Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Suburban Man: Cartoon Father

By Rick Kaempfer

My oldest son Tommy fancies himself a cartoonist. Ever since he was five or six years old he has been drawing a comic strip he calls “Gate’s Comics.” The stars of the strip are three brothers named Gate, Gooey and Baby Phil (approximately the same ages of Tommy, Johnny & Sean) who engage in wacky hijinks while trying to avoid their parents.

My wife Bridget is not a fan because the mother in the strip is always angry. Tommy usually draws her with a red face and furrowed brow, and she almost always has smoke coming out of her ears. Any strip involving “Gate’s Mom” has some sort of an angry punch line, but it usually doesn’t go overboard. For instance, I think her head has only exploded once. I’m not sure why Bridget doesn’t like that character. After all, it could be much worse.

Take Gate’s Dad, for instance. Gate’s Dad is stupid. Really, really stupid. Whenever Gate’s Dad stars in a strip, he can be counted on to say or do something hilariously moronic.

I’m sure many of you already have a phone in your hand dialing the good folks over at DCFS to have these children removed from such an angry and stupid home. That’s usually the reaction adults have to the strip. They look at us and wonder…

But Tommy swears this comic strip is completely fictional. When I point out to him that the three children bear a striking resemblance to himself and his brothers, he nods. When I say that the realistic portrayal of the brothers causes people to assume his real-life mother is always angry and his real-life father is a dim bulb, he nods. When I subtly suggest he should think about changing those characters, he won’t compromise his artistic vision.

“Why didn’t you base Gate’s parents on your real parents?” I asked.

“Because I needed someone funnier,” he said.

Ouch. That hurt, but I understood it from a comedic perspective. He’s a little too young to draw nuanced characters at his age. Angry Mom is just a vehicle for angry jokes. Dumb Dad is just a vehicle for dumb jokes.

“Fine,” I said, “but if you keep drawing the mom and dad characters like this, you have to stop showing this strip to your teachers. They’ll think we have some serious problems at home.”

“No problem,” he agreed. “Besides, Dad, I couldn’t draw a cartoon dad like you because there already is one.”

I braced myself. I was praying he didn’t say Homer Simpson. Just because a man loves bacon and beer doesn’t make him Homer.

“Who?” I asked with my eyes closed.

“Calvin’s Dad,” he said.

I knew he was talking about the father in the Calvin & Hobbes strip, but I didn’t remember exactly what kind of a father Calvin had, so I did a little research into my cartoon counterpart. It didn’t take me long to find him on Tommy’s bookshelf. Calvin’s dad is prominently featured in almost every Calvin & Hobbes collection.

The first time he appears, this is the exchange:

Calvin: “How come you always read me my bedtime story and not mom?”
Dad: “Because reading the bedtime story is the Dad’s job.”
Mom: “And it appears to be the only ‘Dad’ job around here.”
Calvin: “Left the dishes for mom again, huh?”
Dad: “This story is called ‘Why Prince Charming remained single.’”


Here was the next strip…

Calvin: “Dad can you fix my beanie? I broke the propeller trying to put it together.”
Dad: “This isn’t so bad. You just snapped the battery case. There, good as new! Now just let this sit awhile so the glue can set.”
Calvin: “You did it! You fixed it! I can’t believe it! Hey Mom! Dad fixed something!”
Mom: “He did? Your Dad?”


Here's one more to complete the portrait...

Calvin: Dad, how come old photographs are always black and white? Didn't they have color film back then?
Dad: Sure they did. In fact, those old photographs are in color. It's just the world was black and white then.
Calvin: But then why are paintings in color? If the world was black and white, wouldn't artists have painted it that way?
Dad: Not necessarily. A lot of those great artists were insane.


What can I say? Tommy is right. Calvin's dad might be my clone.

Oh well.

At least he’s not stupid.

(Special thanks to Bill Watterson, the author of Calvin & Hobbes)

If you'd like to read any previous Suburban Man columns, click here: http://suburbanmanarchive.blogspot.com