Exploiting our Archives, Paternity Leave Edition: The Deep, Deep Pain of the Lockhorns
One of the great things about online culture and nostalgia is that if you connected with something as a child then there’s probably an online following for it you can join as an adult. I’ve heard it said that followers of the kitschy, cancelled cult 1960s television program Star Trek are numerous online and use the internet and email to spread their sickness and also arrange to do sex stuff with each other, probably while wearing Star Trek costumes.
On a much, much lesser note, on Facebook recently I was reminded of my curious childhood fascination with the misery-based comic strip The Lockhorns and joined a Facebook group that approaches the iconically terrible comic strip with the same morbid fascination and twisted nostalgia that characterizes my relationship with the strip.
Like pretty much everything from my past, my relationship with The Lockhorns is permeated with sadness, lonely childhood angst and acrimony. My dad loved The Lockhorns as well as Married with Children because he felt they used the medium of comic strips and television sitcoms, respectively, to tell the truth about marriage. In a possibly related development, my father has been married and divorced three times.
When my father said that The Lockhorns told the truth about marriage he meant that it revealed marriage to be a toxic, soul-crushing abomination that sucks the joy and pleasure out of life and leaves you enraged, embittered husk gazing bleakly at a world that holds nothing but depression, sadness and yearning.
The Lockhorns depicts married life as being like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf but bleaker and sadder and maybe also a comedy? Times changed but The Lockhorns did not. Like Dave Berg’s The Lighter Side and Playboy comic strips, they inhabited some weird time-warp where it’s always some time between 1955 and 1972, men all work in offices and womankind is divided neatly between two categories: matronly housewives and sexy, wiggling secretaries.
Leroy and Loretta are drawn in a way designed to really drive home that neither has ever known even a single moment of happiness or true joy, and if they did, it was borne of bitterness or cruelty. Every pose conveys that they are dead on the inside, meat bags of curdled anger glumly going through the motions in this sick charade called American life.
Leroy, the anti-hero of the comic strip, is married to one of these dreadful, asexual, libido-killing housewives—Loretta—and perpetually in search of extramarital nookie with one of these sexy secretaries types. One of the comic strip’s other core jokes is that Leroy desperately wants to escape the prison of matrimony and fuck one of these beautiful, pliant younger women but he’s so ugly, filled with rage and devoid of resources, economic, social and otherwise, that no other woman will have him, and he’s cursed to an eternity of domestic hell he despises nearly as much as he hates himself.
Leroy’s life is an endless low-level humiliation at his long-suffering wife’s hands. Seemingly her only pleasure in life comes from cutting her husband down to size and destroying what’s left of his bruised and battered self-esteem. Basically, Leroy knows he’s a piece of shit. His wife never lets him forget that, because all that she has in her life other than her husband’s withering contempt are her one-liners and her shopping.
Women, amIrite? If I’m making the comic strip seem bracingly dark that’s because it is. It’s pitched as a zany look at marriage but what it’s really about is the inexorable horror of married life and the impossibility of escape.
There’s something about that level of darkness in a place as bland as the funnies page that’s inherently interesting to me. That’s why it was a weird masochistic pleasure to be reunited with The Lockhorns with a group of online strangers who share my strange fascination with it. Of course, there’s also a lot of personal issues at play for me as well. I suspect that my love of ex-wife and mother-in-law jokes—something that, appropriately enough, irritates my first and only wife to no end—can be attributed to my childhood fondness for The Lockhorns.
Of course The Lockhorns isn’t drawn by its creator, Bill Hoest, anymore. He’s too busy being dead. But the strip lives on and is now being written by—you guessed it—his widow. I would love to read a book about a marriage that these two fascinating and obviously simpatico figures—my wife sure isn’t going to take on my life’s work writing self-indulgently and poorly about pop culture upon my death—or a film, but I suspect even folks like Todd Solondz, Werner Herzog and Neil LaBute would reject the gig of directing a movie about the Hoest marriage as too depressing even for them.
Of course it's entirely possible the Hoests were happily married, but please don't rob me of the beautiful illusion that their lives were identical to those of Leroy and Loretta, and that's why they wrote the characters with such bitter conviction.
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