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Comic Strips and the Environment (Karl McKimpson)

October 24, 2009

Reading through some daily comics this morning, I noticed just how much our sense of humour relies upon intersections with our expectations for the environment and nature. The strips below all invoke the environment as a means to grab our attention, making readers reconsider their own positions. Below are some broad patterns I’ve observed.

1. Inverting environmental expectations.

Chained protesters refuse to budge to beavers

Spider sets a trap with a cheesburger

2. Projecting “civilized” mores onto the natural world, or vice versa.

Dog speculates that man picking up feces uses it for currency

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3. Occasionally I run across comics that allude to activist issues, and seem to try to take a more pragmatic approach (ignoring whatever belief system originally formed the idea).

4. And then there are those comics that seriously investigate our relationship with the environment.  I feel the strips below try to problematize how we view nature by juxtaposing and inverting our expectations. Curiously, I seem to find these more in the edgier strips like “F-minus” and “Pearls Before Swine.”

Taken from www. comics.com/frank&ernest

Taken from www. comics.com/frank&ernest

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Admittedly, comic strips are a little bit outside my area, but they open up another venue to explore. Admittedly, most of the strips above fall with two strips (“Brevity,” “F-Minus”), but I’m sure several lend themselves well to this investigation.  Using the environment as a base also allows the strips to address more political issues–such as global warming–in a politically safe context.  The joke nature of a comic strip distances it from “serious” commentaries and allows the freedom to try to cut through hype.  While many of the perspectives on the environment are a bit off-kilter, they succeed at bringing the question of how we interrelate with nature to the fore in a way that grabs attention.

I’m sure many of you are more familiar with approaching visual media’s like the strips above than I am, so I’m eager to here your thoughts on what other ways these strips could be seen and used as a heuristic device?

With that put in mind, I’d like to end with one last strip from “Brevity,” just because I find it particularly amusing.

P08

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. matthewshedd permalink
    October 26, 2009 7:51 am

    Karl brings up some interesting possibilities about comics providing a type of environmental discourse that I had not thought of before. I agree with your sentiment that it allows people a way into thinking about the issue without “the hype” as you put it. I think this is particularly interesting in that comics seem to be taking on a larger role in English departments. I guess my questions, being not too familiar with comics myself, would be: how do comics provide us with ways to engage environmental issues in ways we could not without them? And I guess more to the point, can something like comics help to produce a seachange in society’s perspective on the environment?

  2. October 26, 2009 7:14 pm

    I will just add that the conceptual reversals––and the fabulous humor they elicit––in these comics may reflect a shift in environmentalism of the early 20th century. Absurdism, as an aethetic form, may be one response to the _perceived_ magnitude and even irreversibility of climate change or species extinction.

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