Saturday, January 10, 2015

A new diversion: 'Marvin' minus thought balloons

Marvin minus all those pesky jokes and stories.

Since 1982, Tom Armstrong's Marvin has been sullying newspaper comics pages with the dreary, laughless adventures of an obnoxious child, Marvin Miller, who remains disturbingly unable to develop past infancy. He should be in his early thirties by now, but he still looks and behaves like a preschooler. Doomed to spend eternity in diapers, the boy obsesses gleefully over his own feces and the discomfort it causes in others. Most of the strip's alleged humor derives, in fact, from the child's copious and foul excretions, though Marvin's selfishness, penchant for destruction, and fearsome temper are important components of the strip as well. Marvin's weary, utterly defeated parents, Jeff and Jenny, bear the brunt of Marvin's wrath; their unenviable fate is to forever tend to the monster they themselves created. Aesthetically, Marvin is an obvious derivative of Jim Davis' Garfield, with the pudgy, flame-haired child a mere stand-in for the famously overfed orange tabby. Deprived of the ability to speak, both Marvin and Garfield "communicate" through thought bubbles. The other humans in these strips should not be able to hear or understand these thoughts, unless they possess telepathic skills, and yet many of the jokes in Marvin and Garfield rely on just such telepathy. I wondered what would happen if Tom Armstrong removed these thought bubbles from Marvin. What would the strip look like without them? The answers are seen above. Marvin becomes the story of a mostly-happy, forever-mute child who occasionally changes his facial expression for no apparent reason.

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