The Funnies: They Just Keep Coming Back … and They Never Stop

A cartoon is not a frivolous thing. It can look like a silly drawing or a caricature of life. Upon first glance, it seems to only exist on either a screen or a piece of paper. Sometimes, it even says witty things or does something stupid or endearing that can make us laugh.

Cartoons have been around for so long–on television, in movies, in the newspaper funny-pages and even on T-shirts–that we take them for granted. We don’t always take them seriously.

But consider. A cartoon is an archetype. It is an idea given form. In fact, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to even state that it is a Platonic Form: living glyphs essentialized to the point of becoming as close to pure concepts as is humanly possible … which of course is a misnomer.

Because cartoons aren’t human at all.

Some of them are wise-talking humanoid animals. Others are parodies of human beings that somehow possess their own sense of agency. There are even some that are inanimate objects given life. Often, the really old cartoons exist in very self-contained two-dimensional pocket-dimensions: in a mythological cycle of trickery, mayhem, and fun-loving nose-thumbing at fate.

And the really old cartoons can’t be destroyed. They can’t be smashed by falling anvils or mallets. They can’t be burned by fire or exploded by dynamite: at least, not for very long. They are used to dealing–and receiving–massive amounts of physical damage, and then coming back for more. And we’re not even talking about the ones that have a supernatural way of avoiding the damages of their enemies altogether just to–through some twisted fluke of fate–make them fall into their own traps.

They are like living rubber or silly-putty that just keeps bouncing back. A human being isn’t like that. When human beings fall, they break.

It’s not too much of a stretch to say that cartoons are beings that are psychopaths or sociopaths by human standards: in worlds and cyclic realities where neither human physical and psychological standards even apply. They come from the same heightened mythic state as faeries, and gods; as legends and archetypes: in a place where slap-stick is not only futility and invincibility, but where the ridiculousness is the superhuman and the sublime. Some people might call this state a perpetual hell, or a utopia. But mostly, it just is and they just are.

In the end, you can’t destroy a cartoon because you can’t destroy an idea. Because even if you break the projector, or the television, or snap the DVD, or rip up the papers they are still there–pure ideas–in your head, mocking you, holding an oversized mallet in one hand as they stand in the darkest corner of your mind, knowing more than they do, doing more than they know, just waiting for that punchline: where you finally have to laugh at yourself.

77 thoughts on “The Funnies: They Just Keep Coming Back … and They Never Stop

  1. Really thought provoking blog! It’s funny that you mention cartoons as ideas that cannot be destroyed. They can appear like sociopaths by human standards, and in the same way that through satire the jester is always the character in William Shakespeare’s plays that can tell the truth, because like cartoons they are caricatures of a person that cannot be destroyed. In that same sense the company I work for uses cartoon characters to help children develop better habits in regards to fitness. Using media and cartoons to affect the childhood obesity epidemic. That’s crazy.

  2. In a strange way, you’re right; the world of cartoons is limitless, so it is sort of like the Platonic perfect forms, where no amount of dynamite can destroy these ink and paint demigods. It’s weird to consider, but it is true, in a very odd way.

    1. Yes, I know. I never really thought about it until one day I considered just what cartoons could actually do: both in their depicted form and in the ideas they represented. I would often say these things to some of my friends, and then one day it just coalesced onto in the form that it did.

      1. This in itself was probably my reply. I was inspired by a few sources of media to make this: the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the comic Animal Man by Grant Morrison, George Herriman’s Krazy Kat strips, and even Pegasus’ Toon-World from Yug-i-oh. You can even put Cool World in there if you’d like. All of these culminated into these thoughts. That said, if I were ever have a fictional army, it would be one of cartoons: because I would basically become invincible.

      2. I guess that makes a lot of sense: especially when sequential moving cartoons were first created practically by hand. You needed precise movements to make it look more “realistic” and also to make it easier to do. It goes to show that a lot of cartoons really do exist in cyclical realities.

  3. Some interesting thoughts. I wasn’t sure where you were going with this as I read it. Another direction you might explore in a follow-up is how cartoons function on our psyches. Do they provide cathartic release to keep us from being sociopaths or do they numb us to human realities and thus create more sociopaths. I’m thinking more of war games than Bugs Bunny, but the question could apply to both.

    1. I have to admit that I am a writer that likes to create fiction and a little bit of that was being channelled into this meditation of sorts. In fact, most of my articles tend to have that link between the critical and the creative and whatever interests me at the time. These blendings can be confusing and sometimes they flow well and sometimes they don’t for a variety of reasons. But I like how this one turned out.

      Actually, on the subject of war, I was thinking to some degree about the old war propaganda Disney and Warner Brothers cartoons as well when this subject came into my mind. You do make a really interesting point about what the possible psychological functions of cartoons can be and I find I don’t really have the answers to those questions. Personally, I think that they can be both cathartic and potentially mind-numbing. It all depends on how they are made, why they are made, and how they are perceived.

  4. I like that you sort of gave them a bloggers recognition for their lifetime achievements.. It’ true that purpose and perception are vital in how we experience cartoons, but in my naive experience, they are just there, like you say, not to be good, or bad (specially the WB ones) but to express an idea end to simply BE. And they do influence us massively.. Great piece!

  5. Hey! Great article. Officially “liking” and “following”. I know you have a hundred people commenting and “liking” your page right now cause it’s Freshly Pressed (congrats, by the way!), but I’m in Toronto and write about comic books, art, writing and stuff too, with a focus on political and historical comic books. If you have time, check it out> Thanks and have a good one!

    1. A fellow Torontonian. There are more comments on likes on here that I have had well … ever, but I am doing my best in following and attempting to respond to what I can.

      So I followed the link you provided to your site and all I can say is that you have a very ambitious goal and I am really intrigued by what I see there so far. I can relate to a lot of the issues that I have seen you write about–at least from what I have seen–but it’s fascinating to see the similarities and differences in foci as well. I really would not do this any justice by simply replying to you here, so I think a post on your Blog will be in order soon. Take care and thank you for taking the time to look at Mythic Bios. πŸ™‚

  6. Nice post thanks Matt.

    I’m a freelance cartoonist and enjoy creating political cartoons, among others, and it’s always interesting to hear what people think of cartoons. We rarely receive any feedback.

    Cartoons come from the fertile and lateral thinking minds of creative (or crazy) people with way-out imagination and time on their hands.

    Getting the idea behind a cartoon is a weird thing. There may be a situation where you look at the scenario from all different angles, but still can’t come up with an idea. At other times, you’ll come across a situation, and straight away you see a funny angle on it, and a cartoon is born.

    These instant creations are often much funnier than those which take a lot of thinking through.

    In the political arena, I like to hi-light the elephant in the room, or motivate thought, or just simply punch it where it needs punching.

    I also enjoy panel cartoons and caricature work.

    My blog has 4 sections with samples of my work. The main menu can be found here.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on them.



    1. Hi Mick:
      I’m afraid I’m not that much of an illustration expert, but I did go through your drawings and I like the basic caricature-style of them. I know you refer to a lot of purely Australian politics in these caricatures and cartoons, so some of it is lost on me but I can see how you take your drawing and your words and make them as simple and straightforward as possible. Anyone who knows the subject matter or has lived in it would totally understand what you are trying to portray and say.

      Thank you for thinking enough of me and my writing to show me your work. I hope you continue to do well. Take care.

      — Matthew

  7. Cartoons etch indelible time stamps on my life. Bugs, Wile E. Coyote, Tom and Jerry, Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes and more are just some of my favorite forms of art.

  8. This is great. The best entertainment is something that you can go back to later and see the quality of the message. These cartoons were little movies and a lot of time and effort went into each one. This is why Bugs Bunny has lasted generations. Its really good entertainment.

    Think of 10 singers or bands that were going to be the next big thing and now you can’t remember them or their songs. Its because the product they produced was horrible. I agree that these cartoons will continue on because of the quality;

  9. Love it! And you know what? I’m glad we can never destroy cartoons (particularly classics like Bugs Bunny, Sylvestor / Tweety, Daffy Duck, Donald Duck, My Pet Monster etc.), b/c they bring us back to simpler times of our childhood. And THAT is priceless and much needed in the world today! Congrats on getting FP! πŸ™‚

  10. You lost me with all of the complicated words. I had to stop every so often to search the definition of the words…

  11. You are all over, and I mean, ALL over my topic and idea! Great article here! πŸ™‚ REALLY enjoyed reading it. You captured the essence of cartoons and the physics and dynamics behind cartoons and the characters therein very well!

  12. could be nice..but usually when people try to continue some old thing, it usually fails. l don’t know why, but better to draw new good characters may be, we don’t have to use old ones, just have to think more on creating can make new muppets or new Bugs Bunnies πŸ™‚ but wish the tv’s still cast the old ones too…l used to love Tom&Jerry a lot.

  13. From all the responses above, it seems like I didn’t completely get it. To me, you are mostly stating the obvious. Yes, they are indestructible as characters. And yes, they would definitely not be considered ‘normal’ in the real world we live in. I find the link to Plato’s Ideas very interesting, but I don’t think I completely grasp it. If we are only a reflection of utopia, do you mean that cartoons show us what we could be if we were to reach that utopia? But then again, according to Plato, that would be impossible, right? Anyways, if these are just random ramblings that don’t make any sense.. That’s how I roll ^^

    1. Well, Em, I was just mostly stating the obvious. Also, I wasn’t as philosophically rigorous as I no doubt could have been with regards to Plato, but that was not the point of this post. To be honest, one of the central things on my mind when I wrote this to begin with was the fact that cartoons are pretty invincible and would be deadly opponents to face. Imagine fighting one of these even in a literal sense. My references to utopia and hell are probably how we as human beings would find their worlds if we had ever found our way into them (imagine being in a place where you regularly get squashed or blown up, but get to eat all the time and come back and repeat the cycle over and again for instance), but they don’t think twice about … for the most part. I think really, I was just trying to express a thought and do it as creatively as possible. πŸ™‚

  14. Thanks for sharing this. It was a very interesting article and greatly written. I grew up watching cartoons, in fact, I still like to watch the old cartoons because they truly are funny. I especially love Bugs Bunny! Congrats on getting on “Freshly Pressed”

    Everyone feel free to check out my blog! All follows, likes, comments, and views are all appreciated! πŸ™‚

  15. I think I might have come to this post thinking it was about how we keep old cartoon characters around and try to revise them, but i like what I actually read instead. You are right, no matter who tries to get rid of cartoons and say they are too violent or bad for children, no matter what that cartoon is still there, and the child will remember it. Cartoons are fun, not something trying to destroy the youth.

    1. Cartoons are a lot of things to different people, I find, but I feel they express things from inside of us in a very strange, self-contained, and yet cathartic way at times. I also don’t believe that cartoons “destroy the youth,” they just plain are.

  16. I was really enthralled by your analogy of cartoons as thoughts, creations and ideas that are not easily destroyed. Since most cartoons aren’t humans, the creators feel more comfortable to express a variety of messages and depth of thoughts that sometimes are not easy to bring across. My blog is about cartoons and how each link to something we as humans grapple with. Thanks for the lovely post and keep it up!

    1. Thank you for the kind words. I’ve read a few of your own entries and they are really intriguing. I love the concept behind them because it is similar to this post and some of the other posts I’ve made before and since The Funnies. Have you ever read Bill Willingham’s Fables comics series? You might like them. πŸ™‚ Anyway, take care and I plan to be back at your site again as well.

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