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  • It's March 21, 1955, and the Sarge is really @(#$* mad.

  • But how do we we know that this means )#@$%(? Using a line of symbols to show obscenity

  • is an established idea today, but it's as old as the early 1900s, when an entirely new

  • visual language was being invented.

  • This is Beetle Bailey cartoonist Mort Walker,

  • and in addition to making soldiers say stuff like !(@[email protected]#(*, he coined the termgrawlixes

  • for the obscenity symbols, in an essay published for comic artists and later anthologized.

  • Other comic conventions include plewdslittle sweat drops; Briffits - dust clouds when a

  • character disappears; and emanatalines showing shock.

  • But Walker made a list of tropesnot an origin story.

  • For that, you've got to go back to the turn of the !)@@!)$ century.

  • This is the madhouse of comics in 1896.

  • What we think of as comics basically started with Hogan's Alley, and later The Yellow Kid,

  • a spin-off centered on the [email protected]#[email protected]# freakshow @#$*( (@!*#$ [email protected]@@!

  • Irish-American urchin Mickey Dugan (this is him watching a cockfight).

  • Comics were experimental.

  • Panels sometimes had to be numbered so you knew the order to read them in, and dialogue

  • rarely appeared in speech bubbles.

  • Sometimes words showed up on the Yellow Kid.

  • Two comics pushed that innovation to the next level and invented a lot of what we know today

  • - probably including grawlixes.

  • The Katzenjammer Kids made a paneled story mainstream, showing some naughty little @()#*$s who always got spanked.

  • Katzenjammer's innovations included consistent speech bubbles and in the next couple of years,

  • emanata indicating motion and maybe even swears.

  • Lady Bountiful, a comic about a rich lady who tried to help some urchinsnotice

  • an urchin theme here?

  • joined in this idiomatic arms race.

  • She also had speech bubbles while other comics still used captions.

  • Those speech bubbles were more visceral than captions.

  • They could show music and weird stuff like ideas, and this

  • - the first known grawlix.

  • Now it's hard to be certain that this really was the first grawlix.

  • But suddenly in 1902 and 1903, there were a @[email protected]$$$ ton of them, and only a few comics

  • were innovative enough to employ the new device.

  • In December 1902, the Katzenjammer kids joined in with Lady B.

  • These trailblazing comics established how you talk in comics with speech bubbles,

  • and with the grawlix, they established how you showed you just don't give a [email protected]#()!!.

  • This is a 1 kiloherz sine wave.

  • You might not recognize it.

  • But it sounds like this.

  • It solves a problem and creates a feeling.

  • Just like the grawlix.

  • It's the fun of transgression and the punishment, all in one smush of symbols.

  • Sure, Sarge gets mad at Beetle for breaking the rules.

  • But Beetle, that little [email protected](#* !*@#( little @#($*@#($* skinny *@#$(*!)@ son of a ()@#()$*@ kind of *@(#$*(@#*$.

  • Sarge loves him, too.

  • Hey, what's up @#)$*(@(#? Two things.

  • First, if you're interested in language nerdery like this, check out Language Log

  • and the writing of Ben Zimmer.

  • Both of those were instrumental in early research on the grawlix and it helped us get our start.

  • However, I do not wanna brag here, but we did find some early grawlixes that are even

  • earlier than the previously known ones.

  • If you want to learn about the research process for something as weird as a grawlix, Vox has

  • a membership program called the Vox Video Lab where there are a ton of extra videos and information.

  • In the Videolab, I have made a video about my research process and exactly how I nerded

  • out over these 1900s comics and found a ton of ()@#*$* grawlixes.

  • So, check it out if you want to see how it happened.

It's March 21, 1955, and the Sarge is really @(#$* mad.

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What the #[email protected]!% are these?

  • 85 3
    Liang Chen posted on 2019/02/23
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