Friday, November 20, 2015

The Appeal of Marmaduke, Explained

Recently, Brad Anderson, the creator of the Great Dane comic, Marmaduke, died.  While the man was fondly remembered among friends and coleagues, the same couldn't be said for his most famous creation.  They say the difference between a cat and a dog is that cats choose their owners while dogs aren't so finicky.  Obviously, Marmaduke didn't get the memo, since upon his first appearance, his demeanor had all the warmth of a Russian prisoner exchange. "YOU.  TAKE ME TO YOUR HOUSEHOLD.  NOW FEED ME."

If you look at the early strips, you'll see a rather grumpy-looking dog with a constantly dour expression on his face.  This would be gradually softened up over the years as he would become extremely popular among the neighbor children and less so among the adults, which would include his owners (who do the actual work of taking care of the dog) and his next-door neighbor who'd share remarkable similarities to Mr. Wilson from Dennis the Menace.
No imitation dogs were harmed in the creation of this comic.
Injury to imitation humans are fair game, though.
The unfunnyness of the comic was such that it was Adrian Monk's (the Obsessive Compulsive Detective) favorite strip.  (To further show how emotionally broken he was)  Apart from selections of devoted fans (of which there's a surprising number) the strips suffer from repetitions of the same Big Dog joke. Brad Anderson said that he based the cartoon dog's actions on regular dog behavior, but Marmaduke's antics were hardly typical of the average dog, even among other Great Danes.  Marmaduke was such a bastion of banal humour that it was amusing in its consistent craft.  The only real source of humour came from the (now defunct) blog, Marmaduke Explained, which went into hyper-informative exposition reiterating what just happened on the single panel, usually some form of being intimidated by a hulking dog capable of improbable feats, such as "Moonwalking".
William Randolph Hearst was indirectly responsible for Krazy Kat and Citizen Kane.
Howard Hugh inspired The Aviator and... Howard Huge.
Some highlights include:

So what baffling rationale could there be for Marmaduke's long-standing tenure?  Could it be the varied expressions and poses that the surprisingly ambidexerious dog could get himself into?
What medium will Robert Murdoch inspire, other than Simpsons levels of self-loathing?
Or is it that kids were amused by the prospect of having a powerful pet who'd fend off your enemies and have fun with you?  Something not unlike Jack Kent's There's no Such Thing as a Dragon, whose titular dragon gets progressively larger the longer he's ignored.  Kind of like Digimon in reverse.

Marmaduke had the same template and setup of Heathcliff (right down to their Sunday strips with the last panel taken up by "amusing" cat/dog anecdotes) where households and neighbors are held under sway by a jerkass pet who rules total dominion by sheer force and intimidation alone. (A trait best exemplified by Garfield)  Another common factor is that both Heathcliff and Marmaduke never say or think a word - everybody else does the talking for them, providing chorus background commentary.  These silent protagonists probably helped influence children's books such as Stephen Kellogg's Pinkerton and Clifford the Big Red Dog.
That large oval black thing on the dog's face isn't a mouth - that's a Nose.
So typical of Hollywood, they ruined that by having a movie with scatological talking dogs, forgetting that they'd already done this successfully with another silent dog movie.
You can never see this movie in another light again.

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