9 Chickweed Lane is a syndicated comic strip created by Brooke McEldowney, who, despite the name, is actually a dude. Usually this comic as a good excuse to have shapely women in bathing suits…
… or having them in impenetrable ballet sequences.
But at some point, Mr. McEldowney had the inspiration to do something a little different. It seems he wanted to say something about artist’s roles in society. It also gives a glimpse on the author’s viewpoint on those who work in a corporate setting. And McEldowney, much like Bill Waterson before him, dares to play with conventions of the comic strip form and employs a rare layout: one picture on the left, purple prose on the right. Readers, I give you as storyline that ran from May to June 2007. It’s what I call … the “Unicorn Saga.”
The Saga begins with Edda, the main character and ballet dancer extraodinaire, moping that people on the street do not appreciate her staggering artistry.
Edda continues to have a conversation with this creature, which turns out to be a unicorn. There’s probably deep symbolism at work here. Unicorns have been used in such pop culture favorites, such as Tom Cruise’s Legend, the director’s cut of Blade Runner, and little girls’ Trapper Keepers. In the case of 9 Chickweed Lane, it’s probably an excuse to be as phallic as possible.
The hallucination eventually disappears…
… but then we move on to the next stage of the story, where Edda meets a woman with “lethal high heels.” Edda at first sees this woman as a kindred heart when she tells her that it had always been her dream to be a dancer like her. However, Edda turns cold to this stranger when the woman dares to think that Edda is only dancing as a hobby. Worshipful admiration is one thing, but daring to think she might have a job outside a job? Away from my sight, plebe!
The unicorn returns and tells Edda that she has the same problem with minotaur’s. Wow: so the unicorn is Edda’s Mary-Sue, just like Edda is McEldowney’s.
And the story end’s with McEldowney’s commentary on people who are not artists:
So for those of you who don’t want to click on the above strip, and I don’t blame you, here are two excerpts:
Edda plied her way through the human surf crashing against the buildings around her — past the women and men who daily made the world coil and writhe like a great, profitable beast.
“What did that girl say?” asked one high-ranking corporate predator, poised to swallow up another high-ranking corporate predator over lunch. The other high-ranking predator said, “I think it was, ‘Don’t be absurd.'” They both laughed insincerely and turned away to perform their daily life struggle. Edda went on to dance.
Now, a confession: back when I was graduating high school, I was pretty good at both art and math. I had plenty of choices what to major in when I went to college, and I chose engineering. Later, I would get a Masters in business. So I might be taking some of this personally.
Also, back when I was in my artist-phase, I believed what Brooke believed: the people who worked in corporations were faceless numbers. That changed when I started working at some of the largest corporations in the world. Yes, there are people who are insincere back-stabbers, but that’s true no matter what profession you’ve chosen. The majority of people are, in fact, good people doing the right thing.
Thanks to this strip, I have no regrets with my life choices when I think of the alternative. Had I become an artist, I would be clutching the newspaper to my heart, shedding a tear of sympathy. Instead, the strip has led me to the opposite conclusion: artists are unbearable, self-centered snits.
And that is why 9 Chickweed Lane is one of the Greatest Moments in the Funny Pages.