Monday, May 14, 2012


Obscurity of the Day: Boomers' Song

David Horsey began honing his craft of editorial cartooning at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1979, and was eventually the recipient of two Pulitzers (so far), in 1999 and 2003. But like most op-ed cartoonists, he also gamely tried out his luck with a syndicated comic strip. January 6 1986 saw the debut of Boomers' Song from Tribune Media Services. The strip was a look at life for baby-boomers, hence the name of the strip. In the 1980s, Baby Boomers were in their late-20s to late-30s, and the driving force behind the American economy and culture. The boomers came in for a lot of criticism, some self-imposed, for their egomania, their love of money, and their self-serving politics. When compared with the previous generation, the hippies, they seemed incredibly banal and self-centered.

The cast, which is never really formally introduced as best I can tell, is a group of boomers, plus one former hippie, who all live in the small Woodstock Apartments complex. The large cast gives Horsey plenty of types to work with and lots of options for cast interactions. The problem is that it just never seems like Horsey had something really important to say about the boomers -- there seems no urgent need to connect with the reader. The better gags are like material from faux-edgy SNL skits, the lesser ones like the humor from a Family Ties episode. The same tired tropes about boomers are trotted out again and again to readers who were already bombarded with this sort of observational humor at the time. There's really nothing wrong with the writing, it just doesn't seem to be a subject in which Horsey has all that much interest, or the benefit of a unique viewpoint. In other words, I think the strip was conceived for its marketing potential, not because of any burning need Horsey felt to comment on his generation.

On the other hand, Horsey does better when he tries out extended storylines, which gives the reader more reward than a lukewarm one-liner to encourage them to read the strip every day. And the best part of the strip, no question, is the drawing. As anyone who is familiar with his editorial cartoons knows, Horsey is one heck of a cartoonist. I'd love to see some of Horsey's Sundays from the series, where he'd have some room to really shine, but unfortunately I've never found any in print, only reprinted (without color) in his book Greatest Hits of the '80s.

Boomers' Song began as a daily on January 6 1986, a Sunday seems to have been added a tiny bit late, on January 19, and the strip ran until September 10 1989. According to Horsey, who commented on the strip in Greatest Hits of the '80s, the strip never had more than 65 clients, and he was relieved when the strip was withdrawn from syndication.


I used to read it when in the Seattle PI. It's been getting a lot of bad reviews, but hey, I liked it.

Horsey's now doing editorial cartoons for the LA Times, getting the big audience he deserves.
Most hippies also belonged to the Baby Boomer generation though. Baby Boomers are anyone born between 1946 - 1964. Some of the older boomers were hippies in their youth, but may have become yuppies obsessed with money and status when they got into their 20s and 30s. But they weren't separate generations.
This comment has been removed by the author.
Reposting to remove embarrassing typos:
Where Horsey shines is in his characters' faces. One sunday "Song" was used in a book about facial expressions for the artist as an illustration. In the strip, a corporate Lothario is trying to make a move on one of the office women; over the space of six or so panels, she leads him on, slightly downward, toward a rather anticlimactic brush-off.
The gag isn't that great, and the situations stereotypical and smack of an author who has no real affection for his topic, but watching the Lothario's facial expression deteriorate as the woman gradually, painfully, shuts him down is priceless: He starts with a dazzling, self-confident but blatantly insincere smile, targeting his supposed conquest with laser eyes.
The smile stays on the mouth for a couple panels but the eyes and eyebrows go from dumbfounded to downright panicky until, by the last panel, he looks positively stunned and about as crestfallen as you can get with a phony smile just beginning to fall off your face.
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