Posts Tagged ‘Dennis the Menace

23
Jan
14

The fate of George Wilson

Fair warning: the following post spoils the ending of The Great Gatsby.

No, the novel. The real one.

Anyway, as I’m currently teaching Gatsby to my 11th grade students — you know, like you do — I’ve had way too much time as of late to think about the characters. Particularly the character of poor cuckolded George Wilson. And I’ve come to a startling conclusion.

At the end of The Great Gatsby, George Wilson — having murdered Gatsby in cold blood, believing he was having an affair with his wife — commits suicide. He was brought to this point, I submit, by a life that was never what it really should have been. He owned his own business, but the garage was unprofitable and he was often on the brink of being destitute. He had a wife, Myrtle, but she never truly loved him. Myrtle Wilson treated her husband with open contempt and flagrantly defied their marriage vows by running around with Tom Buchanan, a fact obvious to virtually everybody but simple-minded George Wilson. No, poor George wasn’t all that bright. He was naive and easily fooled: the only reason he targeted Gatsby at all is because Tom gave him the perfectly accurate yet horribly misleading information that Gatsby owned the yellow car that killed Myrtle. His naivety pushed him towards his ruin. And through it all, George was trapped beneath the harsh, watchful, judging eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg’s enormous billboard, looking down at him from behind its pair of gigantic spectacles, peering at him like the eyes of God.

After his death, though, George awakens to a new life. Gone is the responsibility of his own business, replaced instead with a job that is physically demanding (for which he is suited), but stable and respected. George has become a mailman. In his new life, George meets and marries a girl named Martha. Martha is everything Myrtle was not — kind, intelligent, compassionate, and unselfish. George loves her deeply. After years of hard but satisfying work, George and Martha quietly retire, to live out their days in happiness together.

Then, a new family moves in next door. Although seemingly normal and pleasant, there is a child that vexes George. The boy is troublesome — almost dangerous. He constantly causes damage to George’s property and physical harm to George’s being, causing him to fall from ladders, trip over toys and otherwise suffer a litany of abrasions and bruises. George cannot retaliate, however, due to the youth of the child that good-hearted Martha has taken a liking to. What’s more, the boy appears to have no actual malice in him — the destruction left in his wake is the result of simple-mindedness and a lack of forethought, much like that left by George in his own previous existence. George is crushed under the boy’s affection — he considers the old man to be his best friend, and George endures for Martha’s sake, hoping the child will grow out of it.

But the boy does not.

As time goes on, not only do the boy’s antics grow more cartoonishly outlandish, but more destructive as well. Damage to George’s car, his home, the ruination of a priceless collection of stamps become common. Their encounters become an almost daily occurrence, with longer, more colorful episodes happening on Sundays. True horror sets in when it occurs to George that it has been years — perhaps decades — since he first encountered the child, and nothing is changing. The town stays the same, he and Martha do not age, and the boy — the terrible, devastating sprite — is perpetually six years old. And what’s more, nobody but George seems to realize they have become frozen in time.

It finally dawns on George. He is in Hell. This is his punishment for Jay Gatsby’s murder. Day after day, year after year of slow torture at the hands of little Dennis Mitchell, who simply does not know any better.

But George knows. God is watching. God is laughing at him still, every time something happens. George can see Him in the huge, round spectacles Dennis’s father wears, for George Wilson recognizes that gaze… not from the eyes of Henry Mitchell, but as the watchful stare of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg.

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25
Aug
10

Classic EBI #62: From Peanuts to Spandex-Why Comics Will Never Die

Comixtreme.com is suffering from a temporary failure of service, which means no new Everything But Imaginary column tonight. Hopefully we’ll get the problem sorted out and I’ll get the new one online later this week. For now, though, it’s time for your usual Wednesday blast from the past. From May 12, 2004, it’s time for a glimpse at… well… everything I love about comics, and why I think we’ll always have them.

EVERYTHING BUT IMAGINARY 5/12/04

From Peanuts to Spandex: Why comics will never die

As I think I may have mentioned once or twice or a trillion times, I love Peanuts. And not the salted, honey-roasted kind, although I do love a good PB&J sandwich, which my doctor says is bad for my triglycerides so I’m going through withdrawal right now and thank you very much for bringing it up.

No, friends, I’m talking about the comic strip Peanuts, four panels of brilliance (more on Sundays) that graced the pages of newspapers all over the planet every day for almost five decades, the idea that spawned countless books and TV specials, cartoons and greeting cards and put words like “security blanket” in the global lexicon. I mean Peanuts, the brainchild of the brilliant Charles M. Schulz and the greatest comic strip of all time.

Well… in my opinion, anyway. Everybody’s got their own and is entitled to it, but I doubt anyone can logically argue that Peanuts isn’t at least the most important comic strip of all time. It’s a global phenomenon, universally recognized, beloved every day for nearly 50 years with no reruns or ghost writers and, most importantly, it brought a wise, philosophical tone to the newspaper page that many have tried to emulate and most have failed at. To my mind, the only two comics that even come close to Peanuts in terms of sheer intelligence without sacrificing the endearing humor that draws you in the first place are Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes and Walt Kelly’s Pogo.

A few weeks ago, a discussion erupted here at Comixtreme about comic strips versus comic books — as this is a comic book site, that’s what we spend most of our time discussing here. Strips and books aren’t the same, but they aren’t completely different either. It’s sort of like the difference between a movie and a television show — one is more frequent but shorter as well, one is something you pay for while the other is free or part of another package you buy (cable TV or newspapers), but the storytelling tools and language are the same. There have been overlaps in the two since the beginning — the very first comic books were reprint books of newspaper strips before someone got the idea to create new material. Dozens of comic strips, from Peanuts to Pogo to Dennis the Menace and Heathcliff, have all graced the comic book page at some point, whereas some comic books like Superman (initially a pitch for a newspaper strip before National Periodical Publications put him in Action Comics), Spider-Man and the Hulk have appeared in newspapers. There is even more overlap today, with Liberty Meadows abandoning newspapers entirely to focus on a comic and webtoons like PVP and Dork Tower enjoying a healthy coexistence as both a strip and a comic book. Artists have even crossed over, with Kelly doing the occasional Disney comic way back when and John Byrne doing a guest run on Funky Winkerbean some time back.

But Peanuts is still the ruler of them all, as we all saw last week when Fantagraphics Comics published The Complete Peanuts: 1950-1952, the first of planned a 25-volume series that will finally reprint every single Peanuts strip in sequence, including hundreds that have never been reprinted since they first appeared in the newspaper. That was the greatest thing, for me, as I read this book: for the first time in four years I was reading Peanuts comics I’d never read before. The strip only had four characters at first — Shermy, Patty (the non-peppermint kind), a wordless Snoopy and good ol’ Charlie Brown. In the course of this first two and a half years, Violet moved in to the neighborhood and Schroeder, Lucy and Linus each made their debuts — as Sally would later — as babies, eventually aging to the point where they were peers with Charlie Brown and then freezing at that age with him. We see Snoopy’s first words, Schroeder’s first concert and Charlie Brown’s first baseball game (when he was a catcher).

Several of these characters would fade over the years as new ones would be introduced — Peppermint Patty and Marcie, Woodstock (who started out not only nameless, but as a girl), Franklin (whose appearance actually angered some readers because it showed the kids attended an integrated school) and dozens of others who have become part of this national treasure.

As Schulz got older, the strip got simpler, sliding from four panels to three to meet newspaper syndicate demands, and sometimes consisting of a single long panel. His line began to shake and the characters started to wobble. But even with the Golden Age over, they were still Peanuts and still beautiful.

In an interview in the back of this book, Schulz talked about comics in general, and what he considered a mistake in several. He said it was easy to destroy a comic with one mistake. He came close, he said, when he began introducing Snoopy’s brothers and sisters (and in fact only one sibling, Spike, appeared with regularity after that). He said Bob Seager destroyed Popeye when he introduced Eugene the Jeep. And he said Superman himself was destroyed a very long time ago, when he first learned to fly.

When I read this, I was jolted out of the book, because it made me realize something very important. This man, one of my heroes, still someone I consider one of the wisest men who ever lived… I thought he was wrong. I still do. I don’t think you can destroy a good comic, not one with a real heart and soul to it, the way Peanuts and Superman both do. His argument is that Superman’s flying power unhinged him from reality and made him less relatable. And perhaps that’s true, for people who knew the character at the beginning. But for younger people, for me, that was always part of the appeal. Who wouldn’t want to fly? I can’t tell you how many hours I spent as a child (almost as many as I have as an adult) dreaming of being able to take to the air, go where I wanted, unfettered by borders or rules. Does that make Superman hard to accept? Perhaps. But only if you’re unwilling to open your imagination.

Superman has suffered from some terrible storylines over the years (let’s not get into the Blue/Red fiasco), and a lot of people gave up on him. But new stories, great stories are currently being told by the likes of Jeph Loeb and Mark Waid. And even if they weren’t… well… a bad storyline now, even a thousand bad storylines now, can never take away the wonder of the stories we loved in the past.

I’m using Superman as my example because Schulz did, but I think the same holds true for any truly great comic concept: Batman, the Fantastic Four, Captain America. Someone told me recently that, after the last few years of Uncanny X-Men, they didn’t think they would ever enjoy the characters again. And it’s true that a comic’s present can be shattered and possibly even destroyed for that one person. But as long as the heart still exists, there is always the possibility that some new writer, some new artist, some new child who has never read the comic before will find it, breathe life into it again, and make it new.

And the same goes for the great strips. Even if the last few years of Peanuts weren’t as good as they were in the glory years, they were still better than 90 percent of the comics in the newspaper. And it’s why thousands of newspapers still run Classic Peanuts every day. It doesn’t matter if we’ve read them before. Everything that strip taught us is still true: unrequited love is the hardest; a watched mailbox never produces a Valentine; just because a kid has a blanket doesn’t mean he’s not smarter than you; happiness is a warm puppy; there is no problem so immense that it can’t be summed up with a “Good grief.” And most of all, no matter what, never, never stop trying to kick that football.

Charles Schulz knew all that. And he taught it to me.

And maybe somewhere out there right now, some new kid is picking up the newspaper for the first time, and seeing today’s Classic Peanuts

…and smiling.

Because a great comic, a true comic, can never die.

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: May 5, 2004

And speaking of Superman, in a comic week with no real jump-out-of-your-seat awesome comics, Superman: Birthright #10 took favorite of the week honors for being the most consistently entertaining. Mark Waid and Leinil Yu have done an incredible job of reinventing the man of steel. In this issue, Lex Luthor launches a fake invasion of the planet Earth by Krypton, Superman is down for the count and everyone thinks he’s part of the invasion force. He’s ready to quit. He’s ready to give up.

The last page sells this. The last page reminds us what Superman means. Oh, if only Waid were writing Action Comics

Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast and the weekly audio fiction podcast Blake M. Petit’s Evercast. E-mail him at Blake@comixtreme.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.




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