Monday, February 18, 2008

Baby Blues: the clock has stopped

There's been a lot of talk among comic strip readers about the fact that the characters in For Better or For Worse have stopped aging.

Quietly, and with a lot less fanfare, another popular comic strip seems to have also stopped time. I'm talking about one of my all time favorite strips, Baby Blues.

One of the best things about Baby Blues is that we've gotten to watch the characters grow and develop. Zoe and Hammie went through all the various stages that kids experience, and that's what made the strip so funny and realistic for me. They got a year older about every two years. I have just about every Baby Blues book, and I reread them as my son is going through each phase. It always shows me the humor in the situation.

But then, baby Wren was born into the MacPherson house. And time stopped.

The first collection that contains Wren is called Never a Dry Moment and was published in 2003. That means the strips themselves probably appeared in the paper about a year or so earlier. Today, (roughly) six years after Wren was born, she is still a baby. She crawled briefly... about three years ago, but that was about as far as her development went.

Let me give you a little perspective. Since the time Wren was born... I got married, became pregnant, and had a baby who will soon be four years old.

If it was just Wren, I'd be okay with that.... but Zoe and Hammie have stopped changing and developing too. The characters are stuck at ages eight, five and baby. And a lot of the outside characters like the four grandparents, and neighbors Yolanda and Bunny have all but disappeared. The strip has slowly become static. And I have to admit, I've stopped buying the new books, because I feel like they're not as compelling as they used to be.

My friend Cate and I have been watching this trend for a while, and we're curious if anyone else has noticed. Have you or is it just us?


  1. Now that you mention it, yeah, it does seem to have stopped. I don't think I read Baby Blues much before 2001, so I didn't have a lot of experience with the strip before Wren. I haven't laughed as much lately when reading it, though... I guess what I'm saying is that it's not just you. :)

  2. Melissa- Thanks! Glad to know that it isn't just me.

  3. I haven't followed Baby Blues, but I do remember one of my initial thoughts, when it started, was, "With a name like "Baby Blues', how long can they keep this up?"

    Sure enough, it seemed like every time I checked back, there was a new baby in the picture. First Zoe, then Hammie, then Wren. I wondered if Mom and Dad were going to keep popping them out every 2 years to keep the baby thing going.

    I think the problem with a lot of strips in terms of sustainability is how big the characters' world is. FBOFW successfully extends from the home to school, college, workplaces, the park, etc., with new characters created as the situation demands. I think it must be harder to keep things fresh and interesting in strips where the world is limited to the office (Dilbert) or home (Sally Forth) or so on.

  4. ...Oops, didn't finish that thought. I wanted to add: It seems like without aging the characters and opening up their worlds to many different settings and scenarios, you're going to hit the point of staleness. Bill Watterson cut off Calvin & Hobbes before it hit that point, Peanuts dragged on a bit too long. They were both great, pretty long-running strips, but even with creative geniuses penning them, they hit a wall eventually. It sounds like maybe Baby Blues has hit that wall.

  5. Lisa- I think your comments are exactly on target. Thanks for describing so concisely what happens to a lot of comic strips.

  6. Peanuts went on a "bit" too long? What fraction of 17,897 strips (thank you wiki) is a bit?

    I don't have a problem with Peanuts going on and on for 50 years ... it's comfort food ... the meatloaf of comics. What's disturbing is that it's still got a significant place in the comics nearly a decade after CMS's death.

    Anyway. That's kind of beside the point of my post. I'm fairly certain I read an interview with Kirkman and Scott right around the time that Wanda was pregnant with Wren, saying they were planning to freeze time around the time Wren turned one ... didn't come as a surprise.

    That said, lisa brings up a good point. The title is Baby Blues. How well is that gonna work with an 18 year old Zoe, 15 year old Hammie and a 11 year old Wren?

    Another baby every couple years? How big is their house gonna get retconned? :)

  7. Jim- There were 17,897 Peanuts strips? Wow. Wikipedia is very useful sometimes! I've been to the Charles Schulz museum and didn't know that.

    Thanks for mentioning that the Baby Blues creators intended to freeze the strip... I didn't realize that.

    And yes... it would be silly to have them get too old, because we'd be into Zits territory. Jim Kirkman (the writer of Baby Blues) is the artist on Zits, so I think he doesn't need more teenage characters in his life.

    I think the age freeze in Baby Blues is only part of what's been bugging me. It's also that the strip has grown stagnant. Outside characters have all but disappeared. Bunny is such a great character... there are so many humorous situations there.

    Or, they could throw a curve ball into the strip. The MacPhersons could move... acquire new neighbors.... something different.

  8. I agree, and think you're especially right about not seeing the grandparents and Yolanda and Bunny as much.

    I find it weird that they stopped aging. In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin was always 6 years old from day one. There's no stopping or starting aging. Whereas in Baby Blues, there is definitely a start and stop because the strip didn't start with Zoe, Hammie and Wren where they are now.