Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Comics Analysis Monday (on Tuesday)

A couple recent Zits comics.

Reminiscent of a few Calvin & Hobbes comics, teenager Jeremy's brain seems to have leapt out of his head. Actually, the C & H this reminds me of most is the classic strip with the Shakespeare-quoting mystery casserole.

The cartoonists are, it appears, trying to depict the horror of performance anxiety during an exam. I think we have all experienced that terrible moment in which the mind seems to go as blank as the test before us. It is all the more humorous because of the shared experience, no?

Actually, test anxiety may not be Jeremy's worst problem. Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman are highly adept at capturing adolescent attitudes and behavior. Their solid grasp of teen culture means that they also know about the alarming number of students using alcohol and illegal narcotics. To the keen-eyed reader, the signifiers of substance abuse are readily-apparent.

From the very first frame, Jeremy's bravado and confidence are obvious tip-offs that he's been tippling. (Drinking alcoholic beverages, in other words.) Inebriated people often do very stupidly-dangerous things because their inhibitions have been lowered, and the inner sense of confidence surges to a level at which they may think they are veritably invincible. This test is worth 40% of his total grade, and he swaggers in with way too much confidence for a sober individual.

"Had a good night's sleep" (frame 2), indeed! "Passed out" is more likely the case. And then a little "hair of the dog" for the hangover... Add to this the exaggerated facial expressions, reminiscent of someone who is drunk, and it becomes pretty plain that Jeremy has been studying notes by professors Daniels and Beam! Perhaps he believes that the long history behind said beverages will allow him to better grasp the slippery tendrils of World History.

Then, of course, there is the hallucinogenic imagery in the final frame of the first comic and carried on throughout the second strip. Is Jeremy experiencing D.T.'s during his exam, or is this the result of "mind enhancing" drugs like marijuana or LSD? Such narcotics are often marketed with advertised result of "expanding your consciousness" (beyond the point of the brain?) or "freeing your mind" (the latter result literally seen to be happening here!) The average reader perceives the conversation of second strip to be occurring entirely within Jeremy's imagination. Sadly, however, this is not the case. Rather than an internal dialog, the teen has succumbed to a powerful hallucination and is raving aloud at this chewing-gum pink brain. He will probably be removed forcefully from the classroom to keep him from disturbing the other students any more.

Note how, even addled by illicit substances, Jeremy realizes his problem. He asserts boldly, and correctly, "This is not happening to me!" He even makes a moral judgment, "That is unacceptable!" But alas, Jeremy, it is too late! The damage has been done!

Via the power of the visual medium, the artists communicate that the teen's destructive behavior has caused his brain to reject him and refuse to work for him when he needs it most! He has been "poking" his "central nervous system" as if "with a sharp pencil." A harsh warning, to be sure, about the dangers of drugs! Heed the warning, young people!

Of course, Jeremy's impending failure of this class is inevitable and needful. If "Zits" is to continue believably, then Jeremy cannot continue to pass his classes! He must flunk so that he can persist as the eternal student for the purposes of the strip's continuance.

Zits: relevant, subversive and clever!


HMSnow said...

That Calvin & Hobbes is one of my all-time favorites. You can't imagine how handy it was in my Shakespearean survey course at the university... And how did you learn Hamlet's famous soliloquy? Well, Professor, you see...

Allen's Brain said...

Yes, but did you end it with "Feelings"?