I have hesitated writing about comic artist/writer Francesco Marciuliano, mostly because of extreme anxiety over the spelling of his name. That’s also why I rarely write about Bollywood stars, 17th century philosophers or Republican California Governors and Democratic California Governor Candidates. Anyway, Mr. Marciuliano’s monniker appears on two strikingly different examples of comic strippiness, the long-running syndicated office/family strip Sally Forth (which he writes while a co-conspirator draws, and another guy created but he ran off screaming a few years ago), and the web-based random pop-culture strip Medium Large.

Before I do anything else, let me openly admit that my seemingly groundbreaking theory about the B.C. comic strip turns out to be very similar to a concept Mr. Marciuliano had explored in Medium Large last November. But then, I was in the middle of moving from North Hollywood to San Luis Obispo at the time and can not properly remember ANYTHING from those few weeks.

The Satirical Pop Culture * Humor of Medium Large is definitely my cup of tea (although “Teenage Girl President” is a running joke that has been run into the ground; since it started out “on the WB”, I’m hoping it’ll be retired along with the network). But a recent story arc was definately Shark-Jumping territory.

Now I personally believe that comics like Medium Large should avoid any kind of story-arcing whatsoever. I got a small knot in my stomach when Dinosaur Comics rolled “Captain Suggestable” over for two strips. Savage Chickens could never follow the adventures of regular characters, because, frankly, all the chickens look alike! And do readers of Wondermark want to see it turn into “Dilbert with God as the Pointy-Haired Boss“? I think not. In the “krispy kleenex” world of newspaper comics, Non-Sequitur does a double-somersault shark flip every time it changes gear from random single-panel gags to the adventures of the annoying Danae (a juvenile character who I fear will grow up, marry Calvin, and make his life a living hell after Hobbes mauls her pony Lucy). Webcomics that successfully combine a gag-a-day and a complex ongoing story are a totally different species. (And like the title character in Schlock Mercenary, they’re not always pretty.)

So here’s the story, so far: a madcap, gratuitously violent robot known as T.O.D.D. (In all my searches through the Medium Large archives, I have never found out what T.O.D.D. stands for) has, through questionable means, adopted a human son. They are recurring characters in a running joke. I can deal with that. They’re funnier than the 100th episode of “Teenage Girl President”. Meanwhile, a couple of alien entities that look like Contac capsules have come to earth to provide one earthling with ‘the ring of ultimate power’. The first gag based on that is a bi-lingual hoot. The second one I thought was going to kill the running joke. Then they encounter T.O.D.D., in the ML universe, the worst possible being to be given such extreme power. Panic ensues. Hilarity ensues. Then, apparent total destruction! We wait out the weekend. Then it gets weird. We find ourselves in the universe of Sally Forth, not all that surprising since Marciuliano has made fun of his ‘day job’ before. But, in homage to the series finale of Bob Newhart’s second series, Sally’s husband Ted declares that all of Medium Large was a dream! (Fortunately, Sally’s response is priceless.) But it’s not over yet… suddenly Sally & Ted find themselves in an indoor snowstorm and we are jerked suddenly into an homage to the series finale of “St. Elsewhere”! Now, I am very publicly on record that I don’t like gimmick endings and Marciuliano has just invoked TWO of the most gimmicky. Not only that, but this whole series is giving off the distinct “I’m quitting this thing” vibe. Fortunately, in the next strip, ML’s “President of Programming” Cheryl Haskwell (another recurring character) takes charge and confronts the alien ‘pill-heads’ who tell her they were a deus ex gimmickia intended to freshen up comic strips that have fallen into a rut. (But… ML wasn’t in a rut!) Then they depart with a warning (and a few shots at other comics), and ML returns to what passes for normal there. Okay. That’s good. Just don’t let it happen again. As I said before, Medium Large does not need a story arc, especially one that leads impressionable young’uns like me to believe the strip is ending.

A side-note: the ‘pill-heads’ said they were going next to visit Garfield, to return the MIA character Lyman to the strip and make him the main character. Of course, true comic-obsessives (who, me?) know that the webcomic Melonpool has already explained what happened to Lyman (and also Calvin’s Uncle Max… and others). But it seemed oddly coincidental that right after that, Garfield began a two-week storyline that ended with the biggest event in the strip since the fat cat spent a week in Hell in ’89Jon getting kissed by Veterinarian Liz. (Although I have problems with the Liz character… doesn’t she know that collagen-inflated lips went out of style ten years ago?) Did the ML aliens have something to do with this? Wouldn’t Mr. Marciuliano like to take credit for this? (And how much credit do I get for mentioning his name 5 times without misspelling it? Hey, maybe I’ll blog about the California Governor’s race next week… Schwarz-en-egger… Ang-ile-des…)

One more thing: I’ve copied the following “summer movie” Sally Forth strips here because, well, King Features Syndicate is so tight-assed about letting its strips on the Intarweb. But look… it almost seems as if Marciuliano (6! Woohoo!) had put scripts for Medium Large in the wrong pile.

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And hey, what’s with the solo byline up there? Does it mean our guy Francesco is doing both writing and drawing on Sally? Because he’s proven he can do it. (He could slip in unnoticed and take over half the comics he’s messed with on ML) And I’ve seen at least four different combinations of credits currently being used in different newspapers. Apparently nobody really knows who’s doing this strips… that’s what I call a golden opportunity. Sally, meet your new neighbor… T.O.D.D.