Given that comic-strip characters exist in square boxes, it was strange to see them at a roundtable discussion. But there they were on TV, discussing the big issues of our time with host Rachel Keith. Here's a transcript of this historic gathering of two-dimensional talking heads:
RACHEL KEITH: Today's first question is for Cathy of the "Cathy" comic. Do you think huge bonuses for incompetent financial bigwigs pass the "sniff test"?
CATHY: I can't sniff anything. I don't have a nose.
RK: Oops, my bad. Now a query for one of the cartoon crocodiles in "Pearls Before Swine." What happened to Cathy's nose?
CROC: It was laid off during the current economic downturn.
RK: Not true! Cathy has been nose-less since her first funny-page appearance in 1976 -- long before the 2008-9 recession. Do you see my point?
CROC: Maybe, but I don't see Beetle Bailey's eyes. What's up with that?
RK: Beetle, why are your orbs always obscured?
BEETLE: Keeping my cap low helped me fail the Army's eye exam for cartoon characters -- meaning I won't be sent to Afghanistan for a war-zone pummeling. Instead, Sgt. Snorkel can continue to pummel me in the U.S.
RK: A wise move to avoid President Obama's dumb and doomed "surge," even as more American soldiers were killed in Iraq on Friday. Meanwhile, another of our guests is Beetle's sister Lois from "Hi and Lois," who's a real-estate agent. Have any of the homes you've sold been foreclosed by a giant soulless bank?
LOIS: Thankfully, no. With comics printed so small in cost-cutting newspapers, no foreclosing fat cat can fit into the "shrinked" inked borders of "Hi and Lois."
RK: "Fat cat"! That also describes a famous feline who's with me in the studio! Garfield, isn't it great that same-sex marriage is now allowed in Iowa and Vermont?
GARFIELD: Whatever. Why can't I marry my bowl of lasagna?
RK: Don't trivialize two wonderfully welcome human-rights breakthroughs! Dagwood Bumstead, you wouldn't want to marry a huge "Dagwood sandwich," would you?
DAGWOOD: I'm happy with my marriage to Blondie, especially since her election to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.
RK: Um ... cartoon characters do get a bit confused when leaving their newspaper boxes. Isn't that true, Earl the dog from "Mutts"?
RK: "The Boondocks" comic cast left newspapers completely for an animated TV show. But I have these characters as guests today to thank them for satirizing Bush-administration jingoism in the months immediately after 9/11 -- even as the rest of the mainstream media was mostly cowed. Any comments?
BOONDOCKS CAST: We received lots of flak at the time, but subsequent events proved us correct. Only "The Family Circus" had more trenchant political analysis in late 2001.
RK: Chuckle! But perhaps the best topical comic of all is "Doonesbury." For instance, its long-running story about B.D.'s recovery from a devastating war wound in Iraq was brilliant. B.D., how has "Doonesbury" remained so good for 39 years?
B.D.: How should I know? I wore a helmet most of that time.
RK: Unlike "Doonesbury," a number of other older comics are kind of tired. This is especially the case with some "legacy" strips no longer done by their original creators. Could a single-payer plan help?
SNOOPY: We're doing fine with a multi-payer plan, as multiple newspapers pay to publish "Peanuts" even though the comic's been all reruns since our creator died in 2000. We take the "new" out of "newspapers"!
RK: Don't the "Peanuts" repeats also leave less space for contemporary strips such as "Baldo," "Bizarro," "Cafe con Leche," "Cul de Sac," "Rudy Park," "Stone Soup," and various others?
LIO: If I wasn't the title character of a 2006-launched pantomime comic, I'd answer that.
RK: But doesn't the U.S. need national health insurance? We asked that question of Zippy the Pinhead, the surreal cartoon character known for his immortal phrase, "Are we having fun yet?"
ZIPPY: To paraphrase myself, "Are we having funds yet?"
RK: I assume that means there might be few funds left for much-needed health reform after the U.S. pays for the Afghanistan "surge" and the bailout of reckless financial institutions. With better medical care, wouldn't the characters in "Dilbert" look a bit healthier?
DILBERT: The way I, Alice, and other "Dilbert" characters look has more to do with the minimalist way we're drawn. In fact, Alice's "fist of death" may have its own insurance policy.
RK: Well, that does it for today. I had also invited the "Calvin and Hobbes" title characters on the show, but that now-defunct comic's reclusive creator never allowed his boy and tiger to appear anywhere but in newspapers and books. Of course, that cost him tons of money he could have invested with Bernard Madoff, but we all make mistakes. Given that most newspapers still don't publish weekday comics in color, my mistake was putting today's cartoon guests in the green room rather than the black-and-white room.