Quirky Fusco brothers return to The City
By Jane Ganahi of the Examiner staff
Sunday, May 7, 1995
If comic strip character "Cathy" has nightmares about blind dates with buffoons, chances are she's dreaming about the Fusco brothers.
The four brothers, who hail from Newark, N.J., have occupied their own strip for the last five years, expanding rapidly to a publishing empire of more than 100 papers in that time. On tap for the next expansion: The Examiner, which begins the cartoon on Monday.
"I'm glad to be appearing again in San Francisco, so it's good news," says creator J.C. Duffy, noting he isn't sure why it was canceled in the Chronicle. "I hear that in their polls it got both strong negative and positive reactions. I know it will never be "Calvin and Hobbs' or "Peanuts,' but the readers are loyal who do like it."
Indeed, other newspapers - among them the Orange County Register and the Philadelphia Daily News - which canceled the strip, soon reinstated it after readers rebelled.
What gets people so excited about the Fuscos? Duffy says he thinks it's because the four brothers are "everymen" - people with whom readers can identify. Topics for their wry discussions include things that come up between people everywhere: The war of the sexes, single life, dysfunctional families.
The commentary is wry, never obvious. The humor is quirky, never slapstick. If you like the subtle sarcasm of David Letterman, you'll like the Fuscos.
In addition, Duffy uses a unique technique - on TV, it's called "breaking the third wall" between the actors and audience. The brothers openly discuss such things as cartoon agents and lampoon standard cartoon visual devices like the balloon thoughts above their heads and the letters "Zzzz" that denotes sleeping.
Duffy, 43, says the brothers are in no way related to him.
"It's not my family. It's a made-up thing. I always wanted to do four goofy guys and a talking animal."
Duffy describes the family thus: "Lance is pretty much the leader; he's the oldest and kind of cynical. Al is the dumb guy, the youngest. Rolf is the ladies' man; he gets the sexist complaints. Lars is the quiet one; he's kind of classy. And Axel is a teenage wolverine, about 16. He's the sanest one, kind of high-minded. He just tolerates the brothers."
Why a wolverine? "I just thought a wolverine is more interesting than a dog. Some people debate which it is, but I like to leave it officially a mystery."
Duffy set the action in Newark because "I wanted it to be an East Coast city that was kind of dark and gloomy." He himself hails from Philadelphia, where he went to art school and still lives. But he thinks he might soon be making a move.
"I'm hoping to spend a lot of my summer in San Francisco; I hate the hot summers back here. I've been threatening to move there for years because I have a lot of good friends out there. It's a great town."
He has an ally in San Francisco - man-about-town and retro-rocker (with the Dinos) Roger Clark, who is collaborating with Duffy on an animated cartoon of the Fuscos. Duffy did the animation and helped write some songs along with Clark, who describes the project as being
As much as he loves being a cartoonist, he does admit, "I do get tired of doing the same characters every day. I like them, but sometimes I think if I have to draw this guy's head one more time I'm going to go on a shooting spree. But it's worth it to get it on the page."
Duffy also has created numerous greeting cards and already has published two Fusco Brothers anthologies,
"Meet the Fusco Brothers!" and "Newark and Reality . . . Together Again." Fans take note: His third book comes out this fall, titled "Cruel and Unusual."