Every week, "Maakies" brings to mind times long ago by including, below the main comic strip, a smaller second strip, usually completely unrelated to the main strip.

Up until World War II, newspapers printed their weekday comic strips at what would today be considered incredibly huge sizes. Bigger than many newspapers print some of their Sunday comic strips these days, in fact.

Some cartoonists felt they had so much room to work with that they took a little bit of room at the bottom of their daily strip and turned it into a separate strip, sometimes involving characters from the main strip, and sometimes not. If the main characters were in the middle of an adventure, meaning there wasn't a punchline up top, the bottom might be one of the supporting characters telling a joke to another character.

The most famous example of this was in the early 1910s, when George Herriman drew, at the bottom of his "The Dingbat Family" strip, a mouse throwing a rock at a cat. The cat and mouse eventually left for a full-sized spinoff strip, "Krazy Kat."

Since there's no way such a thing would be legible at the size newspapers now print their daily comic strips, it's left to the alternative weeklies to print "Maakies" large enough to allow Tony Millionaire to recall the good old days.

Maakies is a weekly comic strip drawn by cynical, dysfunctional artiste Tony Millionaire. Although unpopular compared to comic "brands" such as the ubiquitious Garfield, it revels in a large and frenzied cult following, and runs weekly in many major cities throughout North America.

The strip chronicles the adventures of sailors Uncle Gabby and Drinky Crow. Their love of the sea is gently tempered by alcoholism, shipwrecks, existential angst, French armadas, bizarre monsters, incredibly frequent suicides, and many things too puzzling and revolting to explain. Nonetheless, they keep tacking away at their miserable little lives; Drinky Crow is heard to remark that "Being drunk is the best feeling in my poor world" after he burns an entire dinner party to a crisp in the act of pilfering their cognac, then ends up sizzling like KFC himself. He was back in action the next week -- it's a comic strip. But until I read Maakies, I didn't know that the effects of comic strip misadventures could build up and up until the characters were reduced to numb, stumbling zombies unable to function in polite society without the twin crutches of vomiting and murder. "I am laughing at the horror of being alive," Drinky Crow explains. He's simply, sickeningly right.

Tony Millionaire's lush ink illustrations are reminiscent of Golden Age strips like Little Nemo in Slumberland, and the lovingly detailed nautical images bring to mind a much earlier era still. Maakies' cancerous heart lies in the uneasy balance between this atmosphere and the shocking, deadening hilarity of Gabby and Crow's adventures. It has the beauty of a junky Tinkerbell dying in the gutter, weeping silvery tears for all that might have been. And if you drink her tears, you get high, and Gabby and Crow are first in line.

You can read Maakies at www.maakies.com.

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