Since Gary Larson officially ended his beloved Far Side panel comic in 1995 there’s been quite a few pretenders to the throne of off-beat, surreal comedy. OK, let’s be honest – there’s been a few out-and-out copycats that’ve come perilously close to comic plagiarism, copying everything from Larson’s unique style, square boxes, yet leaving out the most critical element: the humor. Like discount cereal that ‘almost tastes’ the same, these shameless rip-offs exist only to remind us of better quality product. Yes, I’m looking at you, The Argyle Sweater!
Enter WuMo, a single (rectangular) panel comic that doesn’t so much copy The Far Side as it speaks the same language – the language of nonsensical whimsy. It’s unusual name itself a portmanteau of creators’ names Wulff and Morgenthaler, it’s a non-sequitur style funny where anything and everything can and often does happen, leaving narrative and character building to other comics and makes the whole world its plaything. WuMo: Something Is Wrong is the first collection available for western readers, collecting over 250 comics in a fairly solid hardcover set not dissimilar to how early Far Side collections used to look.
This might come as a shock to some, but the comic has actually existed (in some form or another) in European papers and websites since 2001, only finding its way to lucky American readers since being imported by Universal Uclick back in November 2013. Debuting in over 200 papers, this made WuMo the “largest syndicated comic launch” in the company’s history, even displacing decaying relics like Doonesbury and Get Fuzzy in some well-known newspapers. If there was any justice in the world there’d be a few more unworthies joining them, but I digress…
So what can newcomers expect? Anthropomorphic creatures and hapless humans mix with celestial powers and the powers-that-be, usually at their respective peril. Cynicism is the de rigueur practiced here; hopes and dreams are lifted only to be dropped from the loftiest heights, presumably to observe the aftermath. You’ve been warned.
It’s pretty harsh against those hopelessly addicted to text (hello, Millennials), despite being a pretty tech-savvy strip itself. The comics on display here are refreshingly apolitical, thank the heavens, instead focusing on the business of being funny and disruptive, usually at the same time. I even caught myself chuckling at easy targets (Tarzan discovering he’s adopted – think Steven Martin in The Jerk) or a pair of lobsters ordering a succulently stuffed human. If the text has a tendency to over-explain the joke sometimes just keep in mind that creators Wulff and Morgenthaler get a pass; the original comic hails from Denmark, after all.
Nothing here is particularly mean-spirited, just silly, and even the most politically-correct stuck up would be hard pressed to find anything here worth harping about. Then again, we do live in strange, censorial times…
One thing I absolutely love about this comic…is how utterly filthy it can be. Keep in mind that we’re talking about a comic strip that’s regularly published in newspapers – family newspapers – and you’ll have a whole new appreciation of what’s permissible on the world wide web.
This isn’t the edge-pushing absurdity of early Far Side or even the searing parodies of Bloom County; this is excrement, potty humor, that kind of stuff.There are times when characters just let the urine fly, fast and free, without a care in the world. To see such a thing printed in what’s left of the newspaper industry is both exhilarating and sad, the latter if only because the industry of dead tree news been forced to grow somewhat out of their anachronistic bubble out of sheer desperation (to to mention near-obsolescence).
Note: the web version is far more risqué, featuring naughty words sans symbolic grawlix and even light nudity (on farm animals, anyway). American papers would surely pass on such things, and while the comics collected here never achieve even Family Guy-levels of raunchiness (my goodness, that would make the poor papers’ editors burst into flames) hardcore Pickles fans probably won’t be amused.
Those still pining for Gary Larson to resume his comic duties probably won’t find their savior in WuMo, but as the first western collection WuMo: Something Is Wrong clearly demonstrates, it’s nice to have options. It’s not fair to call WuMo a Far Side rip-off and I want to be clear about that – consider my many callbacks loving references. The world of newspaper comics finds itself in the middle of its most tumultuous time since the 50s, and just know there are still funnies out there that can still – against all odds and reason – deliver the goods.