If you’re unfamiliar with the comic strip Pluggers, then allow me to give you a quick primer on it. Pluggers is a one-panel comic strip that relies on reader-submitted “pluggerisms” that serve as the premise for the strip. The art is provided by Gary Brookins. Supposedly, it focuses on the everyday lives of members of the American working class (or “pluggers”), depicting them as anthropomorphic animals. Brookins describes “pluggers” by saying, “Pluggers are self-deprecating and have a healthy sense of humor about themselves. They represent the majority of us who don’t live for the latest trend, who keep plugging along without fanfare and try to balance work, play and family life.”
In practice, though, a typical installment of Pluggers features cloying, Family-Circus-style sentimental humor, with accents of jingoism, luddism, and death obsession. Basically, it’s like your terrible grandma rendered in comic strip form. I’ve put together a quick album here that should get you acquainted with the unique (and awful) sensibility of Pluggers in just a few strips.
As you can see, the strip’s worst aspect (well, one of its worst aspects) is its support of prideful ignorance. I’ve estimated that 43% of all Pluggers cartoons feature some bear-man or chicken-lady staring confusedly at something newfangled and scary. Check out that be-sweatered man-dog in the comic above. He certainly doesn’t “live for the latest trend!” He doesn’t even know who those people are!
Previously in this feature, I’ve written about how dangerous it is for writers to try to use musical pop culture references as a way to establish how “cool” or “awesome” a particular character is. Here, Brookins is trying to do something similar. He’s name-dropping real but relatively obscure people to establish a character’s ignorance of them, and in turn, that character’s plugger-cred. For most readers of the strip, Brookins’s attempt was likely successful (partially because one of the names is misspelled, and the other is not a person, but a television show).
But, for people that are familiar with the people referenced above, the effect is just strange. It’s clear that Brookins (or possibly Brenda Paog) looked through a list of Tonight Show guests for some week2 and just wrote down some names that were unfamiliar, but it’s still weird to a strip like this reference someone like Jamie Lidell. That’s obscure overkill for Pluggers. It’s like if Mark Trail suddenly ran into Wolves in the Throne Room while walking in the woods.3 Yet, it doesn’t make the reader think differently about the character, or his lack of musical knowledge. That man-dog still just seems like someone’s grandpa who just doesn’t get what the kids are into these days.
For that reason, it seems to be easier to make a character seem uncool via a lack of musical awareness than it is to make a character seem cool by name-dropping bands.
1. Along with Little Britain and Michael Cerra Cera