Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ozy and Millie

The vaudevillian two-man act left a heavy mark on American comedy, including comic strips and their derivatives. It seems impossible for webcartoonists to write any daily strip centered on two characters without some reader blurting out "why, this is just like Calvin and Hobbes" but let's remember, Laurel and Hardy were there first. While reading Ozy and Millie, it's tempting to see them as a classic straight-man and funny-man pairing, but far from detracting from the strip's worth this awareness simply makes their many deviations from type all the more interesting.

Actually, if the title didn't flow slightly better as-is, I'd recommend retroactively switching the names around. As the duo's active, prankster half, Millie's much heavier burden of driving action and dialogue forward while Ozy reflects seems like it should win her top billing. Through those gags-a-day we get a lot of poignant commentary on the difficulty of personal growth within a mercilessly homogenizing society. From simple set-ups during the strip's early years to surprising amounts of character growth later on, Ozy and Millie's success in expanding a stage act into a full-blown chronicle in the lives of intelligent children would be enough by itself to make the comic noteworthy.

Topics varied but mostly revolved around the difficulty of growing up brainy. Millie and especially Ozy sneak and scramble their way through the hellish minefield that is public schooling while retaining, through activism or stoicism, some measure of individuality. Politics makes frequent appearances, as the strip was written during the rule of the child-king Bush II and the public's shameless adulation of bald-faced militaristic, totalitarian, reactionary dogma during those years (more so than usual) begged opposition. More often though, the writing slips into a light-hearted linguistic comedy style which keeps things from ever getting too serious.

This comic was not a wildly creative adventure in the medium. Yet, it was funny and self-conscious, poignant and relatable material for anyone who's felt the constricting reductionism of human stupidity coiling 'round. Still the author always maintained a dogged optimism about the possibility of finding someone to laugh at one's jokes. There's a Millie to drive Ozy and an Ozy to gently yield to Millie, good parents to offset bad teachers and tiny sparks of worth even in the worst of one's peers. It may not be the world we actually live in, but it sure was nice to visit for as long as the strip lasted.

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