|A Sunday Apartment 3-G from the days when the strip was drawn by Alex Kotzky.|
November 21, 2015 is fast approaching, citizens. The execution date of Apartment 3-G, the long-running soap opera strip, looms, and there is little we can do to stop it. After 54 years, a staple of the funny pages will be gone forever, virtually unmourned by all but a dwindling handful of fans. Its executioners, the decision-makers at King Features Syndicate, probably consider this a mercy killing. A3G, once one of the best-drawn strips in the business, has been in alarming decline for at least a decade and a half, with the last year in particular being downright embarrassing. The strip's original writer, Nicholas P. Dallis, and original artist, Alex Kotzky, both died back in the '90s. The current creative team consists of writer Margaret Shulock, who also contributes to the underwhelmng humor strip Six Chix, and artist Frank Bolle, a comic book veteran who is now 91 years old and clearly no longer at the peak of his powers.
Sadly, I only caught up with Apartment 3-G during its waning years, and this was due to the strip's regular appearances on Josh Fruhlinger's satirical blog, The Comics Curmudgeon. By then, Dallis and Kotzky were both long gone, and the strip's characters had already devolved into inexpressive, mannequin-like automatons who stiffly interacted with each other in front of bland, interchangeable backdrops, complete with standard props that could pop up anywhere. Some fans even started nicknaming these all-purpose set decorations: "Drapey," "Lampy," etc.
|A recent Apartment 3-G featuring Drapey and Lampy in the second panel.|
And yet, aided by Fruhlinger's frequent and piquant commentary, I did find myself getting involved in the lives of A3G's lovelorn characters: three ambitious young women sharing an apartment in New York City. There was idealistic blonde teacher Lu Ann Powers, red-haired nurse Tommie Thompson, and, best of all, scheming, man-hungry Margo Magee, who has held any number of ill-defined jobs over the years, including talent agent and event planner. In the strip's heyday, these characters were modeled after, respectively, Tuesday Weld Lucille Ball, and Joan Collins. Today they look -- and act -- more like the generic humanoids you'd find in a first aid pamphlet. The cast is rounded out by the gals' kindly neighbor, Professor Aristotle Papagoras, and a whole host of relatives, suitors, professional associates, and romantic rivals.
I won't kid you folks and say that Apartment 3-G is one of the greatest comic strips of all time. It's not. In fact, in the last year, it has been allowed to lapse into near-total incoherence. The current, badly bungled storyline, in which Margo suddenly lapses into a coma only to recover almost instantly, may be what killed the strip off forever. It seemed that the only people reading A3G by then were those who were making fun of it. So King Features Syndicate pulled the plug. The long-running feature is not going out with a bang, nor even with a whimper. It's just going. There is some speculation that the strip will not even bother to tie up its existing plots or give its main characters a proper sendoff.
This feels all wrong. To paraphrase Roger Ebert, Apartment 3-G was once kind of magnificent. It was certainly a part of newspaper readers' lives for decades. And now it's unceremoniously being given the hook, like a bad Vaudeville act that's outstayed its welcome. That's almost too sad to contemplate. What the strip really needed was an all-new creative team who really cared about the characters and wanted to tell great stories about them. But that's not going to happen.
So farewell, Margo Magee. May you cause as much havoc in the next realm as you did in this one.