Get Fuzzy, the comic strip, is in trouble. First syndicated in 1999, Darby Conley’s surrealistic peek into the lives of a menagerie of slightly anthropomorphic animals and their hipster human companion stormed the comic page like few others, winning hearts and minds (not to mention plenty of awards) in record time, helping give hope to those comic fans who feared the artform dead after the 1995 exodus of Calvin ‘n Hobbes, The Far Side, and Bloom County/Outland.
The Fuzzy Bunch is the comic’s 14th collection of daily and Sunday strips that originally ran between May 2010 and April 2011, though given Conley’s penchant for recycling I wouldn’t be shocked to see them replayed a few more times. The practice of rerunning older strips in lieu of newer ones itself isn’t reason for concern or unprecedented (see Peanuts or Calvin ‘n Hobbes), but given the cartoonists continuing lack of annotation, opening blurbs, and even producing new strips on a regular basis one can only hope for the future of our pals Bucky Katt, Satchel Pooch, and Rob Wilco.
Sadly, another tradition the collection keeps up is the strip’s continuing lapse into utter banality, with much of the humor so consistently falling flat. It can’t be for Conley’s lack of effort, as the pop-culture and otherwise intelligent references come at breakneck speed, regardless if they hit their mark. Its a miscellany of puns and wordplay that’s breathtakingly tone deaf, likening Conley to a master composer trying to play a piano out of tune, yet insisting its not. I’d give an example but the book contains nearly 128 pages of them already.
Take Mac Manc McManx, Bucky’s British cousin, who remains the strip’s most undeveloped, indecipherable, and just plain worst character. We get by now that Conley is an diehard Anglophile, bless him, but his misappropriation of slang and obscure cultural references (especially with his beloved rugby) doesn’t have the effect he seems to think it should. Watterson would often have readers running to their dictionaries, coming away enlightened. Conley’s puns, however, will have them turning to Wikipedia, groaning into their palms.
The collection isn’t a total snoozer, however, as there’s definitely a few gasps left to remind fans just how surreal things could get. Bucky’s bizzaro rant that Muppets are really Cold War genetic experiments is a hoot, as is his crusade to transform an ordinary sack of potatoes into “an unholy army of synthetic monkeys.”
A prolific revival of interest in original features like Get Fuzzy, Boondocks, and Pearls Before Swine the period between 1999 and 2002 was heralded as a new ‘Golden Age’ of comic strips, one that intelligently fused high-tech tools of digitization and the internet with tried ‘n true comic sensibilities.
Much has changed since then, not the least the continuing downward spiral of the medium’s own distribution model-of-choice, paper newspapers. Aaron McGruder slow-dripped Boondocks into cancellation, focusing his efforts on the animated series and other projects while Stephan Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine has flourished in both comic strip form and in other mediums. Conley’s road seems close to McGruder’s, without the merchandizing.
Not to sound unsympathetic, as the unceasing grind of producing a daily comic strip, regardless of quality, would be enough to tax anybody. The Fuzzy Bunch does nothing to dispel the notion that Herculean effort may be taking its toll on both author and product, and it may be time for both to look at alternative futures. In that light, perhaps its worth remembering that Bill Watterson thought it best to retire his before it became a stale shadow of its former self. I’m just saying.