Excercises in Randomness
fun with stochastic comics

Click here to see the strips we originally used back in 1998.

Mary Worth: Threat or Menace?

Mary Worth is kind of like Star Blazers for me.

When I was in third grade, I would rush home in a sweaty fat boy run to catch the latest epipsode of Star Blazers, a show that combined all the worst aspects of soap operas and big-eyed Japanese cartoons. The show's gimmick was that it had a story with a fixed time line; at the end of each episode the Argo would only have 200 days... 175 days... 163 days left to get the cure and get back to Earth. If you missed an episode, though, you were completely lost. Instead of an episode with the Argo fighting a ship with a giant dentist's drill missile, there would be a whole new bunch of bad guys and an alien typewriter. Everyone else would tell me that it all made sense if you'd seen the missing episode; for all I know, that damned missing day must have held half the secrets of the universe. Either that or I was a half hour late and watching some other kid's show. I have my suspicions.

Experiences like that have left me with psychic scars and an unanswered longing for oh-so-crucial episode 25. That missing half hour split my generation in two, creating a secret fraternity forever seperating the enlightened cartoon-watchers from the ignorant yahoos who just happened to have dentist appointments that day. Couple the raging jealousy this has caused in me with a burning need to find patterns; a need to grasp order you can only barely glimpse, like picking a scab on your pineal body; and you begin to understand how I feel. There's probably a German word for the feeling, and it probably involves -schmertz at some point.

Whatever that unnamed emotion is, it pretty much sums up my Mary Worth experience. Miss a single episode of Mary Worth and the ongoing story makes no sense. Hell, read the strip for two months solid and it still makes no sense. Everything I know about the strip has been acquired through some inexplicable process of cultural osmosis; I don't actually know anybody who reads Mary Worth, but we all know it's about an advice columnist. Beyond that, the strips are a plot void. I have spent hours peering at them, and no matter what attempts I make to impose order on the bubbling chaos they represent they still make no sense.

Finally, I decided to undertake the kind of project performed by psychotic celebrity stalkers and Demitri Mendeleyev. I've collected about two months worth of Mary Worth and her partners in serial crime, Apartment 3-G and Rex Morgan, M.D., and separated them into their individual panels. At nights, I sit, rearranging the strips, altering the authors' intended order, hoping that by doing so I can spot some actual storyline and reassure myself that King Features Syndicate is not conducting some kind of dada experiment on the comic-reading public. So far, all I've discovered is that everything makes more sense when you mix panels from different strips together. I think King Features has won this round.

That brings us to our marvelous device. Dave has essentially automated what I've been doing by hand. We have collected a small archive of everyone's favorite Blue Haired Advice Goddess, and humbly present to you this device for randomly assembling the panels into complete Mary Worth comic strips. We hope that you'll find the results more comprehensible than the originals -- if not, you can use this page to generate oracular pronouncements for you, as some sort of weird I Ching for our supremely trivial era.

Mike Collins

741.5 Comics