See Ya in the Funny Papers

Drinks and light dinner at the Algonquin on Monday evening with the delightful Emily Gordon, an editor at Print and host of the blog Emdashes, devoted to all things Eustace Tilley-ish. This isn't some lowbrow gossip site. Don't poke your musky head in there thinking you're going to discover what makes John Seabrook "tick," or be treated to grisly samurai tales about Henry Finder's ruthless mastery as an editorial infighter. It's a more belletristic enterprise than that, with a monthly column contributed by the New Yorker's librarians, whom I believe once tried to have me abducted.

Normally my policy is to discourage young talent (they only get in the way), but I make an exception for Emily Gordon, who has the elegant taste of someone from a more refined era, when the cocktails and conversation rapturously flowed, and a piano tinkled in the background. So the Algonquin was the perfect setting for drinks and gab, the waiters emerging like Henry James ghosts from the dark polished wood in the lobby. At one point she alerted me to a site called The Comics Curmudgeon, devoted to the explication, appreciation, and cheerful desecration of daily comic strips that continue to drift in their own strange perpetual purgatory, like Gasoline Alley and Mary Worth. Now that I've found it, I can't believe I haven't tumbled over Comics Curmudgeon before, given my own low-grade obsession with For Better or Worse and fascinatingly unfunny and badly scrawled strips like Girls and Sports and One Big Happy.

The comic that truly mystifies me is Meet Mr. Luckey, which runs in the Daily News. Mr. Luckey isn't a strip but a one-panel comic that dispenses pseudo-Confucian fortune-cookie wisdom. Even the Daily News doesn't seem to know what to make of the strip, running it not on the funny pages but in the sports section, jammed into the Stats page with Local Hoops scores and microscopic news briefs ("Scranton--Named Becky Davis interim women's lacrosse coach"), where it seems to get smaller each month. Mr. Luckey is trying to keep up his morale. Today we find him at his drawing board drawing his own head with the monologue balloon, "A man's happiness is to do a man's true work--" Talk about self-referential! It's as if whoever's drawing Mr. Luckey is trying to convince and console himself that this daily cartoon is worth doing, that it is meaningful work, that he isn't futilely wasting his talent. I find Meet Mr. Luckey's predicament unbearably poignant, though I seem to be the only one. At least whatever poor soul is drawing Meet Mr. Luckey hasn't surrendered to defeatism, unlike the guy doing Judge Parker.