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  • Karl Thunemann

Karl's Keyboard #14

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

Time for a Whole Lot of Comic Relief

—As in the Funny Papers

I always love to hear from Robert Anderson, my frequent contributor who lives in San Francisco.

I used to look forward to seeing Andy, when he would come to visit Silver Glen, the senior residential cooperative where Pattsie Brown, his long-time significant other, is one of our closest neighbors.

Andy and Pattsie were accustomed to frequent home-and-home visits. He would come here and stay for a few days; two or three weeks later, Pattsie would visit his digs atop Nob Hill, with its great view of the Bay Bridge, which has been turned into a light show. Pattsie calls him Andy, so I do too, though most people address him as Bob.

As couples, we are very good friends, always joining each other for supper when Andy was in town. We had a small writers’ group, and we would change our meeting date to ensure that Andy could join us, for he is an active writer with broad interests. One month he brought a fascinating historical account of the first San Francisco International Airport. It was located on Treasure Island in the middle of the bay. It was ideally suited the Pan American Airways clipper ships, flying to the Far East. I thought this piece should have a wider audience than our tiny little group, so I asked Andy for permission to approach the many outlets in the Bay Area that might be interested in such a piece. He turned me down. Once you have reached 90, you do some things for fun, without expecting them to lead anywhere. Later he told me that a Bay Area outfit had published a history of that old airport.

The pandemic disrupted our happy little arrangement. Neither Pattsie nor Andy were considered good candidates for interstate air travel. But Andy and I took up an email friendship, and it didn’t take long for me to see that this blog would benefit from featuring him as a frequent contributor. I am sure that Andy doesn’t consider himself to be a meditator, but his ability to focus on a subject and home in on it can lend a meditative quality. And his professional work as a writer and TV director and producer brought him in touch with some relevant issues.

He has talked about covering events at Esalen, the New Age retreat center in Big Sur, and looking into the use of psychedelic drugs in San Mateo. I hope to cajole him into writing about these experiences for us.

But as the recent presidential campaign reached its hysterical peak, along comes a new article from Andy—delving into the history of the comic pages in America. He figured it was time to treat ourselves with less serious matters. I ask you to address this in an unusual manner. What follows immediately is my response to Andy’s essay. I suggest that first you scroll down to read Andy’s work as a “frequent contributor.”

Then you can come back and read my take on the comics. Go ahead. What are you waiting for?

My Own Sojourn in the Funny Papers

Welcome back. I read the comics selectively when I was younger – even Sundays most weeks. Of course we were a Chronicle family, so I never saw what was in the Examiner. I forget when they went into a JOA, and whether I ever saw their joint Sunday comics page. If I did, I soon left California.

I remember Prince Valiant, but coming in late, I never learned to follow it. I liked Dick Tracy and other he-men –Smilin’ Jack, Steve Roper and Mike Nomad, Terry and the Pirates. But the strip from those days that most haunted me in those days was Dondi, all about a wretched war orphan who stowed away on a troop ship and was adopted by his GI pals. At first, Dondi seemed to hail from Eastern Europe, then Korea. To me, the underscoring theme was that taking care of Dondi symbolized the price paid by middle- and upper-class Americans for having saved the world for democracy. It was a comic, but not remotely funny.

Even Mary Worth put in an appearance when my friend Becci and I noticed that her then-new dog, Olive, was haunted by an expression of concern that looked exactly like the good-hearted old busybody from the funnies. Later, Becci came to believe that Olive was channeling Becci’s own mom, then recently deceased.

I still follow four or five comics. So few of them are “about” anything—mostly they celebrate the zany creativity of the artists. My favorite is “Rhymes with Orange” by Hilary Price. I have even written her a fan letter. The key to “getting” this strip is to read the large panel—on the right—first, and then the left-hand pane.

Featured in this Keyboard

  • The Lesser Pea in this Pod. It is very hard to focus on impermanence, with the Big Guy, mortality, constantly looking over your shoulder


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