Thursday, September 6, 2012

Dreaming While Awake in The Squirrel Cage (1946)

Gene Ahern Thursday
A new comic every Thursday by the master of comics surrealism!

You have to take a few minutes to savor this amazing example of The Squirrel Cage.  Last week,  in my last Gene Ahern Thursday posting, I discussed  how Ahern put dreams and surrealism into his supposedly "normal" Room and Board comic strip. I said that Room and Board, and its topper, The Squirrel Cage are meant to be read together, as an ongoing conversation about form, fantasy versus reality, and the surprising pliability of linear narrative. 

Today, I am pleased to present the other side of that conversation -- a Squirrel Cage about dreaming while wide awake. This strip is a perfect inversion of the dreams of Judge Puffle. Is the Judge dreaming about Foozland, or is Paul Bunyan (that's the red-suited gnome) dreaming about Puffle's reality? Of course, in Foozland, the only way to stop dreaming is to go to sleep...

A comic like no other - The Squirrel Cage by Gene Ahern (December 15, 1946)

It's no surprise that Ahern ends with a Native American totem pole. He is channeling the icons of the old, weird America and the time before that into this story. The Squirrel Cage sits somewhere between George Herriman's Krazy Kat and E. C. Segar's Popeye. It is a much under-appreciated, and virtually unknown comic that deserves greater attention. I've said this many times, but it's worth saying yet again: Ahern's Foozland continuity may well be one of the last great American newspaper comics sequences to be discovered.

Paul Foozemy


  1. Ah, if only we could see the original for this one! I'd love to see what happens in those missing panels.

  2. The seemingly bizarre symmetry here is actually not far removed from reality. People hallucinate as a result of ingesting some things. They also hallucinate as a result of sleep deprivation, in which case the hallucination is essentially a matter of dreaming while awake. And, in this latter case, the cure for the hallucination is … to get some sleep.

  3. A day without Foozland is like a couch on the moon!

  4. Carl -- yes indeed! For those that may not know, Squirrel Cage expert Carl Linich has figured out that Ahern drew ALL the Squirrel Cages in 3 tiers, even though it appears that after 1942 or so it was chopped down into two tiers for publication. We are still searching for a paper somewhere that may have ran the "complete" strips.

    And yes, oeconomist, this strip very strongly maps to the experience of altered states. Good observation.

    Lastly, I totally agree Frank that a day with Foozland is like a moon couch!

    Thanks for all your comments -- always appreciate folks' comments!