Like a lot of kids, I grew up reading the comics in the newspaper. For as long as I can remember, though, the desire felt almost compulsive. They were cartoons, I was a kid, there wasn’t enough time to watch a real cartoon before I had to go to school, ergo comics. It wasn’t because they were as entertaining as what I could be watching if we didn’t have to leave so early; it wasn’t because they were visually arresting; and it certainly wasn’t because they were funny.
While my dad had his bastion of dad jokes, ready to doll out at a moment’s notice on me or unsuspecting service industry employees everywhere, my mom only had one: “The funnies aren’t very funny today.” Over time, I began to realize that while this was partially her attempt at humor, it was also an apt assessment. Could I get a smile out of the comics? Maybe. A chuckle? Meh. Existential angst as to why I spent every morning preparing to do something I didn’t want to do for eight hours by doing something I didn’t want to do? Eight-year-old me was all about existential angst. Confusingly, the only comics that I consistently, actually laughed at were Outland, which stopped running when I was ten; and, for some reason, Dilbert.
I don’t subscribe to a newspaper now, though I’ll look at my parents’ Houston Chronicle when I visit them. Not much has changed. Whatever humor I once found in Dilbert is gone, lost amidst repetition and that unforgiveable costume change (I do not want to live in a world where Dilbert does not wear a curly tie. Or where Scott Adams is a Trump supporter). Garfield is still doing his thing. Funky Winkerbean is still a strip apparently set in an alternate nightmare realm from which there is no escape. The funnies still aren’t funny.
Here’s the thing, though: they ought to be. Starting your day out with a laugh is actually good for you, and can have a positive impact on everything to follow. A 2008 study by Berk, Ten, and Berk found that laughter helps to decrease levels of the stress hormones cortisol and catecholamine, while James Rotton of Florida International University found that hospital patients who were consistently shown funny movies requested fewer doses of painkillers or tranquilizers. Beginning your day with a laugh sets you on your way with a lower starting level of stress and a higher tolerance for any discomfort to come. What’s a person to do, then? What happens when the funnies aren’t funny, but don’t get funnier?
As with most other things in life, the internet’s got you covered. While they may not be syndicated in thousands of papers nationwide, these comics are accessible to millions on the world wide web—and, unlike their print bretheren, they’re consistently awesome.
You may know Liz Climo as either the author of some seriously adorable children’s books or as one of the animators on The Simpsons. What you may not know is that Climo is also the mind behind The Little World of Liz Climo, a comic strip detailing the awkward personal lives of animals. Think a less crude, more surreal version of Seinfeld, but with beavers and crocodiles. In Climo’s world, animals have human personalities, but still retain their instinctual traits and behaviors, so you’ve got situations where, say, a beaver at a dinner party compulsively eats his host’s furniture. More often than not, though, there’s also a heavy dose of absurdism thrown into the mix—one strip features a pair of penguins who want to skateboard, but, knowing they need protective gear, purchase kneepads. The penguins then become confused as to whether or not they even have knees, leading to their going skateboarding with the kneepads strapped to their backs. It’s cute, it’s bizarre, and it’s consistently reliable for a laugh. In fact, Climo’s 2015 strip-a-day calendar was so beloved that the 2016 edition sold out shortly after its release, with copies going for several hundred dollars on Amazon. Such is the power of the Climo.
Confirming every conspiracy crank’s paranoia that they’re being watched, Catana Chetwynd has seemingly planted a closed circuit camera in the homes of happy couples everywhere and is secretly recording their most endearing—but embarrassing—moments. Exploding onto the scene just last year after her boyfriend uploaded some of her doodles to the internet, Catana Comics became the quiet, cute juggernaut of 2016, amassing twelve-thousand Twitter followers, a book deal, and the unquestioning love of readers in multiple languages. The strip gravitates around the lives of Catana and John, fictionalized, roly-poly versions of Chetwynd and her boyfriend, going about everyday life. The strip’s Catana is a wide-eyed, blank-faced spaz to straight-man John, who spends most strips vacantly smiling at her antics. If you are or have ever been in a good relationship, you’ll see an eerie reflection of yourselves—and it’s awesome.
Someone once told me, “Family Circus isn’t meant to make you laugh, it’s meant to make you go ‘awww’.” I think that’s a pretty apt assessment—but, imagine if it was meant to make you go “aww” and also provide a chuckle. That about sums up the world of Pusheen. Less laugh-out-loud than the other cartoons on this list (unless, I’m told, you own a cat), Pusheen is a morbidly obese cat with endless optimism and a bubbly sense of humor. Much of the joy of the strip comes from the fact that, like Porg, Pusheen seems to have been genetically engineered for adorableness—there’s just something about the little ball of fur and lard that brings a smile to your face regardless of your mood. More sporadic than Climo or Catana, you can get your Pusheen fix through the endless memes and merch it’s inspired.
If Pusheen is genetically engineered for cuteness, than Poorly Drawn Lines was created in some sort of secret, underground research facility dedicated to humor. And then all of the scientists killed themselves because they realized they would never create anything funnier. That’s the kind of joke that PDL would have. The brainchild of Reza Farazmand, who might be the most hilarious person walking the planet today. He’s somehow managed to find the perfect intersection of surrealism, absurdism, existentialism, profanity, and cuteness, and at that nexus lies a kingdom of gun-toting space bears and philosophical bearded children doing battle with the wolf king. PDL is where comedy goes to die and then be reborn as super comedy. The most consistent of the strips on this list– Farazmand updates every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday—it’s also the funniest, smartest, and most out-loud-laugh inducing. Go. Go read it now.