Literary influences can be found in the most unusual places. My sense of humor has largely been influenced by the funny pages. I grew up during a time when some of the best comics ever created were appearing in the Sunday Hartford Courant, for which I am very thankful. What were the best strips of my youth? Let’s take a look, shall we?
FoxTrot by Bill Amend
The Fox family never failed to crack me up. Andy, Roger, and their kids Peter, Paige, and Jason captured sibling rivalry and family living perfectly. These days, I find myself relating more to mom Andy than to the kids, though when Jason geeks out at the latest fad (usually popular movies, technology, or RPG) I’m right there with him.
Doonesbury by GB Trudeau
Political, satirical, hysterical . . . Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury has it all. From the characters’ Walden days to their midlife crises, and everything in between, reading this strip feels like catching up with old friends. I’ve lifted whole lines from these strips for my own comedic purposes. My friends still don’t get it when they come to me in crisis and I reply with “What is it, Tink? Is Pan in trouble?”
The Far Side by Gary Larson
Hard to believe that The Far Side only ran for fifteen years, because it’s the comic strip that keeps on giving. It has firmly ingrained itself into our cultural makeup; one of the easiest ways to describe an old lady is to say she looks like something out of The Far Side (and whomever you’re talking to immediately gets it). Also, I like how he drew cows.
Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
There isn’t a gen-xer alive who didn’t love Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin was a bratty kid with a wonderful imagination and the coolest sidekick ever—a stuffed tiger. Calvin and Hobbes were always dreaming, getting into mischief, and most importantly, having fun. Their antics made the reader feel like a kid again.
For Better or For Worse by Lynn Johnston
This comic strip chronicled the lives of the Patterson family: Elly, John, Michael, Elizabeth, and April. I enjoyed watching Michael and Elizabeth grow up. I disliked April immensely. It was her fault Farley the dog died—the first time a comic strip actually made me cry.
Bloom County by Berkeley Breathed
It’s no secret that this is my favorite comic strip of all time. I fell in love hard and fast with Opus, Bill the Cat, and even Milquetoast the Cockroach. Quirky, funny, and loaded with satirical references, to this day, if I’m in a bad mood, my remedy is to eat frosting out of a can while re-reading old Bloom County strips.
Don’t disregard any quality reading—the above-listed artists prove that even the most innocuous of characters, like a kid’s stuffed tiger, can have a huge influence on our pop culture.
What are your favorite comic strips—and how have they influenced you?
Stacey Longo is the author of Ordinary Boy (nominated for a Pushcart Prize) and Secret Things: Twelve Tales to Terrify. Her YA horror novel My Sister the Zombie is due out in 2016. Her stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, including Shroud, Shock Totem, and the Litchfield Literary Review.
She is a past Hiram Award winner, and was a featured author on the 2014 Connecticut Authors Trail. A former humor columnist for the Block Island Times, she maintains a weekly humor blog at www.staceylongo.com.