For roughly the past ten months, I have been utterly transfixed by the comic 9 Chickweed Lane. I’ve actually been a fan of the daily strip for years, which, since its start in 1993, has focused primarily on headstrong professor-cum-farmer Juliette living at the titular address in New Hampshire, and her headstrong ballerina daughter Edda living in New York City. Drawn and written by Brooke McEldowney with a mix of elegant whimsy and tart erudition — words one rarely uses when describing the funny pages post-Calvin and Hobbes — it is always a brilliant way for me to start my morning.
Since last November, though, McEldowney has used 9 Chickweed Lane to tell a single ongoing story, which only this week appears to be coming together in a deeply poignant climax. The ambitious, moving, and still often pungently funny tale has been told almost entirely in flashback by Juliette’s usually cantankerous mother Edna (a.k.a. “Gran”) as her daughter sits at her bedside in the hospital. Set mostly in WWII-era England and then ten years later in New York, Edna tells Juliette about how, as a USO singer and covert spy, she came to fall in love with both an American intelligence officer and an Austrian P.O.W. Right there, you’ve got the makings of classic romantic melodrama, but McEldowney somehow keeps things from getting too crassly sentimental or unfolding in too obvious a fashion. And he’s barely wasted a panel doing it.
I can’t be the only one obsessed with this story, right? Please tell me I’m not, PopWatchers, and if you’ve no clue what I’m talking about but have been intrigued enough to read this far, I highly recommend starting the story at the beginning by clicking here. (The full-color Sunday strips aren’t part of the narrative, but they’re still a great introduction to the strip’s other characters, including Edda’s nebbish beau Amos and her gay roommate and dance partner Seth.) When you’re done, tell me this isn’t one of the most engrossing and well-told stories from this year, because I clearly believe it is.