Is this great or what? I should've taken time off from the strip years ago! Because look who stepped up to pinch hit this week - one of my cartoon heroes, the polymathical comics virtuoso, Ruben Bolling!
I first saw Ruben's work in the late 90s when the Washington Post Weekend section started running his weekly strip, Tom the Dancing Bug. And I didn't get it at all. The first strip the Post ran baffled me (I don't remember what it was). But the second strip to run knocked me over and made me laugh out loud, something cartoons rarely do (I don't remember what it was either). Tom the DB always seemed out of place in the Weekend section, a refugee from the alternative papers on the last page of the Post's goings-on-about-town section; its natural habitat would be in the DC City Paper between Shawn Belschwender and Lynda Barry. And not just for its wide-open format, but for its incredibly sharp sense of satire and parody. Tom the DB covers politics, economics, religion, sex, the law, pop culture, etc, etc, with devastating logic and, that rare thing, a truly funny sense of humor.
It's obvious to anyone looking at Ruben's work will notice right away that he's got a fondness for comics of almost any genre. From superhero to talking animal, he can parody them all, but none so well as the newspaper comic strip. So when he agreed to steer Cul de Sac for a week I worried: would Dinkle the Unlovable Loser show up and steal Dill's kidneys? But my fears are probably unfounded. Ruben can write for characters with irony and affection (go see his strips dealing with hapless, clueless middle-schooler Louis Maltby). I think Cul de Sac's in safe hands. And that Dill's-kidneys gag would work great as a Sunday page with Dill's brothers doing the stealing.
Here's one of Ruben's greatest hits from a few years ago, ironically not drawn by him-