Comic Collection Review – Marvin Explains the Facts of Life by Tom Armstrong


Down the treacherous tunnels we travel once again.  The dim light of the candelabra casting dancing shadows along the granite steps hand carved by centuries of Root Beer Monks.  Only the initiated know the way to disarm the many hazardous traps set to deter any infidel who may wander along this path.  We sink ever lower into the bowels of the earth.  The temperature seems to rise as if we are coming upon the very core of the planet itself.

This path could have been the inspiration for Jules Verne’s mad tale and like his famous protagonists, we too seek a prehistory of sorts, for at the end of this long treacherous path lies the repository of humanities greatest endeavors.   At the end of this path…  lies the Official Root Beer Party Comic Archives.

A vast cavern opens up before us as the light of the candelabra is now just an insignificant glow among the enormity of the space before us.  Even the powerful lights which illuminate the library are too feeble to penetrate the darkened corners of the upper reaches where shadows hide the greatest treasures of humanity.

Upon my reading table is the book I have requested.  The Root Beer Monks have preselected it from the seemingly infinite spiraling bookcases which fill the cavern.  No one could ever experience the mass of comic literature which is housed in this temple in a single lifetime.  It is beyond human comprehension, and why it must be preserved in fear that it would be lost forever.

I sit to look upon my selected work and begin my mortal attempt to understand all that is contained in this vast collection.

Marvin is a comic that is both ubiquitous, yet easily overlooked.  He has had his share of popularity in the world at large and has even seen a significant reboot in both style and storyline.  Many people compare him to Garfield and there is a similarity in the self centered nature of the primary character, but Marvin and by association,  Tom Armstrong, have a unique voice all his own.


In the comic, we not only have the classic dynamic of family in the form of the father (Jeff) and the mother (Jenny) and later the addition of a dog (Bitsy) but we also have the extended family of The grandparents (Bea & Roy) and their dog (Junior).  The comic has taken more of serious tone after it’s reboot, including the extended family moving in with Marvin and his parents.  It is now called Marvin & Family.

However, this volume was before all of those changes as it was released in 1983.  This is the second volume released, so it is still early in the comics history.  The comic centers exclusively around Marvin and while there are many references to food and bathroom humor, there are also snapshots of the societal hierarchy included in these works.

While Marvin is not quite the ideal nuclear family unit of the 1980’s with it’s 2.5 kids, it does follow the established pattern of societal expectations of the family unit during this era.  While Garfield is the poster child of the “Me Generation” of the 80’s, Marvin is very much from the same philosophical mold.  The characters are often backdrops to Marvin’s wit, but we can see them develop and begin to take on a personality of their own.  Just as Garfield has changed with the times, so has Marvin, only more so.  The newer comics have come to represent the evolution of the extended family unit while in these older volumes we see the more traditional model.

Marvin is very much a product of it’s time and unlike a lot of popular comics, it has evolved with the times.  So if you want to take a look back in time to a different world, then this comic is the perfect glimpse into the nostalgic view of societal evolution.  Marvin may not be as popular as many of the great comic strips, but it is very much a reflection of the world we live in through the eyes of our families and the center of that universe has never changed, it is always the next generation which takes center stage and whether in 1983 or 2017, Marvin is the center of attention.

fdd8c1542035e33f228eb54301f72b56So I return this historical marker to the care of the Root Beer Monks and make my way back up to the world of today.  Only through the understanding of the past can we truly appreciate the world of today.  All the dramas and dilemma’s of day to day life are nothing more than footnotes in our history.  What is of immense magnitude today, is tomorrows quaint anecdote.  So never be afraid to look at the old classic cartoons and see them not for the faux pas, but rather as a reminder of how much things have changed.  The old volumes remind us of a simpler time, a time when our generation was the center of the world.

And there you have it True Believers, another look into the great library of The Official Root Beer Party Comic Archives.  Now come and join me in a cold draft from the elixir of life that is root beer, and as always, may your mug always be frosted and your root beer always foamy.

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