It's pure happenstance that Classic Shirley & Son came around to one of my very favorite segments in one of my very favorite strips just as the term "conscious uncoupling" became a buzz word.
When the phrase popped up in a pair of otherwise unrelated political cartoons, I Googled it and discovered that Gwyneth Paltrow had used it on her website to let fans know that she and her husband were splitting up but were making a real effort not to be @ssholes about it.
Which was basically the premise of "Shirley & Son." When Jerry Bittle announced its development, I was concerned that it would be one more "Deadbeat Dad" iteration, but he played it with such a sense of reality that I was surprised to learn that he hadn't been through the grinder himself.
And you would think that someone saying that a divorcing couple ought to try not to inflict too much collateral damage on their children and each other would be a good thing, but Paltrow had already angered people by being New Age-y, and so the feeding frenzy was on, further sparked by a separate interview in which she said she envied parents who had a daily routine because her own career field didn't allow for one.
Specifically, she told E! that, while the family was working its way through the dissolution of a decade-long marriage, she would back off taking any acting jobs. Even having limited herself to smaller roles so that she wouldn't have to be on the set every day made for an uncomfortably unpredictable homelife, she said.
Apparently, what she really meant was that parenting is absolutely effortless for everyone else.
I wouldn't have gotten that from what she said -- given that she acknowledged in the same breath that women with 9-to-5 jobs face their own challenges -- but the translation from "what she actually said about establishing a routine" to "what the rich bitch really meant about me-me-me" went viral.
I would think that the old "if you don't like it, don't read it" principle would apply to Paltrow's blog, which, after all, is set up for people who do like her and who want to know what she's up to and what she's thinking. It has certainly never popped up on my computer screen unbidden.
It's a bit like the old joke about the woman who calls the cops over a neighbor who undresses without pulling his shades. When the policeman says the guy's house is too far away to see anything, she says, "Yes, I know. You have to use the binoculars."
But, anyway, "unconscious coupling" is now a sanctioned object of mockery, and we can expect it to become a "thing" on the comics page.
Because there's nothing more worthy of ridicule than a divorcing couple trying as much as they possibly can to avoid hurting their children.
Okay, okay. In all fairness, that won't be the intent.
The intent will be to create a cartoon employing the popular term "conscious uncoupling."
I slugged today's entry "Playing the Buzz Word Game" because there is a style of cartooning that is related to "paranoid turkeys in November" and "brackets in March" and other conceptual phone-ins, in which you take a popular "thing," wed it to another popular "thing" and wrap a cartoon around them both.
For editorial cartoons, I never know whether it's a case of pragmatically trying to latch on to some viral coat tails in hopes that editors will pick up that day's piece, or simply a matter of having pounded your head on the drawing table without results long enough that goddammit it's time to draw something, anything and make deadline.
But when the "conscious uncoupling" comic strips begin hitting in four to six weeks, bear in mind that strip artists have already got their reserved, anchored spot on the funnies page, so that first explanation doesn't apply.
However, be kind and remember that the Muse is like a movie actress: She can't always arrange to show up on schedule.
Speaking of the self-referential
My frequent collaborator, Christopher Baldwin, made his initial splash with Bruno, a fascinating and addictive web comic that lasted nearly as long as Gwyneth Paltrow's marriage, about an obsessively introspective young woman who traveled the world but remained inside her head.
After wrapping up Bruno, and a charming strip called "Little Dee," in which, by stark contrast, the wanderer was mute, he launched "Space Trawler," a sci-fi piece that, while it still bore the hallmark of its maker, was pretty much sci-fi.
Now he's doing "One Way," which delights me because it weds the adventure aspects of "Space Trawler" to the dysfunctional introspection of "Bruno," which I didn't quite realize until this latest page was posted, which, granted, is more Brunoesque than usual.
"One Way" is like "Bruno," only sarcastically funny. That's a rather good mash-up.
Here's a nice write-up explaining the premise but -- to spare you the autoplay popup ad, which makes it their own damn fault if you don't click -- here's the takeaway:
In Christopher Baldwin's latest webcomic, One Way, humanity sends a highly trained crew on a years-long journey to make contact with a distant alien species. The one problem? They've been selected for this mission because no one can stand them—including their fellow crew mates.
After aliens from a faraway system send a message containing their location to Earth, humanity assembles a crew of astronauts and sets them up with a ship capable of carrying them to their destination. But it wasn't just the most qualified astronauts who were selected for this mission—it was also the most expendable. Every member of the crew has pissed someone off, and now they're going to spend years together with no other human contact.
And it hasn't been going so long that you can't readily start here and catch up.