"Sally Forth" used to be one of those strips that you only read because it was almost entertainingly bad. Then, in 1999, Francesco Marciuliano took over the writing and gradually transformed it into something so odd that it has climbed to the top tier of my favorites.
Sally herself has always been a traffic cop character, watching and commenting on what goes on around her. What Ces did was to make what goes on around her increasingly surrealistic, by doing things like having her daughter, Hillary, begin to comment on the world with a wry awareness that sometimes makes her seem like a real-world Charlie Brown.
That is, Hillary has insights a very bright and perceptive middle-school kid might have, but that a kid that bright would have no place to voice. Fortunately for her, Ces has brought in a couple of characters to be her equally off-center friends, one of whom was profiled recently in the new King Features blogs.
But it is Sally's husband, Ted, who has brought the strip into the must-read category. I have a long rant about "Leave it to Beaver" that I will save for another day, but, putting it briefly, the hipsters who refer to that show as the quintessential symbol of 1950s suburban blandness have apparently never watched the show, which had both nuance and quite a bit of social consciousness.
If they actually knew the genre, they would refer, rather, to "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" which was much more stunningly out of touch with the real world, and Ces has seized on that bland lack of focus as a plot point within "Sally Forth," transforming Ted into a suburban husband whose insubstantial nature has gone from being a flaw in the strip to being a major feature.
And he's done that by giving Ted an inner life that borders on disassociation, to the point where, he reports, in a blog post on the topic, "one day my editor called me with an emergency message– 'You’re making Ted Forth insane. Stop it.'”
Thank goodness nobody ever really listens to editors. Ces did kind of chill on the more clinically referable elements, but he's left Ted dangling out on the edge, with enough obsessions and unwarranted assumptions about the world around him that the strip continues to ...
... but enough. Having not forced my whole "Leave it to Beaver" rant on you, dear Reader, I will also spare you an equally insistent rant on the metaphorical structure of "Green Acres" until another time.
Instead, I will close by complimenting Ces on being one of the few syndicated cartoonists who, as today's final panel makes clear, recognizes that not every potential reader of his strip is 50 years old and capable of understanding cultural references that go back four decades.
Yes, like "Leave it to Beaver," "Green Acres" and -- godhelpus -- "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet."