I recently discovered something about two of my favorite newspaper comics: they are both written by Jerry Scott. Although I have been reading Zits and Baby Blues for many years, I never paid much attention to the author’s name and somehow missed the connection. My discovery that the comics shared their author piqued my curiosity, so I decided to round out my knowledge of both comics a little more and review a collection of each.
Exaggeration plays a big role in Zits, a newspaper comic strip about a teenager named Jeremy Duncan, his crazy friends Pierce and Hector, girlfriend Sara, and frustrated parents Connie and Walt. From Jeremy’s trademark oversized shoes to some of the craziest contortions comics have ever seen, artist Jim Borgman uses visual exaggeration liberally. These over-the-top illustrations fit well with the only slightly less far-fetched storylines in which Jeremy struggles with his old van, hangs out with his friends, torments his parents, eats inordinate amounts of food, and sleeps all the time. As one common saying goes, “There’s a grain of truth in every joke,” and this seems quite true in Jerry Scott’s comic strip Zits.
Unlike some comics, Zits is almost entirely episodic, and its few linear stories last for only a few installments. Perhaps this is why I like reading Zits. It provides instant laughs, with little or no need to check what happened the day before—although I usually do go back to previous comics because I want more laughs.
Random Zits is a humorous collection of Zits comics that makes for some light entertainment. This book is especially good when one doesn’t have long stretches of time to read.
As much as I enjoy the comic strip Zits, I prefer Baby Blues because it is less sarcastic, has a more family-centered story, and is more relatable. The characters are both funny and endearing, and like Peanuts, Baby Blues occasionally has sweet episodes where characters display kindness instead of constantly pulling pranks, speaking unkindly, or complaining.
Darryl, Wanda, Zoe, Hammie, and Wren MacPherson may appear to be the stereotypical family at first glance. After all, Darryl is the working father who doesn’t always understand his wife or children. Wanda is the overworked mother who struggles to keep her children out of trouble. Zoe is the fashion-conscious little girl who tattletales on her brother. Hammie is the younger brother who constantly picks on his sister and gives her reasons to tattletale. Wren is the baby who fascinates her family and follows Zoe’s (and sometimes Hammie’s) lead, whether she should or not. These characters may sound predictable. Look again, though, and one will discover that beneath the expected character traits are unique personalities and moments when the characters almost seem real.
No Yelling! is a collection of Baby Blues comics. An interesting aspect of this collection is that it contains commentary by the writer Jerry Scott and artist Rick Kirkman. Other aspects of this collection that I enjoyed were the colorful, creative title panels that the newspapers I read omit.
As I learned from the authors’ comments in No Yelling!, Scott and Kirkman draw a lot of their ideas from their own families and everyday life. For example, Kirkman bases the appearances of random characters in the comics on strangers he has met in real life. The discovery that Baby Blues draws on real anecdotes and encounters makes a lot of sense and explains why the comic is so good. Personal experience is one of the best foundations for stories, and the strength personal experience gives to comics in particular is that the audience is more likely to understand the humor of a comic strip when they can relate to what is happening.
Jerry Scott has created two distinctive comic strips that ring true to his audiences and leave them laughing. Zits and Baby Blues may share the same author and the same focus on family relationships; nevertheless, they are independently excellent comics that each contain their own unique characters, wit, and artistic and narrative style. For those seeking a fun comic strip, the yelling, randomness, relationships, ironic humor, and endearing characters of the MacPherson and Duncan families will not disappoint.