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The Wizard of Id

The Wizard of Id is a daily newspaper comic strip created by American cartoonists Brant Parker and Johnny Hart. It began in 1964. In 1997 Brant Parker passed his duties with the strip on to his son Jeff Parker, who had already been involved with creating Id for a decade. Currently the strip appears in some 1,000 newspapers over the world. It is syndicated by Creators Syndicate.

The strip follows the antics of a large cast of characters in a shabby medieval kingdom called Id.

The name for the strip is a play on The Wizard of Oz combined with the Freudian psychological term Id, which represents the instinctive and primal part of the human psyche. From time to time the king refers to his subjects as "Idiots".

Overview

In the early 1960s Johnny Hart, who had become successful among cartoonists for previously creating B.C., began collaborating with a friend who had not been published before, Brant Parker. (Parker would go on to create the strips Crock and Out of Bounds.) Having already made a cartoon about the Stone Age in B.C., Hart advanced through time to the Middle Ages, taking an idea from a deck of playing cards to create the first few strips of The Wizard of Id. The strip was first syndicated on November 9, 1964, drawn by Parker and co-written by Parker and Hart.

The Wizard of Id deals with the goings-on of the run-down, oppressed Kingdom of Id. It follows people from all corners of the kingdom, but concentrates on the court of a tyrannical dwarf-sized monarch, known only as "the King". The jokes center on the idea that people are stuck with the King as their ruler, and that his administration's incompetence has led to a kingdom that is, amusingly, poorly kept. The cast is large for a daily cartoon strip, and there are recurring jokes for each character and for the kingdom itself, so that from day to day it appears as if it were several comic strips based in the same place.

Id is known as "the land of milk and honey", and while it is set a thousand years ago, the strip's humor occasionally takes the reader through satire of American culture. Technology changes to suit whatever a joke requires: a battle with spears and arrows might be followed by a peasant using an ATM. The general trend is that even though the personalities of the characters are well known, their surroundings will morph to satisfy a good joke. For instance, in some strips the King is curiously elected to his position, albeit through rigged ballots. The aspects that stay the same, however, are that Id is in the middle of nowhere and is home to a large castle surrounded by a moat. The King and his subjects run an army that fight "the Huns", and keep guards who shout the time and "all's well" from the castle walls, while the peasants, or "Id-iots", make little money as stablehands to keep modest lifestyles.

The Wizard of Id mostly features unrelated stories from day to day, but occasionally it will carry an ongoing series of jokes over a week or two. In 1967 there was a story with the Wizard taking over the throne, which lasted six weeks. It also follows the convention of having an extended Sunday strip with a short joke in the first two panes.

Parker's drawing style was well suited to the humor of the strip; little background detail was given in each pane, to allow a concentration on dialogue. As the years passed, even as Parker's style became more refined (with cleaner lines and more consistent proportions) he drew still less background detail.

The drawing style of certain characters has changed from the early years of the strip to today. For example, the old style of the King's head was more rectangular, had a crown with identifiable card suits on it (club, diamond, heart), his moustache and beard always hid his mouth, and his beard frequently extended to a curved point when the King was shown in profile (see The Wondrous Wizard of Id, (P) 1970 CBS Publications). In the new style, the king's head is more trapezoidal with a slightly smaller and undecorated crown, he has a huge nose (even bigger than Rodney's) which covers his mouth and chin, and when he opens his mouth it appears that his beard has been shaved off. Rodney's nose used to be markedly larger -- about twice the size of most other characters' noses -- but in current strips his nose is about the same size as everyone else's, which dampens jokes about his nose.

The Wizard of Id has enjoyed a successful life to date. It has been named best humor strip by the American National Cartoonists Society in 1971, 1976, 1980, 1982 and 1983, and Johnny Hart received a Reuben Award for his work on it and B.C. in 1968, an award which Brant Parker later received for it in 1984. Furthermore, it has seen dozens of paperback collections published since 1965, and even now there are some still in print.

Both of the strip's creators died within days of one another; Hart died on April 7, 2007, with Parker following on April 15.

Fellow comic author Gary Larson stated in his book Prehistory of The Far Side that he wonders if the creators of The Wizard Of Id also get letters from Amnesty International condemning him for depictions of torture. He thinks they probably do and that does not help him any.

Characters

The Wizard of Id has a varied set of principal characters, each with a developed personality and a few jokes relating to them.

  • The King: Like most characters in the strip, the King is named simply after his role. "Sire" to his subjects, he is the greediest, most evil man in the kingdom, and yet he maintains a sense of humor about his desire to stay wealthy. Jokes are often played on his height (about three feet), and he wears a crown and cape that makes him look like a playing card. From his throne room he hands out terrible punishments for crimes (executions being quite common), only ever looking to win votes, power and money. He has a short temper, especially about his height, and main characters often find themselves chained to the wall if they thoughtlessly insult the King. He is hated by the peasants, who to his dismay, often proclaim, "The King is a fink!" However, he is often shown to have a quirky softer side, and it is mentioned his only friends are the moat monsters. His "pets" are a dragon and a St. Bernard dog named "Fido". Although he can ride horses he also rides Fido in fox hunts. His father was King until his son overthrew him and is kept in a tower surrounded by "The King of Id" jack-in-the-boxes — the only gifts his son gives him. His mother (who is never seen) works as a charwoman and routinely complains and scolds her son — the only person who ever does so. The King appeared in the 75th anniversary storyline of the comic strip Blondie. According to Dagwood, the King and Dagwood's boss are soulmates.
  • The Wizard: The King's royal wielder of magic, sometimes nicknamed "Wiz". He is very smart but sarcastic, fun-loving and good-natured, but he is constantly dominated by his wife Blanch. From his basement he works over a vat, where his spirit familiar lives. He is capable of powerful spells, but often his plans backfire on him. His incantations usually sound a little like, "Frammin' on the jim-jam, frippin at the krotz." He is friendly to all the King's servants, but like most of them, he secretly considers the King to be a creep (or a fink). The Wizard was also present at Blondie and Dagwood's anniversary.
  • Sir Rodney: The King's chief knight, the controller of the army. He is a tall, lanky man of dopey intelligence who wears green armour and carries a spear. He is hopeless as a knight and his armies are just as incompetent. Rodney is at heart a coward; he is terrified of fighting and often pretends to be good at slaying dragons, while in fact he once befriended one known as "Dragy". He has an enormous nose, and is always trying to win the King's attention. He occasionally works as a spy, wearing a tree costume with a large hole to accommodate his nose.
  • Blanch: The Wizard's domineering wife. It has been said Blanch was married by the Wizard for her money, for she is considered extremely ugly by everyone in the kingdom. She nags at "Wiz" every day, and her mother (who is never seen) is apparently just as bad to him. Occasionally though, she looks to him for romance that he is hesitant to offer her. Her cooking is very bad, and she heads the women's liberation front in Id.
  • The Duke: A nobleman who helps the King run the castle and the duties of the government. He is pompous and self-admiring, and he never likes to get his hands dirty. Like Rodney, he strives to impress the King at all times. He is often cited as the King's "PR man".
  • Lackey: The King's personal servant ("lackey" being a synonym). He never says much, but is loyal to stand by the throne and await the King's every order, and is therefore often overworked. However, Lackey has displayed occasional resentment about his position; in one strip, when he informs the King that a vendor has arrived selling slaves, the indignant King orders Lackey to tell the visitor that the King doesn't believe in slavery. After confirming that the King is serious about this proclamation ("You're darned right!"), Lackey leaves the room, remarking "Tell him yourself, shorty."
  • Evil Spirit: An apparition who lives in the Wizard's vat and takes form as a smoky puff of gas. He keeps the Wizard company while at work, but he is childish and gullible. It is sometimes mentioned he has a "sewer wisp" for a girlfriend.
  • Bung: The King's jester. An alcoholic who spends little time entertaining the King and most of his time among the bars of Id. He wears traditional jester's garb with bells on the bonnet, but he is rarely seen to perform. Always drunk on wine or spirits of any kind, he is cunning to support his habit without paying any money for it. He is sometimes friendly with the mice that live in wine cellars. He once declared, "I've learned the secret to avoiding hangovers: Don't sober up!" (A "bung" is a cork in a barrel or bottle of an alcoholic beverage.)
  • Gwen: A beautiful maiden who, as her blonde stereotype suggests, is quite clueless. She is adored by all but is in love only with Rodney. They sometimes date, but in his non-macho ways he usually doesn't return the romantic feelings she has for him. She often spends time with Blanch.
  • Spook: A prisoner who for many years has lived in the dungeons beneath the castle. He is covered from head to toe with hair, sometimes being likened to a giant rat. His crime was one of a few mentioned things (either when a visitor, the earl expresses an interest in meeting the only person to beat the king at croquet and is introduced to the Spook, or when he called the king a "two bit, four flushing, dirty, lowdown, indiscriminate clod" in an early strip), but most of the time it is accepted that the King sentenced the Spook to spend a lifetime in the dungeon for calling him a fink. He is treated poorly by the system, but his best friend is the turnkey that lives outside his cell. He lives happily beneath the level of the moat eating "swill", a bland, disgusting slop similar to garbage, and for a hobby attempts to escape on a regular basis. He normally tunnels under the walls only to have his plans ironically cut short. His favorite book is "101 Ways to Escape" (coincidentally written by himself). It is mentioned that his full name is Wellington J. Farnsworth Spookingdorf the Third in a strip featured in Volume #10 of the series.
  • Turnkey: The guard who runs the dungeons but spends all his time sitting outside the Spook's cell. In a way their lives are similar - he is stuck in the same place all day and he doesn't have an important place in the world — and he sometimes expresses unhappiness about this to the Spook.
  • Larsen E. Pettifogger: Attorney-at-law in the kingdom of Id. The stereotypical lawyer, with a big pretentious nose and hat, he lies and cheats to protect criminals. While incompetent at his job, he is selfish and greedy, and doesn't mind drinking a lot of alcohol. He has been the Spook's lawyer on several occasions. His appearance and behavior are patterned directly on W.C. Fields, one of whose film characters was "Larsen E. Whipsnade". The word "pettifogger" means a less-than-scrupulous attorney, and "Larsen E." sounds like "larceny".
  • Troob: A local musician and poet (a "troubadour") who lives to walk around the kingdom writing songs and commentary on Id's ways of life. He sometimes entertains the King, but his music is uninviting. He is one of the few people in Id to be streetwise enough to see the bigger picture of the state of the kingdom. His song describes the place well: "The land of Id, 'tis such delight, the land of milk and honey. No need to lock your doors at night, the king has all the money!"

In addition to the above main cast, several recurring jokes have run throughout the life of the comic strip for which certain characters come back from time to time.

  • Robbing Hood: A forest-dweller who, like the character Robin Hood, steals from the rich and gives to the poor. He is wanted for theft, but is fairly kind.
  • The Lone Haranguer: A phantom heckler who frequently rides past the King's window to shout "The king is a fink!" The King has suffered anxiety over the stranger, but he and Rodney have never succeeded in capturing or identifying him, their plans constantly backfiring on themselves. The name is a play on "The Lone Ranger".
  • Yodey: A stable boy whom Rodney began to train to become a knight. He is a gigantic oaf, very strong in battle, but stupid and gullible. He looks up to Rodney to teach him, even though he is already more capable than Rodney is.
  • The Doc: The royal physician who remains the subject of many doctor jokes. He plays golf, for instance, and has a lot of money.
  • Bernie the Torch: An accident-prone man so unlucky that when he came out of hospital after being run over by a steamroller, a gargoyle fell on him. He was once hit by a meteorite during surgery after getting run over by a horse.
  • Theodore: The royal accountant.
  • Abra Cadaver: A Frankenstein-like monster the Wizard built out of old body parts. He is deranged and obedient, and is twice the size of the Wizard. The name is a play on "abracadabra" and "cadaver".

There are many other generic characters Parker often included in the comic. They are not individually identifiable, but they serve as tellers of the jokes for each day's strip. In addition to guards, peasants and executioners, they include the Huns, fortune tellers, dentists, insurance salesmen, priests, and frogs, to name a few.

International Publication

  • The strip has been translated into Finnish as Velho, meaning "wizard". A version in the Kainuu dialect called Näläkämoan noeta - Veleho kaenuuks was published in 2001.
  • In Denmark it is called Troldkarlen Kogle and has previously appeared in the comic magazine "Basserne"
  • In Italy, The Wizard of Id is known as Mago Wiz (Wiz The Sorcerer) and has been published with great success in the comics magazines Il Mago and Linus, and in the science fiction magazine Urania, plus several hardcover editions also by Mondadori.
  • The German version is called Magnus der Magier (Magnus the Magician).
  • In Sweden it is called Trollkarlen från id.
  • In The Netherlands it is called De Tovenaar van Fop (which in fact is a word-by-word translation).
  • The strip is known in many Spanish-speaking countries as El Mago Fedor.
  • Treatment of the comic strip varies in individual countries, especially in kingdoms such as Saudi Arabia and Thailand. In the former, any references to the King are painstakingly deleted and replaced with "the boss." In Thailand, although many installments of the strip can be deemed to be critical of local mores and of the monarchy itself, Thai censors have, to date, not bothered with the material. The cross-cultural satire of the strip contributes to its international popularity.

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