Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Comic Relief: Jason Fox

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 13, 2007

Some things about comic strips aren’t not worth remembering

Back when I used to read them regularly, FoxTrot was a standby of my daily morning comic skimming. I even used to read through the books every now and then, and they were pretty good reads. Still, even as a kid, I knew there was something about FoxTrot that separated it from the likes of true comic strip classics like Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes. Revisiting them slightly later on, the deficiency became obvious–when it comes to comic strip predictability and repetitiveness, FoxTrot probably ranks somewhere below one-note comics like Cathy or The Lockhorns, but above such dead-horse-beaters as Dilbert and Garfield.

No comic writer has ever milked the “fourth-panel twist” gag as much as Bill Amend. This twist usually consists of the strip looking like one of the characters is doing something nice or responsible, but in the fourth panel it turning out that they’re being selfish or mean. Some of the more frequent variations on this gag include Peter looking like he’s going to do something responsible, but actually he just wants to be lazy and rock out, Roger looking like he’s going to do something nice for his wife, but actually he just wants to be lazy and eat a lot, and Jason looking like he’s going to do something nice for his sister, but really he’s gonna stick his pet iguana Quincy in her hair or something. I suppose it pre-dates truly dysfunctional family sitcomming by about ten years, but really, that’s nothing to be proud of.

There are only two elements of FoxTrot that I still hold in any significant esteem. One is their Thanksgiving specials, which always brought out the best of the strip. Roger and Peter’s annual goal to match their age in Thanksgiving food helpings is something I flash back to with a smile every time I go back at Thanksgiving for my third or fourth go-round. The second one, as the title of this post would suggest, is the character of Jason Fox.

Jason wasn’t necessarily a great character, per se–every character in FoxTrot generally stuck to two or three plotlines, and Jason was no exception. When Jason was involved in a strip, it was generally on one of three tips–trying to piss off and humiliate his sister, trying to torture his fifth grade teacher, or doing something excessively nerdy. The Paige ones were the most formulaic and boring, the ones where he put his teacher through the wringer or proved his mettle at geekdom were generally the most creative in the strip, which admittedly isn’t saying much.

Still, to people of a certain age and social status, Jason will always be something of a hero–because he was like you, except much, much worse. I can’t imagine that too much of FoxTrot’s target audience identified with Jason or Paige so much, probably because I figure 16 year-old jocks and 14 year-old shopaholics have better things to do with their time to read the comics every morning (and they were probably bigger Funky Winkerbean or Zits fans anyway). But imagine there were plenty of nerdy elementary and middle school readers that saw something of themselves in Jason–nerdy, precocious, attention-demanding and unpopular.

But the beauty thing about Jason Fox is that you knew you would never quite be on his level. Like other Golden Yardstick nerd characters in pop culture like Dwight Schrute, Milhouse Van Hauten or that Toby guy from American Splendor, you could always have Jason as a point of comparison to make yourself feel better. Because as nerdy, precocious or socially inept as you could get, you could never be as bad as Jason was. And for people like us, the importance of characters like that can not be underestimated.

Also, his iguana was kind of cool.

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5 Responses to “Comic Relief: Jason Fox”

  1. Anton said

    More like Funky Winker-didactic. Preachy bastard.

  2. Joe said

    Zits is terrible.

  3. John said

    Re the fourth-panel twist, one thing that I always noticed back when I read it regularly (which at this point is probably 10 years ago) is that there’s almost always an extra joke in the fourth panel as well. There’s the main punchline, and then in the background, in a smaller balloon, someone else makes a little witty aside. I don’t know whether other strips have since picked up on that or not, but when I first noticed it, it seemed pretty unique among the Broom-Hildas and Hagar the Horribles on the comics page.

  4. Andrew Unterberger said

    hey, don’t knock Hagar the Horrible. Strip hasn’t dated a bit in its 700 years.

  5. Anton said

    Bart: Dad, Mom won’t let me read Hagar the Horrible!
    Marge: I just don’t think it’s funny.

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