Eek, the 1940 Edition

By | Tuesday, June 18, 2024 Leave a Comment
Here's yesterday's Eek! by Scott Nickel...
I kind of guessed what the joke was, but I had to do some Googling to confirm it. Dr. Jack Griffin was the title character from the 1933 The Invisible Man movie. Geoffrey Radcliffe is the lead character from the 1940 film The Invisible Man Returns. Kitty Carroll was the lead in the 1940 comedic sequel The Invsible Woman. The gag, then, is that the three contestants are all invisible, making it look like there's no one playing the game.

The problem, though, is that if you don't recognize the names and understand that the characters are invisible, it looks exactly the same as if the three contestants simply are not there. That they never showed up. Or are hiding. Or went missing. Unless you've established invisiblity as a thing in the world of this comic, that's not going to be anyone's go-to explanation for the characters' absence. The "world" of Eek! -- as a single panel gag strip with no continuity -- is only whatever is going on in that day's installment. Everything the reader needs to know about the world of this joke has to be presented within this one panel.

No, to be fair, Nickel does clearly point to an obvious signpost by citing the characters by their full names; he doesn't leave it to the first-name-only signs in front of each contestant. The problem is that, in order to recognize those names, you need to have seen all three of the movies I listed above. Three movies that are at least three quarters of a century old. So it's not really a surprise that the first comment under the strip on is "Don't get it." In fact, of the seven commenters (as of this writing) four of them openly acknowledge not understanding it at all until it was explained to them.

"But, Sean," you might ask. "The Invisible Man isn't unique to those movies. It's based off a H.G. Wells book that's been adapted and republished many times."

Except Wells never offered a full name for his character. He's always and only called Griffin. And while he does perform scientific experiments, we don't know that he's a doctor of any kind. "Jack" was specificlly added for the 1933 movie starring Claude Rains. Furthermore, other film versions offer different first names: Frank (1942), Robert (1944), and Adrian (2020). Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992) calls the main character Nick Halloway. The 1958 Invisible Man television series calls the character Dr. Peter Brady, the 1975 TV series lead is called Daniel Westin, and the 2005 animated series uses Alan Crystal. The Hollow Man series calls the character Michael Griffin and the 2000 show The Invisible Man went so far in a different direction that the character was entirely changed, now becoming a thief named Darien Fawkes. Of all the television adaptations, only the 1984 series calls the character Griffin like the original novel. In comics, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen names him Hawley and The Nobody calls him John Griffen (with an 'e'). The Big Finish audio adaption of the original novel and the Hotel Transylvania animated movies follow Wells' original conception by only referring to the character as simply Griffin. "Jack Griffin" is the character pretty exclusively as played by Rains.

Geoffrey Radcliffe is only formally used in the one 1940 movie. The actor Vincent Price offers his voice up for (theoretically) a reprisal of the same character in 1948's Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein but the character is never named there. Kitty Carroll is never referenced outside of the character's single movie.

The characters cited in the Eek! comic are obscure enough now that searching on those names yields primarily real people with the same names. Jack Griffin is a senior advisor at investment banking firm DeSilva+Phillips; Geoffrey Radcliffe is the CMO at Michaelson Law; and Kitty Carroll was a young girl that sadly drowned in Texas back in 2015. If you are able to guess the basic idea of the comic and search on "the invisible man" the initial results are about the 2020 movie. A search on "invisible woman" yields mostly results for the Marvel Comics character and a search on "the invisible woman" initially turns up a 2013 movie in which the 'invisible' of the title is more metaphoric than literal and has no even conceptual connection to any of the aforementioned stories or ideas.

If you happen to know any of the three characters' names mentioned in the comic, it's probably Jack Griffin. It was the most successful of those three movies and the proximity of the name to other similar characters means some people are likely to conflate multiple versions. Maybe they read the original book years ago and just assume the character's first name was Jack and they must have forgotten that specific detail. "Radcliff" and "Carroll" are only ever used in one movie each, and both of those films did not perform as well as the original. (Though, to be clear, they were considered commercially and critically successful at the time. Just not as successful as the original.)

My point -- as it frequently is when ranting about newspaper comic jokes -- is that using expressly dated material is never a good option. Normally, my complaint is a cartoonist being somewhat out of the loop by referencing themes and ideas that are a decade or two out of date. I think this is the first comic I've complained about that uses references that are over eight decades out of date!
Newer Post Older Post Home