a downpour. Alternately, it could also be read as a joke regarding their cheapness: they are going to get their money's worth from their car rental, even to the point of their own discomfort. Possibly, it could be read as a selfish and narcissistic commentary on the fact that they do not care what damage they inflict on the rental car.

But none of those reading can explain the black stains covering their shoulders and Burl's pants. It's tempting to convince oneself that this is how the artist chooses to represent the state of being "soaking wet." But that would assume a level of artistic capability bordering on the pre-K level.

Instead, we have to understand that this is cleverly-intended symbolism. This particular torrential downpour is not made of rain, but crude oil, brilliantly recalling the gusher scene from Giant. The earth, under siege from human activity, largely as a result of burning fossil fuels, is fighting back.

Black gold, Texas marginalia:
  • Any guesses on what Dale's shirt is a reference to? I suppose it could be a reference to the Fila apparel brand. I wouldn't put something like that past The Dinette Set, though it's a hell of a stretch.
  • It looks like they rented a Hummer convertible.
  • The position of the two doors does not easily explain why Joy is so far into the room that she has to do the owl-head thing, but Burl is still stuck outside.