This Modern World
is a weekly satirical comic strip
and political commentator Tom Tomorrow
(aka Dan Perkins) that covers current events from a liberal point of view. Tomorrow also runs a weblog that informs readers about stories of interest, often presented as a follow up to his cartoons. This Modern World appears mainly in alternative weekly newspapers, and is arguably the most popular of the "alt" comics.
Visually This Modern World draws inspiration from a retro, 1950s sensibility, with brightly colored illustrations that are also inspired by clip art. Initially, the strip was almost completely composed of actual vintage clip art and magazine cutouts, assembled collage-style and often manipulated and retouched. However, Tomorrow has gradually replaced cutouts with his own drawings, which merely mimic the clip art look. Usually drawn in four panels, it is not uncommon for all panels to be identical or nearly so, with only the dialogue and/or facial expressions changing.
The '50s theme extends to the typically verbose dialogue of his human characters which is often bubbly, over-enthusiastic, and naïve. The stupidity of the humans is countered by Sparky, a fast-talking penguin (although the strip occasionally postulates he is actually an auk) with a red visor, who provides much of the strip's political commentary.
A recurring theme in the comic books (though far less so in the strips) was that of "reality engineering", wherein "the very fabric of space and time" is mined for "the good of mankind". This periodically generates "reality discontinuities", where reality breaks down. These are (generally) resolved by reality engineers.
The series has been through several incarnations through the years, the first of which was actually a comic book published in the late 1980s. Characters include:
Tom Tomorrow (fictional)
In an "intermediate" version of the strip, a character named
Tom Tomorrow was in the strip. He was a private eye
who was dressed in a radiation suit
so his face was never seen. He was eventually phased out.
Dippy the Wonder-Penguin
Tom Tomorrow's sidekick. His vocabulary was limited to "wank".
Sparky the Wonder Penguin
A sort of upgraded version of Dippy (who had been phased out by the time of Sparky's introduction), Sparky can actually talk. Similar to Dippy, Spark's first words in the strip are "George [H. W.] Bush is a wanker
". A strong liberal advocate, he briefly became a Republican
after being hit on the head with a random falling toilet.
Blinky the Dog
A small dog (Boston Terrier
) who shares some of Sparky's political sympathies. Normally very mellow, he briefly became a radical when steroids were put into his food when he was intended to replace the then-Republican Sparky.
Mr. Friendly is in charge of the advertising section of This Modern World (thus breaking the fourth wall
). It was he who introduced Sparky the Penguin. He appears only occasionally.
Dr. Wilbur von Philbert
One of the longest-running characters in the strip, Dr. von Philbert is the person who discovered how to mine reality for energy.
Biff and Wanda
Two blow-dried anchorpeople
of the "Action McNews", a newscast in which Tomorrow suggests that most TV news
is little more than PR spin. A Biff and Wanda strip almost always ends with a cut to a commercial break ("Now, these messages!")
Biff and Betty
Biff and Betty are two archetypes
of 1950s people, who sometimes share their thoughts on the modern world. Biff often appears alone with Sparky, expressing a naive conservative opinion which invariably prompts a ranting liberal rebuttal from the penguin.
Conservative Jones and Moonbat McWacky
Conservative Jones and Moonbat McWacky are two children used in the strip to satirize conservative talking points. Conservative, who is dressed as a detective, asks Moonbat questions about politics. Moonbat gives reasonable answers, which the Conservative turns into illogical statements about liberals.
Tom occasionally appears in his own strips, this time as himself (again, breaking the fourth wall
All the presidents since Ronald Reagan
have appeared, as well as other political and media figures. Rush Limbaugh
is a favorite caricature subject, although he usually talks through a radio and is not personally shown. (He was once, however, depicted as a pig, in a strip parodying the film The Mask
.) Conservative columnist Ann Coulter
is often the target of particularly unflattering caricatures, usually popping up in the middle of a strip to make a typically inflammatory remark, ending with a guttral "Haw haw haw!" laugh. In a few strips, George W. Bush
gets hold of what appears to be the DeLorean
from Back to the Future
and goes back in time to meet the founding fathers
The strip occasionally visits a parallel Earth
, a deliberate parody of our own world. A "small cute dog" was elected as commander-in-chief in their 2000 presidential election, and re-elected in 2004.
Other recurring elements
Supergiant Conglomerated Corporation
A fictitious, stereotypical big business
in an unspecified industry, but appears to represent the military-industrial complex
. This company has been portrayed as being unethical, manipulative, obsessed with spin
, and environmentally unfriendly. Occasionally written as "Supergiant Amalgamated Corporation".
The (presumably local) TV news program on which Biff and Wanda are anchors.
- The Great Big Book of Tomorrow (a collection of the cartoons from 1992 - 2002)