A lot of folks believe that my love of the comic strip Mary Worth has been a “work” or something done in jest. Nah, son! I love that comic—much to the delight of some and the abject horror of others. And even though my breathless Twitter recaps have stopped I still read the strip religiously.
So, of course, you know why I’m here.
I was a little disappointed after the May-December romance between Zak and Iris petered out in an unsatisfying fashion. I (and every poor soul who I had roped in with my recaps) had begun to root for Iris and hoped that in finding a new young love the character would also find her self-esteem and self-worth. I have to admit, I was at first horrified that the middle-aged Iris would get involved with a man young enough to be her son, but was rightfully embarrassed by my own bias after it was pointed out by friends. Age is but a number—for everyone who is not me. (Don’t bring any men of twenty-five ‘round here.)
After Iris and Zak ended their affair the strip spent a few weeks as a commercial for several cruise ship lines. The change in story direction was a bizarre and bland move that was difficult to explain to those I had spent so long convincing that Mary Worth was a treasure trove of surreal soap and occasional unintentional comedy. Unlike the titular character of my favorite strip it seemed as though my advice was not worth heeding.
As the comic strip sails towards a new love triangle, it has caused me to reflect on how the soap opera genre changes to fit the medium that is its current method of delivery. As a former fan of monthly superhero comics and daytime dramas I’d grown used to ascending and descending A and B plots. Be it X-Men or All My Children, as one plot rushes toward its conclusion another is beginning to unfold. Daily television soaps have so many hours each month to fill with content that they often have concurrent A, B, and C plots—each claiming a third of the Kubler-Ross change curve.
I am new to daily dramatic comic strips, but it seems as though they do not follow a similar pattern. There is merely one plot. Once one has concluded, another begins. So can comic strips still be called soap operas when the format has been changed so radically? Yes, I believe so.
That said, I still wonder if limiting the number of plotlines is necessary. A daytime drama has roughly three hours of content a week to work within. A comic book has twenty-two pages a month. A comic strip has fifteen to twenty panels a week. One may feel that twenty panels aren’t sufficient to cover more than one plotline. However, I’d argue that a narration box containing the word meanwhile does wonders. I’d also argue that readers are often smarter than they are given credit for being!