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The truth of Seinfeld can be applied to comic strips

If you say Seinfeld is a show about nothing, then you know nothing about the Seinfeld sitcom.

Seinfield is about everything

It’s not a show about nothing. It’s a show about everything, says Nico Lang of the Daily Dot’s great article, “Debunking the biggest myth about ‘Seinfield’ that everyone believes

One could be forgiven for the misapprehension–as Seinfeld’s entire fourth season is a meta-commentary on the idea–but it’s simply not true. In a Reddit AMA earlier this year, Jerry Seinfeld clarified that he and co-creator Larry David pitched the idea to NBC as a “a show about how a comedian gets his material,” and according to Seinfeld, he and David were initially surprised that the “show about nothing” tag took over the discourse the way it did. In fact, it would be more apt to say that it’s a show about everything.

Comic strips today are much like Seinfeld’s material of the every day. But how comic strips actually use it in a story line could be improved. See next two points.

Interwoven narrative

Prior to Seinfeld, most sitcoms broke down into an A-story and a B-story, and the supporting story could take the form of a so-called ‘runner,’ jokes that continued throughout the episode and told a very loose story but didn’t do much more than that. Particularly in its best episodes, Seinfeld blew all of that up. Even in an episode like the famous ‘The Contest’ (the one with the competition to see which of the central foursome can go the longest without masturbating), each of the four characters is handed their own storyline, all four of which tie together in the final moments to create a whole larger than its parts.

Comic strips tend to be one-shot gags–partly because of the medium. We only sit down and read three panels in one day. Whereas Seinfeld has the opportunity of capturing a viewer’s attention for 30 minutes. Take those 30 minutes in comic strip time, and you end up with 30 days–or about six weeks of comics. It would be wonderful to see comic strips have longer story arcs that bend around and come back together after six weeks. To have the final week of gags tie together gags from earlier in the month. Add some complexity to comic strips.

Non-resolutions

The show was famous for its “no learning, no hugging” rule, and what was then so unique about the show is how often the aforementioned final moments resist true narrative resolution, the nice bow on the action that Friends or Everybody Loves Raymond might provide. In each of the two, the show’s central conflicts will be resolved and amends made; Raymond might fight with his mother, but at the end of the show, they have to come to a mutual understanding in order to keep up the pretense of family.

In many episodes of Seinfeld, the situations don’t resolve; they get increasingly worse until they just can’t anymore–and the show has to end. During “The Junior Mint,” Jerry can’t remember his girlfriend’s name, except that it rhymes a with a “female body part.” In true Seinfeld fashion, he avoids the conflict until she confesses she’s falling in love with him, sweetly repeating his name. He can’t reciprocate, which causes him to be exposed. Rather than giving up the ruse, Jerry guesses that her name is: “Mulva?” After she storms out, he finally remembers her name, calling after her, “Dolores!”

Today’s syndicated comic strips are driven into the ground by stupid resolutions at the end of the strip. Every day there’s some sort of “OH WOW, YOU DID THAT? THAT’S STUPID” reaction by one of the characters. It’s dumb and not needed. Let the comic strip not resolve itself. Let the creative idea hang in the reader’s mind.

Seinfeld let its creativity move around in interwoven narrative that didn’t resolve itself. Seinfeld let the viewer think about the show after it ended, comic strips can do the same by eliminating the stupid reactions at the end of a comic strip.

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