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Test Pattern: Five-link Friday

"Wickedly Perfect" soup; mildly upsetting fortune-cookie messages; Mike Nelson's "Happy Kitty";  Chia-Shrek; catching up with Calvin's creator. By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
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Five-link Friday

Taking a brief break from comic strips (but we'll return to that next week) for a five-link Friday.

• Have you seen the new reality show "Wickedly Perfect"? All the contestants are total Type A Martha Stewart wannabes, the kind of folks who need only 2 minutes of sleep a night, grow their own coffee in the backyard, hand-loom their own napkins and are, generally, completely insane. In the first episode, contestant Tom was kicked off after his butternut squash-apple soup was deemed inedible by celebrity judge Bobby Flay and others. Tom still posted the recipe for the soup on the show's site, but it's . Except: "Wait almost 5 hours for teammates to get back from the grocery with one small squash. Realize this won't be enough for soup and steal an acorn squash from the centerpiece." Heh.

• McSweeney's offers up . And none of them are “That wasn't chicken.” My favorite: "You frequently mispronounce 'Antarctic,' and 'volumptuous' is not a real word." (Thanks to Scott B. for the link!)

• I've mentioned my rabid "Mystery Science Theater" fandom before, and how I've enjoyed for which Mike Nelson, former MST3K host, has done commentary. Thanks to reader Kathryn for pointing out that Nelson has also provided the text for an upcoming book called The book features 200 images from the archives of Minneapolis' , the running theme being that they're just so doggone cute you'll get a sugar rush just turning the pages. Can't wait to read Nelson's take on them.

• Ch-ch-ch-chia! When I was a kid, if you didn't know what to get someone in a school gift exchange, you bought them that big book-shaped container of Lifesavers. (I couldn't find a link, but yeah, you know what I'm talking about.) These days, I'd be tempted to replace that all-purpose gift with a Chia Pet. Good both for friends who'll get the joke and co-workers who'll wonder for the rest of the day "Was that supposed to be funny?" I mention this because I've been spotting all over. Don't forget , , , and, my favorite, . D'oh!

• Getting back to our comics theme for just a moment: I've linked to , but it's worth a revisit. The alt-weekly caught up with "Calvin and Hobbes" cartoonist Bill Watterson,  calling him "Ohio's most famous recluse." There's a fascinating bit where he comes face-to-face with one of those ubiquitous (and of course, unlicensed) "Calvin-peeing-on-some-car-logo" stickers. The more we delve into the comics this week, the more I miss "Calvin and Hobbes."

Comics we love

We've run through the strips we hate (so, so many), but it's good to know that there are also a big batch of comic strips that keep making us laugh.

It can't be easy to do a daily strip and keep it fresh, funny and modern, and I'm appreciative of the artists who can do it. And for every person who writes in saying that "Family Circus" hasn't been funny in decades, someone else writes in to say it's so nice to have a G-rated strip with jokes their kids can appreciate.

We're going to keep dissecting this topic for a few days (with a break tomorrow for Five-link Friday), so keep sending in your thoughts, and thanks!

“I think ‘Beetle Bailey’ is fantastic.  I’ve read it since I was a child and find it extremely witty and never get tired of it.  The characters are symbolic of not only military life, but also what we ordinary citizens could face in everyday life.”      —June

MISSING ‘CALVIN’“I love 'Calvin and Hobbes.' Even though I know it is no longer drawn, how can one resist a six-year olds’ view of the world, how easy things can go wrong no matter what we do and the simple wisdom of his stuffed tiger friend?”      —Theodore, Missouri

FUN AT THE ‘CIRCUS’‘Family Circus’ is great for small children.  It speaks to them at their level and helps them “learn” / “develop” a sense of humor. A marvelous  first grade teacher I know, uses it to help the children visually and verbally  learn the nuances of humor. Many adults never did.   The ‘funny papers’ need a variety of ‘humors’ for those 6 to 90. ”      —Mike, Illinois

“I don’t read comic strips any longer, but when I did, ‘Garfield’ was always my favorite.  My dad always had these strips hanging on the refrigerator as they related to our own self-absorbed, lazy feline, Ginger.”      —Ashley

FOR BETTER“ ‘For Better or Worse’ is my favorite after lo these many years. I can still remember a phone conversation with a male friend after Farley, the family dog, died while trying to save April: FARLEY IS DEAD! FARLEY IS DEAD! I babbled. To which my friend replied: Who the hell is FARLEY???? His response after I explained: Farley is DEAD??? Our FARLEY IS DEAD???? Oh nooooo! And there we were, two grown-ups bawling our eyes out over a make-believe dog. How pathetic is that?”      —Janice, Oregon

KNOCKOUT PUNCH'Doonesbury' speaks a truth heard nowhere else. The funniest thing about the strip is that it makes great points that leave the right-winger groaning in frustration because they have absolutely nothing to say in dispute. Every swing produces a knockout. Doonesbury is the Muhammad Ali of the comic world.”      —Tim, Kentucky

THE DOCTOR IS IN“I think the 'Peanuts' are great, and, while they may not all be timely (as in cultural references) they are still funny.  I am just a huge 'Peanuts' fan and always will be.  I can’t imagine my life without them, and not being able to read them every day.”      —Christy, Arkansas

“The most consistently funny strip is 'Get Fuzzy.' I daily am able to see parts of every character in people I come in contact with and even that fellow in the mirror!”      —Paul, North Carolina

THE SPORTING LIFE“My favorite comic strip is 'Gil Thorp.' It is the corniest strip I’ve ever read, but I can’t help myself, I have to read it every Monday through Saturday.”      —Mike, South Carolina

DOGGONE FUNNY'Mutts' is my current favorite comic.  I, too, have a cat who has a “little pink sock” (but it’s turquoise). I could swear he was writing about my pets when Patrick MacDonnell writes of Mooch and Earl.”     —Barb, St. Paul

STILL BLOOMING“Berkeley Breathed brought back my fav flightless foul OPUS.  I couldn’t be happier, that little bird has caused more Sunday coffee to be spouted out of my nose than any other comic I have ever read.”     —Bill, Florida

Comics we hate

Comic-strip fans definitely have strong opinions about their favorites … and perhaps even more so about the strips they hate. Here’s a sampling of the comic strips you think should be put out to pasture, in response to this post.

Tomorrow we’ll get to the good stuff: The strips you actually like. Thanks to all for writing in, and keep the comments coming!

AWOL‘Beetle Bailey’ is long overdue for retirement.  A soldier who never goes into combat, a sergeant who brutalizes his men, a general who ogles his civilian secretary—there hasn’t been a new idea in this comic strip in decades.”    —Carol Anne, Seattle

AGING ‘CIRCUS’‘Family Circus’ is just one of the strips I’ve never found any humor in.  It always feels too sterile to be applicable in today’s world.   And seriously, those kids can only be cute for so long.”     —Sherry, Wichita

”I guess you ought to be embarrassed to admit to your 'For Better or Worse' addiction.  I find it foul.  The characters all look the same and share the same expressions.  The soap opera dialogue wanes sappy and melodramatic.  With such elaborate storylines, she might as well write a screenplay.  Whatever happened to poignancy in simplicity?  The very best comics succeed in expressing much more with much less.”     —Padraic, Wisconsin

NEEDS A ‘JUMP START’‘Family Circus’ is not funny and I don’t remember it ever being funny.  Also, ‘Jump Start’ seems to get a little weird when they start drawing baby Sunny and teenage Sunny in the same script.  I think that one is about done.”    —Tiffany, Cleveland

NOT-SO-SWEET ‘HOME’“I can’t stand ‘Closer to Home.’ The cartoonist has the worst sense of humor. He creates a far-fetched situation for an asinine punch line.  If the joke isn’t that good to begin with, a terribly drawn, horribly delivered strip isn’t going to make it any better.”    —Brian, Kansas

FOSSILIZED“As for the Number One gotta-go, ‘BC’ takes the prize.  It’s nothing but the same five tired jokes, interspersed with a noxious mixture of fundamentalist religion and right-wing politics.  It hasn’t been funny in years (if ever).  Of course, now that God and Co. have won the 2004 election, we won’t see the end of Johnny Hart for years to come.”    —Shay Lynn, Colorado 

“The bad comics are the ones that give you the same reaction as fingernails on a blackboard. ‘Mallard Fillmore’ is a terrible comic—very strident and self-satisfied in its viewpoint, and has a very predictable direction each week (in contrast, ‘Doonesbury,’ while it has a liberal slant, has very few sacred cows on either side of the fence, has wit instead of unrelenting sarcasm, and doesn’t always go for the easy joke).

I especially don’t know what happened to ‘B.C.’ — it used to be funny(if predictable), but now it seems to have an agenda other than humor (such as converting the masses to Christianity). It doesn’t fit well in the comic format (or the caveman setting), and now the attempts at humor seem half-hearted instead of clever.

In sum, I like many more comics than I hate, but the ones you hate are like stones in your shoes — they destroy the good karma of a collection of decent and better comics, and you wish they would just go away.”  --Kevin, Mass.

“By all means, ‘Doonesbury’ should be axed. Its persistent and obviously dated leftism should be axed along with the 60's-based ideology on which it is based. Even when it makes sense its not funny.”     —Chris, Texas

IF THE SHOE FITS“The worst has GOT to be ‘Shoe.’ Street-wise water fowl just tryin’ to make it in the big crazy tree world?  I think I’d rather see ‘Cathy’ try on one more two-piece.”  —Brett

GOOD GRIEF“I actually liked the very early ‘Peanuts’ strips, but it stopped being funny sometime around 1970.  The Los Angeles Times still prints completely unfunny “Peanuts” strips.  They were bad enough the first time around.  Why reprint them?”   —Richard, Burbank

Funny papers

While on vacation, I stayed away from most news and TV. But every day I picked up the local newspaper for my vacation destination (in my case, the LA Times) to check out the comics.

I'm almost embarrassed to admit it, but I am addicted to following Lynn Johnston's long-running strip about the Pattersons and their family life in Canada. The recent plotline is somewhat juicy, complete with Liz meeting up with her old boyfriend Anthony(who had seemingly aged to 50, or was at least drawn that way) and his snotty pregnant wife Therese.

My holiday addiction got me thinking about how vehemently we feel about our comic strips. Read any newspaper's letters page or ombudsman column the week after a strip is finally dropped and you'll discover that even the most stale strip has devoted followers. It's like our discussion on , where I discovered that someone, somewhere has walked out of my very favorite movie. Similarly, Someone, somewhere, is holding his or her breath waiting for the next installment of "Prince Valiant." ("Prince Valiant" fans, please don't write in and harangue me. My best friend is one of you, and she'll take care of the haranguing. Also, I actually read your strip on Sundays.)

So you tell me: Which comic strips are your favorites, and which strips seem to you to be complete wastes of space? And don't just list a name, tell us why.

Is it because they're still recycling 1945-era jokes and cliches in 2005, or because the cartoonist can't draw, or because he or she has the worst sense of humor outside of your oh-so-dull Uncle Larry?

Is a true representation of the modern American single woman, or did you tune out after the thousandth bathing-suit try-on joke?

Can anyone keep track of all the residents of ?

Is the quote from (not "Reality Bites," as I first said) about the   sitting in the bottom right-hand corner "just waiting to suck" true, or are Jeffy and Barfy unrecognized geniuses?

If we took a national survey of all the comic strips that have been cut out and attached to fridges nationwide, would win in a walk?

And what about those comic strips that sail right over the reader's head? The ones where you know the artist had a joke in mind somewhere, but then maybe he or she went to lunch or the baby started crying or the UPS guy showed up and well, that joke just never made it into print. Those are the strips that Bill Bickel and his readers puzzle over regularly at the , which is always worth a read.

Best online resources for comics, best print newspapers for comics ... anything comic-related is welcome here. I'll share your favorites and least favorites later this week.