Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Entry 70: Sheldon

Today we’re talkin’ about good-natured humor centered on quirky-yet-relatable characters. There’s a fine line to walk in comedy between the novel and the familiar. Swing too far to the ‘novel’ side and you risk alienating your audience. Too far to the ‘familiar’ side and your comedy becomes dull. The obvious solution is to keep things close to that divider, never straying too far into either territory. However, today’s comic doesn’t go for obvious. Rather than carefully staying close to the line, this comic metaphorically spreads its arms wide, keeping part of itself firmly entrenched in familiarity even as it reaches into the most absurd depths of novelty. Get ready for the paradoxically bizarre yet eminently approachable antics of Sheldon.

Sheldon, the eponymous character of Sheldon, is in most respects a typical 10-year-old boy. He’s a regular kid, something of a geek, and a billionaire software magnate.

That last bit is the “gimmick” behind the comic. A one-sentence summary of Sheldon would run “It’s about a 10-year-old billionaire who lives with his grampa and a talking duck.” (We’ll get to the talking duck in a moment.) However, that summary really doesn’t give one an idea of what it feels like to read Sheldon. For all his wealth, Sheldon’s lifestyle is largely reminiscent of what it would have been if he hadn’t become rich. Gramps clearly does what he can to make sure Sheldon will grow up to be a well-adjusted adult, coming out of a happy and healthy childhood with as few changes to his home life and routine as possible.

Their family unit consists of Gramps, Sheldon, a duck named Arthur whom Sheldon gave the gift of speech with a software experiment way back at the beginning of the comic, a lizard named Flaco who is Arthur’s adopted son, and a pug named Oso.

You can learn how Arthur, Flaco, and Oso all joined the family if you go through and read the whole comic archive. That’s by no means a requirement to enjoy Sheldon, though. It’s a gag-a-day type comic and almost every installment can be enjoyed on its own without any prior knowledge of the characters or their relationships. I won’t trouble with spoiler warnings because for the most part Sheldon exists in a stable equilibrium. (Sheldon is 10 and he’s been 10 since I was 12.) Occasionally things change in one way or another, and there are occasional callbacks, a few brief storylines, but Sheldon is not about plot; it’s about character and comedy.

Feel free to jump into the archive at any point, to just start keeping up with it starting today, or to jump around a little using the “Random” or the “5 Years Ago Today” buttons. If you do choose to read through the extensive archive (14 years and thousands of installments!) you’ll be rewarded with greater knowledge of, familiarity with, and consequentially love for the characters, as well as the chance to find a multitude of brilliant comics scattered throughout.

One thing that I appreciate about Sheldon is the representation of so many kinds of family. Sheldon’s grampa is raising him on his own, which is a type of family situation that lots of people grow up in, but which isn’t often featured in fiction as such a matter-of-fact arrangement. The comic doesn’t focus on how Sheldon came to be living with Gramps or what happened to his parents; the fact is they have each other and live happy lives with the way things are.

Then there’s Arthur, the family friend who is so close as to actually become part of the family. He’s not exactly a pet, not a brother or a child, but he belongs with them and is entirely accepted. And finally we have Flaco, the lizard that Arthur hatched from an egg he’d found and didn’t even for a moment consider abandoning.

This all brings us back to that whole novelty-meets familiarity point from above: Though grandfather, grandson, talking duck, sentient-yet-speech-impaired lizard is hardly the picture that comes into most people’s head when they think the word “family,” they get along just as many families do. That is to say, they all love each other no matter how much anyone might get on anyone else’s nerves.

Only on a few occasions does Sheldon bring up Sheldon’s parents at all, but when it does I find it invariably heartwrenching. Though Sheldon is a happy kid, usually content with the family he has, there is tragedy in his background, and when that’s brought up the comic doesn’t shy away from it. The most touching example is the story that starts here, detailing the discovery of an old undeveloped roll of film and the memories it holds. That’s probably not an ideal story to start off with if you don’t know much about Sheldon, it’s characters, and their relationships, but once you’ve gained a little familiarity with the comic, I would definitely suggest you read that story, even if you don’t read much else in the archive at all. It is, in my opinion, one of the highlights of the entire comic.

Here I am, making a lighthearted and endearing comic like Sheldon seem all heavy. I’m drawn to the deep, emotional stuff, but that’s not the heart of Sheldon. Sure, maybe I have shed some tears at a few particular spots in the archive, but not nearly so much as I’ve shed laughs. (Um, not that laughs are necessarily the kind of thing one sheds, per se.) Re-reading the archive to write this post, I came across plenty of comics that made me burst into laughter. Most often these are quiet moments between characters, sharing their distinct worldviews and finding conflict or common ground depending on the issue at hand. Sometimes they are quiet moments featuring just one character, expressing some universal experience as only that character could (as in the comic featured below, which is my very favorite Sheldon installment of all time.) Sometimes they are some other kind of thing entirely.

This is one of those comics that I would recommend to almost anyone. The jokes and experiences detailed therein bridge commonalities that we all share with strange thoughts and scenarios that create their own kind of logic. Though Sheldon possesses a pop-cultural sensibility and occasionally uses references and homages to mine for humor, the vast majority of the comic would make sense to anyone, regardless of whether they’d ever seen Star Wars or not. If people who’ve never seen Star Wars can enjoy it, then anybody can enjoy it, that’s what I say.

Sheldon is written and drawn by Dave Kellett, who is also responsible for Drive, a comic I’ve written about previously on this blog. Drive and Sheldon have similar sensibilities and humor styles, but they are very distinct comics. If you like one I recommend giving the other a shot. Out of the two, I think Sheldon is the more accessible and would probably appeal to a somewhat broader audience. If you yearn to grow to know and love a group of characters by witnessing their zany shenanigans over the years, give Sheldon a read!

Next Entry: Sufficiently Remarkable


  1. I used to really like this strip, but recently there has been a series of boring one-panel "zany" strips of various animals, with comments on various body parts as if they were human body parts or items of clothing. DK said that there would be 4-5 of these a month, but after the 17th in a row I bailed, and have not read the comic since.

    1. The run of anatomy strips has now concluded. At this point, the comic resumes as per usual.