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Below the Beltway

Hall of Lame

There's a fine line between great and grating

By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, March 13, 2005; Page W56

I've just finished reading a new book, a compendium of sports-themed cartoons produced by Charles M. Schulz in the late 1950s. At the time, Schulz was also creating "Peanuts," considered by many to be the greatest comic strip ever. His book of sports cartoons -- titled It's Only a Game -- is fascinating because the characters physically resemble grown-up versions of Lucy and Linus and Schroeder and Charlie Brown. It is also fascinating because, as a creative work, it is totally, hugely, gigantically, humongously . . . bad.

These cartoons give new meaning to the word "gag." They are of that genre of tepid humor where nearly every sentence ends with an exclamation point, because that is the only clue the reader is going to get that the preceding line was funny!

(Eric Shansby)

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Here is one gag: A man has placed his bowling ball in the sink, and says to his wife: "Grind it up in the disposal. I'm giving up the game!"

Here is another: On a tennis court, a man says to his doubles partner:

"This set, let's use a little strategy on them . . . try hitting the ball over the net!"

If you are a writer, or someone engaged in any sort of creative process, this book is extremely encouraging. If Schulz could lay an egg that big and rancid, and yet go on to produce something of blinding brilliance, there is hope for the rest of us. I wonder if other creative geniuses had similarly lame false starts.

Bob Dylan:

She takes just like a woman -- yes, she does,

She makes love just like a woman -- yes, she does,

And she aches just like woman,

But she whines and kvetches and does that stampy-stampy thing with her feet, just like a little girl.

Charles Darwin:

From these many voyages and many months upon the HMS Beagle, I have come to understand that in the infinite complexity of the relations of organic beings to each other and to their conditions of life, there follows an unmistakable pattern governing the survival of species and their adaptation over time, namely: It's not what you know, it's who you know.

William Shakespeare:


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