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At some point in time, someone wrote this and thought it was funny.
|Author||Alex “Bell” Graham (original)|
Smug British people (current)
|Species||Canis lupus familiaris|
|Current status||Active; taking a shit in the garden|
Fred Basset is a comic strip about a basset hound named Fred Basset, and it is interesting. It isn’t interesting in the sense that might be expected of a comic strip, i.e. due to the presence of humour. It is interesting because for each strip of Fred Basset, someone presumably sat down, brainstormed ideas, created the strip and found the finished product amusing.
Of course, it is entirely possible that they didn’t, but the notion of someone finding Fred Basset funny is far too arresting not to entertain.
The cartoon was created by Scottish cartoonist Alex "Bell" Graham, who read a few Peanuts strips and thought "I could do something like that." Despite Fred Basset recently being voted the section of The Daily Telegraph that readers would soil with their coffee if they had to make a choice, Graham can be considered to have been correct in his belief by virtue of the fact that Fred Basset, like Peanuts, is a comic strip.
After mastering the efficient illustration of quaint British domestic scenes, Graham was in need of a premise for his comic strip. Fortunately, inspiration came to him in his own home. He saw his wife preparing their dog's dinner. When she was done, the dog ate the meal. Graham found himself chuckling incessantly. Prior to the comic's syndication, Fred Basset was originally titled Graham's Crackers, in reference to both graham crackers and Graham's spurious belief that humour was inherent in the strip. Though Graham changed the strip's name to that of its titular character, "Graham's Crackers" would have been a rather apt title as the comic is bland and best enjoyed by toddlers and the elderly.
After the name change, Graham wrote and illustrated over 9000 strips for Fred Basset. While he was incredibly prolific, it was apparent that Graham was unfamiliar with a concept integral to his line of work: the joke.
- Or, in this case, the "cracker".
Unaware of his lack of knowledge, Graham began seeking a newspaper that would syndicate his asinine slice-of-life bullshit. Naturally, only a Tory rag would be prudish enough to allow the strips to see the light of day. All the other British newspapers were running far cooler and edgier comic strips, like Garfield. Fred Basset has been running in Daily Mail since 1963, and continues to do so to this day. When a vigilant reader called the newspaper's offices and informed them of this, the only reply was a stoic and earnest "Well, we'd best go —ahem — catch him."
Post-Graham Fred Basset
The "Graham Years", as they came to be known, would not last, however. Graham ended his tenure as chief writer and illustrator of Fred Basset in 1971, when his dog Frieda died, leaving him without material. The writers who inherited Graham's burden astounded him with their ability to "make things up". They carried on Graham’s whimsical theme, and with his permission began pandering further to the comic’s target audience of the elderly by writing homoerotic subtext into the comic. Graham himself died and joined his dog in Heaven on 3 December 1991.
The Fred Basset experience
Fred Basset lives with a middle-aged husband and wife, and the state of their marriage is quite volatile (implied from subtext). They resent being unable to have children, and this is one of the key reasons that they feel such strong apathy towards each other (again, suggested by subtext), though the issue is never raised. The husband is both temperamental and detached, often preferring to sit alone with his newspaper than interact with people due to his severe depression (also implied). Interaction with others often results in explosive outbursts (off-panel). The wife is a quiet, submissive type, and is often subject to the husband’s vitriolic verbal and physical abuse (implied to occur off-panel), which is generally regarded to be the cause of her substance dependency (also implied). Fred himself, however, is not a character with a lot of depth.
The series is praised for its character development, especially considering that its medium is renowned for a lack of this. Over time, the husband becomes more detached from the world around him due to his depression and gradually becomes a reclusive wreck. The wife’s substance abuse escalates with her husband’s reclusiveness, and the two begin avoiding each other entirely. Fred pisses all over the rug with less frequency as he becomes accustomed to living indoors.
Fred Basset is unusual in that it innocently depicts the mundane, yet still manages to be rather strange, often strikingly so. For instance, the strip often depicts Fred being given a meal, then remarking that it was enjoyable. This would be a perfectly normal scene in real life (sans Fred's ability to speak), but the comic strip invokes questions, like "How?", and more specifically "How the fuck did this manage to become a comic strip in an actual newspaper?"
The strip utilises the distinctly British sensibility of being British, and therefore above scrutiny when it appears as though it has failed to achieve its purpose (in this case, exhibiting some semblance of comedy). It has been suggested that the comic makes more sense when read consecutively, as follow-on narrative arcs are common in the strip. This is undoubtedly an excuse for the comic not being funny.
Surrealism allegedly rears its freaky head often in Fred Basset. For example, one strip depicts Fred’s owners describing the Fred Basset strip in the day’s newspaper as “quite amusing”. Also, another strip depicts Fred attempting to pry a dead fish from a melting clock with a human arm that has sprouted from his chest. His male owner sees this and remarks “That’s our Fred Basset!” in an apparent acknowledgement of the comic’s surreal qualities.
Fred Basset also includes topical references, though these are rare and far less prominent than the comic’s surreal aspects. These references are mostly directed towards the comic itself, as per the above example.
The locations pictured in the comic are taken from places that Graham knew in Scotland, where he lived. These places include his living room, his front hall, his backyard and his front yard. Similarly, people’s names in the strip are taken from people that Graham knew. Fred was named as such because of his dog Frieda, and his owners are nameless due to the fact that his parents were Power Rangers and weren’t allowed to tell him their names.
In the style of most cartoons, the characters of Fred Basset are immune from aging, and they still live in what appears to be the 1960s. This is an allusion to Hell’s existence in a permanent, unchanging state.
Fred Basset briefly gained prominence in the media (which it never had, despite being syndicated in newspapers) when a printing error (pictured) in the 15 October 1991 issue of the Daily Mail resulted in a spike of suicides. When asked to comment on this, the now senile Graham had nothing to say except “Peekaboo!”