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Whole Bunch of Sickness

Today on the site, Frank M. Young completes his two-part examination of the unfairly obscure midcentury cartoonist Cecil Jensen. This time, he focuses on the cartoonist's post-Elmo career, particularly in his Little Debbie strip.

With this change, Little Debbie became Bizarro Peanuts, or Little Debbie Minus Little Debbie. The adult Debbie teaches a quartet of preschoolers who bear an uncomfortable resemblance to Charles Schulz's mega-popular characters. Unlike Linus, Lucy or Schroeder, these kids are so out-there that it might be a willful satire. Jensen was entitled to say “what the hell?” and try anything at this point.

In place of Charlie Brown is George Green, a ball of neurotic uncertainty with huge glasses. Standing in for Lucy, Violet and Patty is the brutally frank and aggressive Matilda Jones. In the most out-there twist, twin boys collectively named Barney Jones speak and act as one.

[...]

Jensen had, arguably, been doing a Peanuts-like strip before Charles Schulz. By the time of Peanuts' October 2, 1950 debut, Little Debbie had been in all-kid mode for two years. Both strips show children acting unlike children and exposing the foibles of adult life. Where Schulz's strip feels restrained and college-educated, Jensen's seems the work of an autodidact—a man who has been exposed to the same intellectual ideas, but through his own study and observation rather than university courses.

Jensen's humor is brainy and earthy. Like E. C. Segar, he seems at home in a rowdier world. Thus, this late Peanuts homage/satire is darker, harsher, and wackier than Schulz ever was in his work. This was a fitting end-game for the strip. It started as a sort-of knock-off/parody of Li'l Abner, which went places Al Capp avoided. So why not bring down the curtain as it first rose? This 11th-hour new direction is bracingly funny, once the reader readjusts their expectations.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The Comics Alternative podcast talks to Conor Stechschulte.

—I don't link to online comics often, but Popula publishing new work by Ulli Lust is worth an exception.

—RIP. Pete Shelley.


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