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Time Out: Joe Bftsplk

“My work is destroyed almost as soon as it’s printed.  One day it’s being read;  the next day someone’s wrapping fish in it.”–Al Capp

(This post appears concurrently on The Blog of Funny Names under a different title)

joeJoe Btfsplk was an infamous character in the long running comic strip L’il Abner, by the late cartoonist, Al Capp (1909-1979).  Known as “the world’s worst jinx”, Btfsplk walked around with a cloud over his head, 24/7.   Poor Joe was generally relegated to a life as a loner, as nobody would get near him due to his penchant for wreaking disaster on anyone and anything who ever got close.  His only other claim to fame? His image was briefly licensed for a series of animated TV commercials–by Head and Shoulders!

 As hard as his name is to spell, it’s not so difficult to pronounce, once you know the trick.  Capp would apparently demonstrate it thusly at his public lectures:  he parsed his lips, stuck out his tongue, and blew out air.  In other words, a raspberry as this little tyke demonstrates.

Not surprisingly, it was a baseball name Evan P. Rutckyj, that dislodged this bit of decaying ephemera from my rotting neuronal archives.  Rutckyj is a Canadian born pitcher buried in the low minors in the New York Yankees farm system.    The name is pronounced ROOT-ski.  This silent final J is a bit of a letdown.   Six consecutive vowels ought to all be pronounced.   If he ever makes to the Bronx Bombers, though, he’s sure to get a dose of what that little fella in the video above is dishing out.   This in turn, led me to think of other vowel challenged names, including former MLB players Eli Grba and Kent Hrbek.  All this led me, further, to the recall of one of the funniest stories ever to appear in The Onion, Clinton Deploys Vowels to Bosnia.  Got any favorite vowel challenged names?  Or a preferred alternative pronunciation for Rutckyj?  Let us know in the comments section.  And be sure to avoid Joe Btfsplk.

Joe Btfsplk, the world's worst jinx, in this excerpt from the March 20, 1947 strip

Joe Btfsplk, the world’s worst jinx, in this excerpt from the March 20, 1947 strip

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Time Out: Pearls Before Swine

“When in doubt, kill cute things.”–

Stephan Pastis, Pearls Before Swine creator

This is Stephan Pastis

This is Stephan Pastis on Drugs

More than once in these pages, I have asserted an aversion to thinking “inside the box.”  But I must admit, I’m an amateur at thinking outside the box compared to Pearl’s Before Swine cartoonist Stephan Pastis.  His thinking, as implied by his daily comic strips, is somewhere between “outside the box” and completely sick.  You might deem it closer to the latter; he almost certainly does.  What else can you say about a guy who draws himself into his own strips, usually representing himself as being abused by his own characters?   He even draws outside the box literally. In one strip–which I unfortunately could not find a reproduction of online–he depicts two of his characters sitting on the bottom border of the last panel, feet dangling down from it, derisively tossing sunflower seeds at the strip below them on the comics page.  His characters know they are in a comic strip, and they milk it for all its worth.

The Players

The regular characters are anthropomorphic animals that go by the names of their species.  Pig. Rat. Goat. Zebra.  Here is a rundown.

Rat–The nastiest, most cynical and self-centered comic strip personage this side of Lucy van Pelt.  Rat is egotistical, superior, overbearing and mean.  He gains amusement at the expense of everyone and everything that isn’t him.   But his primary target is his roommate, Pig.

If you can’t figure out why I like this particular strip, you haven’t been paying attention to this blog. (Click for larger image)

Pig–Simple-minded and literal to a fault, Pig is the polar opposite of Rat.  That he lives with Rat, and puts up with constant verbal and physical abuse from him, is the source of many of the strip’s jokes.  Pig most reminds me of Gracie Allen.

Goat–If pig is Gracie Allen, then Goat is George Burns.  Intellectual and reflective, he is the perfect straight man to Rat and Goat.  It is, as you can see from the strip above and the one below, a toss-up as to what exasperates him more: Rat’s arrogance or Pig’s naivety.

Goat is a man after this blogger’s heart. Pig, not so much. (Click to see enlarged image)

Zebra–A neighbor of Pig and Rat,  Zebra is a man on a mission.  And that mission is?  To avoid being eaten by his next door neighbors, the crocodiles of Zeeba Zeeba Eata fraternity.   This is not too big a problem, because the Crocs, though scheming and conniving, are incompetent, downright dumb, and they also talk funny.  Unlike the other characters in the strip, some of these crocs actually have names.  Most frequently, that name is Bob.  Either there have been several crocs named Bob or Pastis has killed Bob more times than South Park has killed Kenny.  A  typical interaction between Zebra and his neighbors below.

This one reads like it was written for this blog! (click for larger image)

Guard Duck–I’m a bit reluctant to admit it, but this is my favorite Pearls character.   Rat and Pig wanted to buy a guard dog to protect their house.  They couldn’t afford one, so they bought a guard duck instead.  What they got turned out to be a cross between Elmer Fudd and Rambo.  I’m a peace-loving kind of guy, but GD is so over the top I just have to laugh.  A lot.

Stephan Pastis–Yes, Pastis is a character in his own strip.  He interacts with the other characters, fights with them and, most often, is abused by them.  The last scenario–abuse–most frequently occurs in the last panel following an agonizing pun.

Ouch!! (Click for larger image)

Add to all this a variety of running gags which sometimes include characters from other popular comic strips (Pastis is particularly fond of poking fun at Cathy and Family Circus), and you get the idea.  He used to be a lawyer; now he is completely nuts.  He seemed to have two options in life when he decided to leave the legal profession:  Looney Toons, or the loony bin.  He could still go either way, but I’m glad he chose the former.

(Click for larger image)

If Pearls Before Swine does not appear in your local newspaper, you can follow it online  on GoComics or Yahoo Comics.  Pastis also has a WordPress blog.  A typically sick post example is here.

All cartoons in this post ©2012 Stephan Pastis;  Pastis portrait photo from Wikipedia;  all other content in this post ©2012 Mark Sackler

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October 2: Four Birthdays

“There is still no cure for the common birthday.”–John Glenn

We celebrate four birthdays today–er, at least I do.  One is fictional, two historical and one hysterical (in more than one sense of the word).

Charles “Charlie” “Chuck” Brown,  b. Oct 2, 1950

Charlie Brown, b. Oct 2, 1950

“Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Brownest.”–Linus

It was 62 years ago today that good ‘ol Charlie Brown made his first appearance in a syndicated cartoon.  All of seven newspapers were visionary enough to pick up the start of what would become the most iconic series in the history of American comics.  If Charles Schulz was writing today for the benefit of this blog, he might have used the term “multiverse” rather than “world” in the Linus quote above.  No matter, Linus, ever the philosopher, and his rancorous sister Lucy, are actually the characters in my two favorite Peanuts strips of all time.  In one Linus stares upward and ponders “Why is the sky blue.”  Lucy blasts out “BECAUSE IT ISN”T GREEN,” sending Linus tumbling over backward with his beloved blanket flying asunder.  In the other Linus turns tables on his evil sibling.  As she rants on and on about how crowded the world is becoming and that too many babies are being born with too many mouths to feed, Linus looks her straight in the eye and suggests, “So why don’t you leave?”

Mohandas Karamchand “Mahatma” Gandhi,  b. Oct. 2, 1869, d. Jan. 30, 1948

“Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this in flesh and blood ever walked upon this earth,” Albert Einstein describing Gandhi

Mohandas K. Gandhi, b. Oct 2, 1869

Few things in this life render me speechless.  Mohandas K. Gandhi is one of them. Glib as I may seem, I have no words to describe him.  Well, perhaps this.  If he had lived 2000 years ago, they would have named a religion after him. And, I might add, he would not have liked that one bit.

OK, maybe I’m not so speechless.  But the best description of the man and his life I can offer is to refer you to the 1982 film Gandhi. It won 8 academy awards including best picture, director, screen play and actor, the latter award going to Ben Kingsley for his masterful depiction of the man.  It was one of only two movies that ever left me speechless, the other was Schindler’s List.

Julius Henry “Groucho” Marx,  b. Oct 2, 1890, d. August 19, 1977

Groucho, b. October 2, 1890

“Quote me as saying I was mis-quoted,”–Groucho

Groucho…Gandhi…Charlie Brown…a cartoon character, a dead comic and a dead inspirational leader.  What do they have in common other than the same birthday?  They were all one of a kind;  the mold was broken after each one of them was made.  More importantly, they are collectively the inspiration for the “Ridiculous and Sublime” subtitle of this blog.  And as ridiculous as Groucho may have seemed, there was some amazing wisdom in many of his funny words.  “Marriage is an institution, and who wants to live in an institution?’  “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” “Humor is reason gone mad.”  These are just a few of my favorites.  I’ll save the rest for future posts.

Mark Jay “What? Me Worry?” Sackler,  b. Oct 2, 1950

“Have you ever been told to think outside the box? My problem has always been, I can’t think inside of it.”–Me

Me, b. Oct 2, 1950. Picture taken on my 22nd birthday. If only I could still get away with acting this young.

In my case, I think they broke the mold before they made me. And while I’ve been called worse things than the sobriquet I gave myself above, I’m pretty sure that boring isn’t one of them.  At any rate, the three colossal  personalities profiled above represent a huge inspiration for this blog and for how I live my life. I hope they also inspire you a lot, even as I strive to inspire you a little.  As I contemplate another year shot to hell, I thank all of you who follow me here and put up with my own special brand of insanity.

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