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There's more to Tech comics than meets the eye

Column/By Adam Braff

The Tech arts staff is often picked on for critiquing MIT student events with unfair bile, using professional standards. While I can't admit to holding this view myself -- in part because the arts editor is my girlfriend -- I find a small amount of irony in the students' overly harsh attitude toward Tech comics.

Witness the critical letter which ran Oct. 27. A sophomore off-handedly denounced "Nick" and "Fub," the first as dorky and the second as confounding. Outside of "House," he wrote, Tech comics suck.

Taken on the lowest, most straightforward level, his statement rings true. The American Heritage Dictionary lists three definitions of the intransitive verb suck. The act of sucking can, for instance, be construed simply to comprise drawing in nourishment. In this mode, we see that "Jim's Journal" most certainly does suck, as it takes in information about the world around us and, to continue the metaphor, spits it out at us. As a result, we become awash in the warmth of the college experience, whether at MIT or the University of Wisconsin, where the strip is drawn.

An alternative definition of suck, to draw in as if by suction, is a crystalline interpretation of "Nick." The artist, Chris Doerr '89, has posited an all-suffering, everyman Nick, a symbol of imbalance and anomie at the Institute. By exploring the twin themes of Crew as Physical Torture and Computer Science as Mental Torture, Doerr launches a two-pronged attack on all that is painful at our school.

A newer strip, "House," poses an intriguing challenge to the reader. While some object to the strip's ethnic stereotyping, occasional poor taste, and misspellings, it is important to remark on the artistic capability of David Kim '90. Although the character House, for example, has but tiny dots for eyes, he perceives his brothers' faults with deadly, violent accuracy. By drawing each member of the Beta Phi Delta frat with outlandishly broad shoulders and thick trunks for upper arms, Kim shows us that Greek organizations accelerate the growth process exponentially, making timid ethnic boys into beautiful Aryan behemoths.

"Fub," by Taro Ohkawa '91, is the black sheep (tree sloth? teddy bear?) of Tech comics. Ohkawa's pointillist style lends itself well to the strip's theme of behaviorism. As Fub is made of points, so we all are made of mere molecules. Ohkawa's piercing attack on Descartes and dualism in general is reinforced by the soulless brutality frequently summoned by Fub.

The votes are not yet in on "Nermal" and "Laboratory Mice," premiering in the last issue and the next one, respectively. Staunch comics connoisseurs recognize "Nermal" as the name of a saccharine kitten in Jim Davis' "Garfield," well before Davis lost his mind and entered his "Dark, Brooding Garfield" phase. The Nermal of Christopher Montgomery '93 is a sort of airborne fish; judging from the artist's well-timed dig at Lobdell in the first installment, the strip would appear to be political rather than comic. Indeed, it could conceivably be anything but comic.

Emanuel Kwak '90, the creator of "Laboratory Mice," shows us the pitiful lives of two rodents trapped, much as we readers are, in a hostile environment with too much lab equipment. A Hemingwayesque dialogue runs above the barren sketches of animals at work and at play, smoking and drinking beer just as actual college students do. By comparing MIT students to mice, Kwak shows us just how empty our lives have become.

(Professional strips, on the other hand, are often less profound than MIT strips, but compensate for this by being funny. Sometimes. "Eyebeam," a frequent exception to the rule which says you get what you pay for, has stopped being paid for. In its place, The Tech is proud to present Matt Groening's counter-culture rabbit strip, "Life in Hell," coming soon.)

The point of this is that a) comics are not to be taken seriously, and b) The Tech is a student newspaper. Just as we may print a mediocre letter to the editor or a weak book review, we are inclined to run a so-so comic strip and pray that it improves, rather than kill budding talent with outright rejection. If a strip is bad, and if the artist's friends tell him so, he will face his drawing board with greater trepidation each week until one day he decides to put away his pen for good.

Until the current surplus of student funnies dwindles, we welcome constructive criticism of Tech comics and any other aspect of the paper. Laudatory mail is, of course, preferable.

who

Adam Braff, a junior in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, is a columnist for The Tech. His unpublished cartoon, "Cocoa," chronicles the life of MIT's First Dog.

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By exploring the twin themes of Crew as Physical Torture and Computer Science as Mental Torture, Doerr launches a two-pronged attack on all that is painful at our school.

[ufsandwich,1,1,1]Nermal is a sort of airborne fish; judging from the artist's well-timed dig at Lobdell in the first installment, the strip would appear to be political rather than comic.

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By exploring the twin themes of Crew as Physical Torture and Computer Science as Mental Torture, Doerr launches a two-pronged attack on all that is painful at our school.

[ufsandwich,1,2,1]Nermal is a sort of airborne fish; judging from the artist's well-timed dig at Lobdell in the first installment, the strip would appear to be political rather than comic.