|Tom the Dancing Bug|
|Launch date||June 1990New York Perspectives)(on|
|Syndicate(s)||Quaternary Features (1990–1997)|
Universal Press Syndicate/Universal Uclick/Andrews McMeel Syndication (1997–present)
|Publisher(s)||HarperPerennial, NBM Publishing, Andrews McMeel Publishing|
|Genre(s)||Humor, Politics, Satire|
Tom the Dancing Bug is a weekly satirical comic strip by cartoonist and political commentator Ruben Bolling that covers mostly US current events from a liberal point of view. The strip appears in mainstream and alternative weekly newspapers, as well as on the Boing Boing website. Tom the Dancing Bug won the 2007, 2008 and 2009 Association of Alternative Newsweeklies Awards for Best Cartoon. In 2011, the strip was awarded the Sigma Delta Chi Award for editorial cartooning by the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2017, Bolling won the Herblock Prize for his work on the strip.
As Bolling recounted in an interview:
|“||I started Tom the Dancing Bug in 1990 in a small New York newspaper. It was called New York Perspectives, then it was called New York Weekly, then it was called "bankrupt." But before it went bankrupt, I was able to sell the strip to a few other papers. For seven years, I was sending packages out and following up with phone calls, trying to get editors to run the strip. I ended up selling it to about 60 newspapers [under the name Quaternary Features]. I was surprised at the success I had, especially in selling to daily newspapers. I didn't think it would be my market.
In 1997, the Universal Press Syndicate approached me and asked if we could work together. That came at just the right time, as I was starting a more serious day job, and I was about to have my first baby. I just didn't have the time and energy to devote to the selling of the strip. I decided that whatever job they did would be better than whatever I could put forth at that time.
Recurring characters and segments
Tom The Dancing Bug has no real narrative continuity. The title itself is a dadaist non-sequitur, as there is no character called "Tom The Dancing Bug" ever seen or referred to in the strip.
Some individual strips are one-shot "stand-alone" presentations, but certain recurring features within the strip are seen regularly on a rotating basis. One of the most popular recurring segments, "Super-Fun-Pak Comix", appears roughly once every month or two, and is dealt with in a separate entry, below. Other features currently seen on a fairly frequent basis include:
- God-Man: The Superhero With Omnipotent Powers!: Placed in normal superhero situations, God-Man fights villains like Nietzsche-lad, Dr. Moral Relativism and Blasphemy Boy. God-Man's "mundane identity" (when he does not want to attract suspicion) is Milton Baxter. God-Man occasionally solves problems by re-creating the universe and organizing the atoms so that the problem is prevented in the first place. Bolling, speaking in an interview about readers who take offense to the God-Man strips, said "God-Man isn't actually God. He is a straw man that I'm using to make fun of some people's very simplistic views about religion and philosophy." Billy Billings is "God-Man's Pal", a parody of Jimmy Olsen.
- Louis Maltby is an introverted kid with a major guilt complex. He's featured in segments "Games Louis Plays", which describe how Louis looks at the world, and "The Education of Louis", which show his confusion at the world around him. Louis is used to make social commentary by displaying how school and society treats him, and may be semi-autobiographical. He also sometimes appears in other segments when a kid is needed, and has on at least one occasion appeared in a superhero parody in the guise of his alter-ego, 'The Passive-Aggressor'.
- Lucky Ducky: The Poor Little Duck Who's Rich In Luck, is a recurring segment purportedly presented by Wall Street Journal Comix. Lucky Ducky first appeared in 2002, after The Wall Street Journal editorialized against progressive tax policies, calling poor workers "lucky duckies" because they have a smaller federal income tax burden. In his appearances in Bolling's strip, Lucky Ducky is an anthropomorphic duck who despite being homeless, destitute, and working in a crummy job always manages to enrage his nemesis, the very wealthy Hollingsworth Hound. Hollingsworth (who usually has a much more prominent role in this segment than the title character) views any source of joy, comfort or financial support in Lucky's life to be coming at the expense of the very rich, like himself. As an example, when Lucky is severely injured, and the emergency room accepts him as an indigent patient, Hollingsworth is apoplectic with rage at the "lucky" break the nearly comatose Lucky has received. Typically, the strip will end with a bruised, jailed, and/or exploited Lucky saying "Gotcha!" to an enraged Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth Hound has also occasionally been seen in solo adventures.
- News of the Times parodies current events, in a fashion somewhat reminiscent of The March of Time newsreels.
- Judge Scalia is an extremist version of the U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, used to criticize Justice Scalia's Supreme Court opinions and overall judicial philosophy.
- Did You Know? points out "Fun Facts" in all sorts of things, poking fun at statistic-and-tidbit-obsessed society. The cult of celebrity is also a frequent target, with subversive trivia such as Nicole Kidman had to work as a waitress before she became famous, and not a single person asked her for her autograph and claiming that the Universe has never been nominated for an Oscar.
- Chagrin Falls is a recurring feature about the Smythes, a typical Middle American family.
- Bob is the extremely average male. He sits at home drinking beer and watching scrambled porn on TV on the weekends, and tries to avoid doing chores and other household duties. During the week, he works (or more often daydreams) in the cubicle by the elevator.
- Harvey Richards Esq., Lawyer for Children is about a lawyer who works for children by using the standard children's tricks for getting out of things or getting people to do things ("My fingers were crossed!" "I called no crossies!"). The point is that lawyers act an awful lot like young children. The character has been optioned for a feature film by New Line Cinema, to be co-produced by Universal Press Syndicate's AMUSE division.
Other segments have appeared regularly in the past. While none of these features have been seen since 2011, they may recur again at any time:
- Brain in a Beaker.
- Charley is an australopithecine—a less-developed hominid from the pliocene epoch. He does not have some of the more advanced emotions of humans. He has a taste for grape soft drinks. He appears to be a satire of Curious George.
- Billy Dare, Boy Adventurer parodies the clichés used in boy adventurer stories. Billy is very similar in appearance to Tintin, the famous Belgian comics adventurer.
- Sam Roland, the Detective Who Dies is a Sam Spade-esque noirish private detective, except that he always dies.
- James K. Poult, a Mallard Fillmore parody, is an "unbiased media chicken" with multiple conservative media outlets. He was seen briefly as a supporting character in a Hollingsworth Hound story in 2013, but has not had a "starring" role in any strip for several years.
- The Outer Reaches of Plot Twists parodies The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits, showing stories that use multiple plot twists to the point that suspension of disbelief is difficult to achieve.
- Larry Dodson is an "average joe" type character whom the art world has called "the most important artist of the 21st century."
- Nate the Neoconservative is a neoconservative who refuses to admit his mistakes.
- The Impossible Squad is a military squad of stereotypical 'tough guys', all sergeants that list 'explosives' as their expertise except for one member (whose specialty is usually extremely different from his squadmates). They consider explosives to be the only way to complete any mission. However, the 'different' member will always suggest another solution based on his skills but his idea is usually shot down by the rest of the team (probably because it doesn't involve the direct use of explosives).
- Hollywood Tales are stories that depict Hollywood celebrities, featuring realistic (but static) likeness of their faces, in humorous situations.
- The Ghost of James Caan is a character introduced in a Hollywood Tales story concerning actor Zac Efron. He is supposed to be the disembodied spirit of actor James Caan, despite the fact that Caan is (as of the time of his ghost's introduction) still very much alive. This is also true within the comic, causing confusion to the other characters that appear alongside him. The Ghost of James Caan now makes occasional appearances in "Super-Fun-Pak Comix", below.
A recurring feature, Super Fun-Pak Comix consists of four to six smaller strips, grouped together. These collections of smaller comic strips poke fun at the typical conventions and clichés of modern comic strips. For example, they commonly make fun of stereotypical New Yorker cartoon settings, such as two people sitting across a desk or a husband and wife at home reading the paper. Individual comics can also be based around peculiar or bizarre concepts, like 'Funny Only to Six-year-olds' or 'Comic Designed to Fit Vertical Spaces'. Many Fun-Pak strips are one-offs, but there are also numerous recurring strips, and occasionally, some Fun-Pak space is taken up by a fake ad for unlikely products. As well, some recurring long-form Tom The Dancing Bug comics occasionally make Fun-Pak appearances in a shorter format, and a few recurring Fun-Pak characters (Percival Dunwoody, Dinkle) have made appearances in a long-form strip.
Currently recurring mini-strips (not always seen in every Fun-Pak) include:
- Percival Dunwoody, Idiot Time Traveller from 1909 is in awe of the modern age, although he is also amazed by things that existed well before 1909, including lightbulbs, dogs and hands. However, he is aware of his own idiocy. Later strips have revealed him to be unfamiliar with the mechanics of time travel and causality (for example, believing that accidentally interfering with someone in the future could prevent his own birth).
- Dinkle, The UnLovable Loser is a parody of such characters as Ziggy or The Born Loser, with the catch being that his status as a loser is completely justified because he is truly un-lovable; he is narcisstic and typically exhibits obnoxious attitudes, such as anti-Semitism, and sociopathic behaviour, ruthlessly exploiting everyone he encounters.
- Marital Mirth is a parody of The Lockhorns. The strip concerns a middle-aged married couple in an extremely unhappy relationship, and is supposedly drawn by bitter (fictional) cartoonist Rex Feinstein.
- Doug is an anthropomorphic cartoon creature who is too generically drawn to be any particular type of animal. He is not of high intelligence and has few real talents. The How to Draw Doug scripts make fun of Doug's rather pathetic life.
- Darthfield reimagines the cartoon character of Garfield the cat as Darth Vader.
- Phil Collins is a comic strip about, unsurprisingly, Phil Collins. In recent Fun-Pak strips, he has been teamed up with The Ghost of James Caan.
- Science Facts for the Immature presents a scientific fact which is either a double entendre or is followed by a punchline based on bodily humor. Variations of this mini-strip have included Science Facts for the Depressed and Science Facts for the Internet-Addled.
- Various Superhero comics, featuring superheroes with names and traits that parody superheroes in general. Examples include 'Talk-Up-His-Secret-Identity Man' and 'Garish-Skintight-Lycra-Outfit Man'.
- Hillbilly Bill, of The Hills is a parody of Barney Google and Snuffy Smith.
- Classix Comix/Comix Playhouse is an extremely shortened comic form of famous plays and novels. This is apparently a reference to Classics Illustrated, a series that provided classic books in shortened comic form.
- Comics for the Elderly (formerly "Hey, Old People! Comics!") shows old people giving ornery advice to young people and the young people quickly accepting it.
The following mini-strips were previously recurring, though they have not appeared in a Fun-Pak since 2011. However, they may recur again at any time:
- Uncle Cap'n is an old lazy pirate who swears and makes you do his work for him through supposed 'puzzles' and 'fun' (but usually illegal) activities. He is a parody of Cappy Dick.
- Selfish Gene is about a boy named Gene who only acts in ways that are beneficial to him under the framework of sociobiology. This is a reference to Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene.
- Elevator Ride of the Damned is dreadful elevator conversation in comic form.
- Stock Sitcom Gags Presented in Comic Form is self-explanatory.
- Funny, Funny Celebs shows celebrities saying inane things as a parody of the respect we give to celebrities and actors.
- Chaos Butterfly parodies the butterfly effect. Each strip features a butterfly in Brazil flapping its wings and indirectly causing something unpleasant to happen to a man in Chicago some time later.
- Killjoy was Here features Killjoy, a man who ruins any attempt at a funny dialogue by spouting out depressing facts on global issues such as poverty.
- The Epic/Brutal Report is a two-panel comic based on the good news/bad news gag. The first panel has a teenager relaying the 'good news' to his friends, who then exclaim 'Epic!'. In the second panel, he will tell them the 'bad news', to which his friends exclaim 'Brutal!'. The 'bad news' is always extremely disproportional and/or outlandish relative to the 'good news'.
- Larry is a bespectacled man who converses with sight gags usually found in comic strips such as 'Flying Sweat' or 'Flying Feet'.
- This Is Not A Comic Strip strips are instead metacritical deconstructions of the typical newspaper comic strip.
- Oh That <insert noun>! are parodies of the 'mischievous pet' comic strips, but with the pets replaced by stranger characters such as a wolverine or actor Matthew Modine.
- Yuks are one-panel comics that show a character talking to others using very long dialogues.
After September 11, 2001, Bolling used the Super Fun Pak Comix format to acknowledge the events — the punchline to each one of the comics was "Terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, killing thousands".
As of May 12, 2014, Super Fun-Pak Comix will be seen daily on gocomics.com
Three book-form collections have been published:
- 1992: Tom the Dancing Bug (HarperPerennial) ISBN 0-06-096949-0
- 1997: All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned From My Golf-Playing Cats (NBM Publishing) ISBN 1-56163-183-3
- 2004: Thrilling Tom the Dancing Bug Stories (Andrews McMeel Publishing, oversized treasury) ISBN 0-7407-4737-1
Best Cartoon from the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies: finalist in 2001 and 2004, First Place in 2002, 2003, and 2006.
- "Tom the Dancing Bug Blog". Gocomics.typepad.com. Retrieved 2014-02-22.
- Pikul, Corrie (2005-01-14). "The mystery man behind "Tom the Dancing Bug"". Archived from the original on 2006-07-19.
- Bolling, Ruben (2010-03-22). "Salon, so long". Retrieved 2010-03-29.
Salon.com has informed me that they have canceled Tom the Dancing Bug.... I was told that the cancellation was made because of 'severe budget constraints,' and that traffic for the comic continued to be good.
- Bolonik, Kera (2006). "The world according to Ruben Bolling".
- Manjoo, Farhad (2002), "March of the "lucky duckies"", Salon, retrieved 2010-05-13
- Bolling, Ruben (2001-09-29). "Tom the Dancing Bug Comic Strip, September 29, 2001 on GoComics.com". Tom the Dancing Bug. GoComics.com. Retrieved 13 May 2010.
- Tom the Dancing Bug comic strips at gocomics.com