1. THE MORNING ISN’T COMPLETE WITHOUT checking into the daily comics page and some of my favorite parallel universes. I scan most of what’s there (as my friend Gary Nordstrom says, “If the author went to the trouble of writing it, as a fan I should take the trouble to read it”), and while my eternal favorites are now but shrine-emplaced memories (Pogo, Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side and Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy) here’s a handful I look forward to each day. What they have in common is strong characterization, technical competency and good writing, but that’s not all:
2. Get Fuzzy. The only “funny animal” strip that “gets” the animal mind (in the way that Jack Vance “gets” the alien mind). Darby Conley’s Satchel Pooch and Bucky T. Katt are, well, not quite human — and they’re rendered that way, as they muddle through each day trying not to give Rob Wilco (their human roommate) one of his perennial headaches.
3. Mutts. I like to think of this as a daily dose of Gentle Zen, on to which I was turned by my mother-in-law the living angel (she thinks it’s cute). Two main characters (Mooch, a cat, and Earl, a dog) and a handful of wildlife inhabit a Herriman-like world of naps, skritches, snacks and philosophical remarks thereon. Patrick McDonnell also has a strong “pro-animal” bent that stops short of preachiness because it’s long on love.
4. Liō. If Gahan Wilson and Charles Addams had a kid, his name would be Liō, who with his pet cephalopod and long-suffering dad (at least, I think it’s his dad) wordlessly walks through some of the weirdest situations you’ve seen since your last nightmare. A friend to all, whether zombie, ghost or alien, Mark Tatulli’s happy little creation would be happier still if only that faceless girl with the monster teeth would notice him.
5. Luann. The most realistic endless-high-school strip next to Zits (another fave to which these same plaudits apply). In the same way Rocky & Bullwinkle wasn’t only for kids, Luann isn’t only for daily readers: Greg Evans packs in long story arcs, believable plots, and very compelling villains (I’m looking at you, Tiffany). The ongoing story of Brad, Luann’s formerly loser brother who discovered himself as a firefighter, is just one example. (Yes, I’m biased, but it’s still a good read.)