Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The End of My Cage

My favorite newspaper comic has been canceled.

My Cage will print its last strip October 31.

For three years, writer Ed Power and artist Melissa DeJesus told the anthropomorphic tales of Norm T. Platypus and his soul-crushing office job at MacGuffin Inc. Norm quipped with coworkers, romanced his fiancée Bridget Dog and dreamed of writing the Great American Zombie-Alien Mash-Up Novel.

Now, the dream — for Norm and his creators — is over.

Ed Power is frank and graphic when discussing the cancellation.

“I feel like my childhood dream was shot point-blank through the eyes.”

For years, Power asked his fans to write newspapers in support of his strip. I never took him seriously. I disregarded it like when musicians remind us of their release date. It’s self-promotion, an annoying but necessary part of the business.

I work at a newspaper. When we stopped running 9 Chickweed Lane, I didn’t mention My Cage as a potential replacement to my editors. (Not saying that they would have listened, but the suggestion would not have offended them.)

Instead, I read My Cage online like most of its fans. I assumed it would run for 40 years after it ceased to be funny, like Marmaduke.

And, now, it’s cancelled. I’ll never get a satisfactory coda to the Norm-Bridget-Ashley Bengal love triangle. I’ll never read about Norm getting that dream book deal.

And it stings. It hurts in that way you hurt when a show you love gets canceled a season too soon. And you feel stupid because there are things more important than the fictional tales of an anthropomorphic, semi-aquatic mammal. In the last seven days, I’ve written about a killed toddler, a fire at an animal sanctuary and a young man who was stabbed; and I’m complaining about the abrupt end of a comic strip.

But that’s because stories matter. Stories are what keep me from going crazy when I write about infanticide, burnt cats and stabbings.

Perhaps, I’m being histrionic, but it was nice to read a strip that wasn’t rehashing some decades-old joke. By the nature of the business, newspapers are filled with legacy strips — Beetle Bailey, B.C., Dennis the Menace, freakin’ Marmaduke — none of which have made anyone laugh since Reagan was president. In hindsight, Gary Larson and Bill Watterson were brilliant for getting out when they did.

Even strips that have a spark like Dilbert or Fox Trot eventually collapse beneath the limitations of continuity and the medium. (It’s all but impossible to tell a good story three panels at a time.)

Meanwhile, you have strips like My Cage or The Meaning of Lila that have something new and funny to say, but they can’t break through because nobody wants to cancel Family Circus.

We live in age when nothing’s over until it’s over. Shows are resurrected years after cancellation. Who is to say My Cage doesn’t return as a television pilot or a series of self-published comic books? But, for now, my favorite comic strip has been cancelled and it stings.

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com


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