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A model family with an edge

By LENNIE BENNETT
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 2, 2003

The difference between Rose Is Rose and most other daily comic strips is like the difference between a movie made with multiple camera angles and another made with one.

Creator Pat Brady charges his sweetly wrought vignettes of the Gumbo family with unusual perspectives and characters who sometimes live unconventional inner lives, visual and thematic zings distinguishing Rose Is Rose from most other family-based comics.

Even though the cartoon is named for matriarch Rose, the comic has an ensemble cast, each family member taking the spotlight at different times in equal measure. Fifty years ago, happy-to-stay-at-home mom Rose and her devoted handyman husband, Jumbo, would have been considered conventional. Today, they seem idealized. Their son Pasquale is, of course, adorable and precocious, as is the family cat, Peekaboo.

But there is an edge to this nuclear family perfection. Rose has an alter ego, Vicky the Biker. Vicky, with big hair and a short leather skirt, allows Rose a wild side, infrequently indulged, that doesn't threaten the family equilibrium.

Pasquale has a guardian angel -- a real character and not a figment of the imagination as Vicky is, Brady says -- that also assumes different identities. Most of the time, the angel hovers as a small winged version of Pasquale, a guidance counselor with a sense of humor, or as a more watchful presence when clad in a suit and fedora. In moments of danger, a huge warrior angel emerges. In his multiple incarnations, the angel is the constant companion every parent wishes a child could have.

Brady doesn't break new ground with the story lines, which revolve around daily household routines, and the characters never resort to the condescension or eye-rolling irony toward each other that is staple behavior for most contemporary domestic comedy.

Much of the drama comes from the perspectives Brady uses. He frames the comic strip panels like storyboards for movies, seeing a scene as a character might. When Jumbo looks down at Peekaboo, we see the cat through his eyes. Sometimes we're watching the action in a long shot from the ceiling, sometimes in a magnified closeup in which the images become abstract shapes. It's a subtle reminder that reading comic strips could be considered a form -- a harmless one -- of voyeurism.

Brady's creativity is most apparent in his treatment of Peekaboo the cat. He captures her essence, and that of all cats, in her gravity-defying movements and passive-aggressive behavior. Even a moment as pedestrian as Peekaboo's search for a patch of sunlight in a window becomes a funny valentine to cat lovers.

Rose Is Rose, which Brady began in 1984 and runs in about 600 newspapers, is not based on his family, happy though he says it is. He and his wife live in Sycamore, Ill., near Chicago, and have a 21-year-old daughter.

GUEST COMIC: ROSE IS ROSE

By Pat Brady

In Rose Is Rose, the next comic strip we're auditioning, artist Pat Brady introduces us to Rose Gumbo and her clan of daydreamers. Each contender for a spot on our funny pages is being introduced on a Sunday and running for a week in Floridian. After we've run all the contenders, we'll decide, with your help, which ones we want to keep. You can let us know your thoughts by writing to us: "Comics," St. Petersburg Times, c/o John Barry, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Or e-mail: floridian@sptimes.com with "Comics" in the subject line.

-- JOHN BARRY, deputy Floridian editor

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