Oct 10, 2014

The Zen of Comics: Brooke McEldowney

Brooke McEldowney and the Zen of Comics
by Duy

A few months back, I asked on the Cube's Facebook page, just exactly what was the deal with newspaper action strips? With the increasingly smaller space allocated to newspaper strips, there just wasn't enough room anymore to build any momentum to really feel like there are any real stakes. In fact, a lot of newspaper strips (I'm looking at you, Spider-Man) will sometimes end with a cliffhanger, indicating a fight is about to take place, only to pick up again the next day with the fight already over. Then Travis introduced me to 9 Chickweed Lane by Brooke McEldowney.

This was easy enough for me to give a fair shot to, since 9 Chickweed Lane is on GoComics, to which I have a subscription. The strip encompasses three generations of a family, and when I started reading it, the strip took place in World War II where Martine, a french spy, meets with an American soldier named Bill, and they have to fight their way through a bunch of Nazis.

Actually, that's still what's going on. 9 Chickweed Lane runs with storylines for a long time, and a lot of that is because McEldowney actually slows down the action, making moments linger for longer than they have to. The result is a daily strip that lingers on the page even after you've moved on to the next one. It makes you want to stay on the strip. It's almost Zen. (Hah! You were wondering how I was gonna work that title in, weren't you?)


It also doesn't hurt that McEldowney's fluid style lends a sense of ephemera to the whole strip. There's a dreamlike quality to it regardless of the subject matter.


McEldowney draws a lot of sexy women, and uses it to different effects, from the comedic...



...to what I think, anyway, is legitimately beautiful:



McEldowney's also responsible for Pibgorn, which is also on GoComics, and is about a fairy named Pibgorn and her friends. Until a few days ago, the cast of Pibgorn was re-enacting William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and much like 9 Chickweed Lane, Pibgorn just zooms in on particular moment when necessary, and makes you linger on it. Here's the three-page (and hence, three-day) sequence from Romeo and Juliet's wedding night.That second day/page is sublime.


Here's when Juliet poisons herself to fake her own death.



And here's when she finds Romeo dead.



McEldowney's work lingers on the page and stays with you even after you've scrolled past it or turned the page. To be honest, I'm not sure how I would receive it if I tried reading it in one big go. So much of his work is about the moment, and it just may be too decompressed en masse. Still, when GoComics sends me that daily email, I always know that right after Pickles and Pearls Before Swine, I'm going straight to McEldowney's two features. And they'll stay with me even as I read through the rest of it.

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