After more than half a century as a staple of the funny pages, the comic strip Apartment 3-G, centering around the romantic and professional exploits of three young women sharing a New York apartment, quietly ended its run on Sunday, having been canceled without fanfare by its distributor, King Features Syndicate. Fans should probably have seen this coming. The entire newspaper industry is in jeopardy, and old-fashioned “soap strips” like Apartment 3-G are looking especially antiquated these days.
But A3G had other problems: Under the stewardship of writer Margaret Shulock and nonagenarian artist Frank Bolle, the strip had lapsed into a strange, almost surreal state of incoherence. The original writer, Nicholas P. Dallis, and the original artist, Alex Kotzky, both died back in the 1990s. In the hands of the new creative team, plots became disjointed and unfollowable, and the artwork became stiff and minimalist, with characters nearly always depicted from the shoulders up and a few standard props (including a lamp and some drapes) decorating the otherwise eerily blank backgrounds.
Because of its odd duck status, Apartment 3-G attracted an inordinate amount of attention in the comics blogging community during its beleaguered final years. Several of those commentators weighed in over the weekend with their own eulogies for A3G. Perhaps hardest hit was The Lovely Ladies Of Apartment 3-G, a blog whose sole reason for existence was covering this one comic strip. In “quite possibly this blog’s final post,” Lovely Ladies tried to decipher A3G’s cryptic final panel, in which a heretofore unseen dog stares quizzically at one of the strip’s main characters, mercurial brunette Margo Magee.
Huh? A dog?? We haven’t seen a dog in the strip since ever! What does it mean? It seems unnaturally fixated on Margo. Is it absorbing her essence, with which to infiltrate another strip? Is Barksy going to have his own spin-off comic, maybe with Lampy and Taser Lady? Let the conspiracy theories commence…
Another blog, meanwhile, used the death of Apartment 3-G to speculate on the future of newspaper comics in general. After all, when one comic strip is canceled, that provides an opportunity to other strips hoping to take its spot in hundreds of newspapers.
Certainly not winning are the soap opera strips. As a genre they’re dead, probably squeezed the same way soap operas proper are dying (in the United States). Kids don’t grow up reading them, and adults have better things to do than follow the soaps. I don’t know when the last new syndicated soap opera strip to launch was. The closest might be Dan Thompson’s Rip Haywire, which is an action-adventure strip, but a humorous, self-spoofing one.
The Comics Reporter just took some time to appreciate the strangeness of Apartment 3-G in its dying days.
I liked reading the strips very much. It definitely has an unaffected, what-we-call-Lynchian quality where what you’re seeing and what you’re “hearing” as dialogue don’t match. The limited sets and slightly faded color choices make it a bit nightmarish, almost like the world is collapsing comic book “crisis” style around these increasingly feckless characters. It’s hard to believe there are more than a dozen “places” in the world these characters exist. Even the lettering gets in on the act, unrefined and delicate in a way that seems that much more at odds with a strip that had a real slickness to it even into recent memory: it’s like catching a dapper uncle with an untucked shirt, or an elegant aunt with smeared lipstick
No survey of the blogging community like this would be complete without a mention of the blog that, more than any other, has kept interest in soap strips like Apartment 3-G alive: Josh Fruhlinger’s The Comics Curmudgeon. In his farewell to A3G, Fruhlinger pointed out that that the strip was second only to Mary Worth in receiving Curmudgeon coverage and expressed his gratitude.
It’s going to take a long time to displace Apartment 3-G from its number two spot. The strip’s quality might have fallen a lot from its glory days, but for most of the last decade it’s been a fun, frothy strip with a great three-cornered dynamic among the leads that I’ve enjoyed poking fun at and also genuinely, actually enjoyed.