The last appearance, published on Saturday 13 March 1977. Back at the office, Suzi is grumpy at Debbie and Maisie getting back late from lunch. Debbie’s initially dismissive, just a temporary mood, but then the phone rings. It’s the invisible John, Suzi’s never-seen husband, and they’re having an argument which Suzi is clearly winning by ordering him to do what he wanted to do in the first place that she didn’t want him to do. It’s the intrusive size of the balloon and the shape of the lettering that carries the gag, and Debbie’s despairing ‘Oh God, aggro all afternoon’ is just a tail-piece.
On Monday 15th March, Spare Ribs had vanished, to be replaced by tEmPS, by Dickens alone. The difference between the two was shocking, less in the art but in the writing. This was the same man! The same writer. And in the space of two days he had gone from some form of the sublime, light through it may have been, to the incomprehensibly unfunny – about the same subject.
Only 182 strips, but still a little gem, carefully polished and glinting in every facet.
Still in the park, as Debbie strikes back, itemising all the opportunities for romance that she and Maisie have passed up. These details go into the massive word balloon in the centre of the strip: I said that Dickens used Roberts’ ability to define things with such elegant style to take a wordy approach at times and this is a prime example. Maisie’s response is to shout ‘Big Deal!’, which is only fair as Debbie is reaching for it here – especially with the tramps (this may be an in-joke: Spare Ribs usually appeared directly under Iain ‘Fiddy’ Reid’s daily strip Tramps about -if you couldn’t guess – two tramps). But I see this as Debbie being slightly more self-aware than usual, knowing that she’s admitting it was a waste of time but sticking up for herself. One flaw: Maisie’s head position in the first image is uncharacteristically awkward, and only the perspective keeps her from being taller than Debbie, which she certainly is not!
We’re in the park now and Maisie’s still a bit frustrated at having her lunch hour taken up by one of Debbie’s pursuits that will get her exactly nowhere – then there’s the first eligible male they meet! Not the best strip of this sequence, but note Roberts’ art in this, especially in the middle image where he conjures up the sense of the park with minimal line-work. My personal favourite part of this strip is Maisie’s expression in the first image.
Enter Maisie. Debbie’s still harping on about her romantic magazines but the only response she gets from the down-to-earth Maisie is ‘Sounds a bit sloppy to me’. Maisie’s got her eyes on the practicalties, like where they’re going for lunch, which is the cue for Debbie, still absorbed in her story of love beginning with a meeting in the Park, to suggest – where else? – the Park. Again, Roberts kills it in the last image: Debbie is already leaning away, shyly aware of the response her less-than-innocent remark will get, whilst Maisie’s slightly condescending but amused ‘Silly Devil’ is accompanied by an ambiguous swat to the head: is it an exasperated smack or a patronising pat-down of a silly child? Note too Maisie’s preference for a grey top, to distinguish her from Debbie and Suzi.
A continuation of yesterday’s gag, still playing on the theme of the age-based disparity between Debbie and Suzi’s interests, and returning to the occasional hint that, a few years ago, the pre-marriage Suzi was a lot like Debbie. It’s a superb example of Roberts’ non-panel approach, as the images flow into each other, concentrating solely upon the two girls. Again, look at the expressiveness of the faces: even without the blush lines, Suzi knows she’s been caught out, whilst Debbie’s smile combines glee and superiority without any trace of malice.
A simple gag today, a gentle play on the difference in age (and marital status) between Suzi and Debbie. The two-step nature of the gag allows Roberts to insert a wealth of detail in the left hand image. Note that, even in their winter coats, Suzi and Debbie are distinguished by the same black/white contrast. This also works to distract attention away from the slouching guy at panel left, giving an admiring glance to Suzi: her black coat lands the eye in mid-image, progressing naturally rightwards from there and leaving him to smirk almost unnoticed. Beautiful staging.
After two long and wordy posts about the Frank Dickens and Don Roberts newspaper strip, Spare Ribs, you would probably like to see an example of the strip. So, here we are.
This strip was published on Saturday 27 February 1977, and features Debbie and Suzi. It’s Debbie who answers the pone, taking a call meant for Suzi, but opting to keep the (male) caller on the line since he likes her voice. Neither the dialogue, nor the situation, are funny in their own right, though the reader of the strip to date is well aware that Debbie is looking for Mr Right and treats any expresson of interest in her charms as potentially The Moment.
What makes this strip is Roberts’ art, and in particular his staging of Suzi’s progressively frustrated reaction. It’s a perfect progression, from the concentrating-on-my-typing unconcern, to the sidelong glance, the half-lowered eye, and culminating in the unveiled threat that has Debbie protectively shielding the phone. Roberts’ deftness of expression, with minimal linework, is a joy to watch.