Frazz: 99% Perspiration

If there’s a true inheritor of the mantle of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, then I’d say it’s got to be Jef Mallett’s Frazz: Well-drawn (with more than a hint of Bill Watterson’s style), intelligent, and occasionally-off-the-wall, it’s got that tension between childlike fun and cynicism down pat.

The second collection came out last year: 99% Perspiration. The setting is Bryson Elementary School, and our titular hero is the janitor of that fine institution. But Frazz is something of a renaissance man, an avid bicyclist and jogger, he also earns money writing songs. And he’s got a crush on Miss Plainwell, one of the teachers. Bryson is populated by a variety of teachers, from the grouchy Mrs. Olsen to Frazz’ friend Mr. Burke (he and Frazz are just hopeless at basketball, by the way).

Frazz mostly plays goalie for the school’s student population, propping them up when they get run down and giving them perspective when their youthful exuberance and, uh, creativity run away with them. Frazz has a special fondness for Caulfield, a brilliant kid who finds school boring beyond belief, but who loves hanging out with Frazz.

Mallett’s one of the better artists working the comic strip page these days, and some of his gags have a certain wonderful simplicity:

(Click to view the strip)

Mallett’s sense of humor often takes an intellectual bent; you’ve gotta appreciate a guy who can mix zaniness with intellectual/cultural trivia:


Lest the comparisons to Calvin and Hobbes get laid on a little too heavily (and there are plenty more at the Wikipedia article), my feeling is that fundamentally Frazz is a funny, creative strip which feels more textured than most strips around today, and Mallett is just a darned good artist. While there are stylistic similarities, I assume they are mainly an homage to Watterson, whose strip I think Mallett admired (as did we all), as he pays homage to a few other people in the strip, too.

It took a while for Frazz to get my attention, but it’s got it now. It’s one of the gems of the comics page. Funny, charming. Check it out.

(You can also buy the first Frazz collection, Live at Bryson Elementary.)

Happy Feet

Review of the film Happy Feet.

I thought it was borderline criminal for Debbi and me to have a week off and not go see at least one film, so today we went to see Happy Feet, the computer-animated film about singing penguins.

It’s a cute film: Mumble (voice – and apparently the eyes – of Elijah Wood) can’t sing, but he can dance up a storm. But the elders of his tribe of emperor penguins reject this as aberrant, and Mumble leaves his home in searh of, well, himself, as well as a way to win the heart of Gloria (Brittany Murphy). Along the way he makes friends from another group of penguins who don’t care about singing but appreciate his dancing, and he gathers clues to why his tribe’s fish seem to be disappearing.

The animation is quite good, although it looks like the creators decided to punt on rendering humans, since those that appear look like actual filmed humans (either that or animation has gotten even more sophisticated than I’d thought!).

The film also takes the interesting approach of putting Mumble in a completely untenable situation which he can only get out of by being, well, just as different as everyone thinks he is. This highlights one of the problems with the abundance of Pixar-style settings in which creatures or entities which aren’t intelligent or have human-like societies are portrayed as being basically human: Either they need to stick to their own world and only have limited impact on humans, ones that people can dismiss as accidents or their own bad memories, or they’re eventually going to do something which is going to cause some fundamental change in the world. Neither approach is really wrong, but until Happy Feet I don’t think anyone’s really committed to taking the latter approach.

Happy Feet is basically supposed to be cute and a bit of a tear-jerker, so if you hate films like that, then you should skip this one. But it’s a nice little uplifting movie otherwise, which can be a nice way to get away from it all for a couple of hours.

The singing and dancing bits ain’t bad, neither.

New Year’s Eve

We’ve had a fun but low-key transition to the new year here. We once again attended Mark and Yvette’s Drunken Scrabble New Year’s Party. There was actually less Scrabble than usual, but no one seemed to mind. Several of us played Kill Doctor Lucky a couple of times, and then we switched around for a bit.

I played Speed Scrabble with a couple of groups, doing well with one group and poorly with another. I also played a game of Scrabble with Mark and Subrata, which wasn’t a recipe for a great outcome since both of them are better Scrabble players than I am. We were actually pretty close for most of the game until Subrata made a triple word play with the Z and pulled ahead, but I did finish ahead of Mark, which was a pleasant surprise.

I drank a surprising amount of champagne (for me), but stopped well before midnight (and we didn’t leave ’til after 1).

Debbi and I rang in the new year with a smooch and with silly New Year’s hats. (I think there’s even photographic evidence of the hats somewhere!)

A good way to wrap up the calendar year and (almost) my week off.