From a Cave in the Woods...


The (Unofficial) 9 Chickweed Lane Tribute Page


A Brief Introduction  Characters  Foreshadowing  Color  Memes  Archives  About the Author

A Thank You  Books  Forum  Miscellany

 

9 Chickweed Lane is a webcomic drawn by Brooke McEldowney, (also the author of Pibgorn) which appears on the comics.com website. For further information on Pibgorn, please visit the Unofficial Pibgorn Tribute Page.

Contact the Artist

 

9 Chickweed lane began on August 2, 1993, syndicated by United Features Syndicate.  It was hosted by Tribune Media Services and the L.A. Times Syndicate for brief periods, and is now back home at the UFS. The Wikipedia article is extensive, and information available there, for the most part, will not be repeated here.

 

Standard Disclaimer: This page is a labor of love.  It is authorized by no one, and any complaints should be directed to bitbucket@devnull.com where nobody will ever see them.  If, however, you wish to heap praise instead of coals upon my head - or more importantly, if you see something that's inaccurate and needs correction - then write me at ccdesan@gmail.com. I'll correct the error and credit you with the change. All images and characters are copyright by someone, either United Features Syndicate, the artist, or one of his thralls. All information is subject to change, and presented here for illustrative and educational purposes only. I only hope I don't get a nasty letter from some attorney somewhere, hungry for billable hours.  If I do, I'll go tattle to Brooke. (Nyaah!)

 

A Brief Introduction

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9 Chickweed Lane is a saga which revolves around the Burber family - Juliette, a 40something divorcée; her daughter Edda; and her mother, Gran (Edna O'Malley).  While originally conceived as a gag-a-day strip, one arc where Edda suffered a gunshot wound at school ran - as an exception - for two weeks, and the most recent mega-arc, encompassing the lives of several characters, has actually carried on for years.  The characters are aging slowly, (with the exception of Thorax and Pap, who seem to live outside of this continuum), roughly at half the speed of normal time. The strip began just after Juliette had gone through an unpleasant divorce from her husband, Jack, and Edda was a pre-teenager. Juliette is now happily married (we think!) to Dr. Elliot Greene, and Edda is a young adult living on her own in New York, spiritually and otherwise bonded to Amos.

 

Amos and Edda: November 10, 1994   

 

Amos and Edda, November 28, 2008

 

Notes about the Characters

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Juliette  Edda  Gran  Amos  Jack  Thorax & Pap  Elliot Greene  Seth Appleby and Mark

 

Diane and Francis  Sister Steven  Fleurrie Spocket  Solange  Rudyard, Divot and Ambrose

 

Most of the basic information can be found at Wikipedia.  A few supplementary items of interest are here, along with pictures:

 

Juliette Burber

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Despite being a tenured professor, Juliette has an unfettered imagination.  In addition to having an invisible childhood playmate that resurfaces on occasion, she lives a recurring fantasy of being "Panther Woman". This meme surfaces constantly throughout the strip, with great comic effect.

 

 

Juliette loves her daughter ferociously and without reservation, and has somehow managed to build that kind of relationship with a child that most people can only dream about - based on honesty and mutual respect, maintaining a position of parental authority and yet able to relate on an equal basis when wanted or needed.  Delightful!

 

Formerly a full-time university professor at the University of New Hampshire, Juliette finally tired of trying to educate drooling cretins who, like, you know, don't "get it", and dealing with lecherous trustees who served no other purpose than to draw large salaries, promote gender inequality, and hinder effective teaching. 

 

 

On January 10, 2005, Juliette took the opportunity to tell the board where they could shove their job, bought Thorax' dairy farm, and became a New England farmer.  However, an experience with a former student who became a veterinarian convinced her that there was value in teaching after all, and she returned to teaching part-time.

 

Edda Burber

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Edda is a supremely talented young woman. She is an above-average classical pianist, and a superb dancer.  She consistently got the highest marks in her class, not for plaudits or acclaim but for the sheer joy of learning.  She has a snarky side, and loved rattling the chains of her Catholic school teachers and administrators, but never in a mean-spirited way. She inherited her mother's gift for imagination, and often lapses into her role as Superlative Girl to make a point, or to cope with life's little challenges.

 

 

Even as a young adult who has recently graduated into full-fledged womanhood, she continues to grow and face her own shortcomings, albeit with a certain amount of resistance.

 

 

Gran (Edna O'Malley)

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Gran is Juliette's mom.  Cranky, irascible, critical and opinionated, you have to give her credit - she produced Juliette, and her influence ripples down the genetic stream to Edda.  She believes in decency, modesty, thrift, prudence, and everything that was commonly held up as a standard in previous generations.  She also has a romantic relationship with Thorax, which allows for limitless comedy:

 

 

As crusty as she likes to be, Gran has a heart of gold.

 

 

Amos Van Hoesen

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Amos is geek. He is übergeek, hypergeek, teh g33xx0r.  He is also Edda's childhood sweetheart, although it took them both most of their childhood to realize it. Their love story is probably the central theme of the entire strip. Their childhood has now ended, and the two of them have the seas of adulthood to cross together. Or not... only the author knows.

 

 

Although he was in love with Edda from the time they were small children, his total lack of awareness led him to pursue a girl named Mary (with invariably predictable results).

 

 

Amos and Sister Steven (the headmistress at his school) have an ongoing relationship...

 

 

A watershed moment in Amos and Edda's relationship took place on November 2, 2004 when he appeared with a whole new look:

 

 

From that point on, the love story between the two of them took on a much more serious tone.  To find out where it has gone, you will have to read the strip yourself!

 

Jack

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Jack Burber is Juliette's ex-husband. All we know about him is that he was a cheat and a liar.  We only ever see him from the back.

 

 

There is one thing, however, that Juliette is grateful to Jack for:

 

 

Thorax & Pap

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Thorax is McEldowney's factotum. He serves as mouthpiece, comic relief, Deus-ex-Machina, and Insanity Point Man.  He has various names, or none, or unpronounceable ones;  he is not of this universe, and keeps a quantum anomaly in his shed.  He speaks to God, Death and invisible playmates regularly.  There is no describing Thorax.  Just read the strip and enjoy him.  His tiny, wizened father Pap seems to think there's nothing at all strange about his son.  Both of them make regular appearances in the Pibgorn universe.  Thorax recently sold his farm to Juliette, but seems to maintain a presence there.

 

 

For more Thorax, see the section below on Memes.

 

Elliot Greene

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Dr. Elliot Greene is Juliette's husband.  For the longest time he was just a boyfriend, but finally broke down Juliette's resistance to commiting to a new relationship. They were married by Thorax in one of the most unusual wedding ceremonies ever seen - and which Gran doesn't believe is valid.  He has always loved Juliette without reservation, just the way she is.

 

 

Seth and Mark

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The subplot of Seth Appleby and his partner Mark is an opportunity for McEldowney to explore the complexities of human relationships at another level. When Edda moved to New York to join her ballet company, Seth was made her dance partner, and they ended up becoming roommates.  Because Seth is totally safe for Edda, he becomes a stabilizing influence in her life, one with whom she can be completely honest without romantic complications. The fact that Edda knows Seth is immutably gay and respects him for what he is, doesn't mean that she misses the occasional opportunity to objectivize him.

 

 

Edda loves Seth like a sibling, and is as protective of him as he is of her.

 

 

Seth and Mark both play pivotal rôles in the love stories between Amos and Edda, and Francis and Diane.

 

Diane (Sister Aramus) and (ex-Father) Francis Durly

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Sister Aramus was a teacher at Edda and Amos' Catholic School.  She and Father Durly met when he came to the school as the secretary to visiting Bishop Kretschmar.

 

 

The two of them were immediately attracted to one another:

 

After a long and convoluted relationship adventure involving Edda, Amos, Seth and Mark, they both ended up abandoning their vocations and getting married. It is a beautiful story.

 

Sister Steven

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The headmistress at Amos and Edda's school, Sister Steven is "lovingly" referred to as Sister Caligula.  She delights in terrorizing the students, is 110% committed to her faith, and puts no stock in frivolity. Her brother is a cardinal.

 

 

Under her severe exterior, however, she harbors an extremely soft heart. She loves her students and subordinates, has a particularly soft spot for Amos and Edda despite the challenges they gave her, and - while admonishing all whom she encounters to live lives of Catholic decency - supports those whom she loves in their ultimate choices and destinies.

 

 

Fleurrie Spocket

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Fleurrie Spocket is a veterinarian who came to treat Juliette's sick bull.  She was once Juliette's student, whom Juliette remembered as "the narcoleptic mouth-breather in the back row," and it was her success in life that prompted Juliette to return to teaching part-time.  She used to treat the animals when Thorax owned the farm, and she has a deep mistrust of Thorax and his strangeness, but is gradually coming to see that there is more to Thorax than meets the eye.

 

 

Solange

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Solange is Edda's cat.  She is also insane. Oh wait, sorry, no difference.  Solange has her own collection of strips, Hallmarks of Felinity, the first 46 of which appeared in a 2002 volume published by Andrews McMeel.  After 189, they were no longer numbered.

 

Hallmarks of Felinity 1-189

Hallmarks of Felinity, Unnumbered

 

Solange's first appearance:

 

Solange is officially introduced:

 

After one or two more appearances, Ambrose (the spot-eyed cat) gave way to Solange on a permanent basis.

 

 

Solange also appears in many other strips, illustrating the terror and variety of the feline entity.  Whether you're a cat-lover or a cat-hater, you'll resonate with strips that feature this personification of mercuriality.

 

Rudyard, Divot and Ambrose

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Rudyard was a whippet, and Divot a greyhound. They were ultimately retired.  Rudyard's wisdom is now often heard through Thorax.

 

Here is Ambrose1 along with Rudyard, in a typical McEldowney homily. He was ultimately replaced by Solange.

 

 

Artistic Freedom

 

More than any other artist (except perhaps Watterson), Brooke McEldowney has never been content to stay within the syndicate-imposed structure of comic strips, and has taken many opportunities to flaunt his independence.  His other webcomic, Pibgorn, has allowed him to break all the conventions of panelling and experiment with a much more dynamic format.  Even though Chickweed is restricted by newspaper requirements, it has numerous examples of pushing the envelope - some of the Sunday strips are stunning.

 

Breaking the fourth wall

 

Artistic whimsy

 

Cats never stay where they are supposed to...

 

Breaking the time barrier...

 

Playing with color

 

Memes

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Numerous recurring themes appear in 9 Chickweed lane. Below is only a sample - there are many others.

 

Crimes against Adulthood

The Locutionary Field Guide to Planet Earth

The Daily Thorax Horoscope

The Meditations of Thorax

Book Types

The Innocent Bystander's Guide to Classical Music

What is Love?

Half Empty / Half Full

The Unicorn Arc

"Oh, you're a ballet dancer?  Do you have a real job?"

God (aka Monty)

We've been hearing Thorax refer to God as "Monty" for some time.  In addition to the "Mega-God Auditions" sequence, He played a substantial rôle in the courtship of Francis and Diane.  Now we finally get to see Him.

Death (aka Ralph)

Coincidentally, Juliette's invisible playmate is also referred to by Thorax as "Ralph"

Weight Issues

What we imagine is not always what is...

Hilary Hahn

A pivotal point in the ongoing relationship between Amos and Edda was a concert by Hilary Hahn, the Grammy-Award-Winning real-life violinist. Recently, Ms. Hahn discovered the strips about herself, and appears delighted that she has been featured in the "funny papers".  She posted the relevant strips at her Fan Art page.

 

Foreshadowing

 

On November 7, 1998, Brooke published this strip:

 

 

This was three full years before Pibgorn first came into existence as an official strip.  Clearly he was already thinking about Pib and Luciano, at least in some form.

 

Color

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Newspapers regularly color strips as a matter of course these days, and some have done it for years.  Syndication obligations mean the artists don't have any say in what happens, but online Brooke was able to put his foot down when Comics.com started colorizing all black and white strips.  He posted an essay on colorization at his Livejournal here.

 

Click on the image below to cycle through the various versions (it takes a few seconds for each image to load the first time through, be patient.)

 

Archives

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Archives of 9 Chickweed Lane can be found at the GoComics website. However, the early strips have not been officially published on the web.  The strips are now being published in book form.

 

About the Author

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Brooke McEldowney's biography can be found at Wikipedia here, and his official Chickweed Lane blog is found at the Chickweed Cafe. Beyond what you can read about him in the media, much can be deduced about the man from the worlds that he creates.  He has a great love of the beauty of the human form, and draws a well-turned ankle (and thigh, and waist, and... well, you get the idea) with precision and devotion.  Much of his skill in this area he attributes to having spent much time sketching ballerinas while studying music at Julliard.  His characters can be gut-wrenchingly attractive.  More than this, Mr. McEldowney has a classically-educated mind which is also unfettered by convention. His flights of fancy are difficult to describe without experiencing them, but fortunately his work is available on the web, and in several hard-bound collections available at Pib Press.

 

Until the man writes his autobiography, or publishes an annotated anthology of his work, it is senseless to say "Brooke thinks this or that." However, based on the dialog he writes for his characters, as well as the contents of his various blog postings and emails to fans, it's fair to extrapolate a few points about the world that Brooke would create were he King of the Universe. It would most likely be a world that works for everyone; a world of peace, common sense, responsibility, love and honesty.2 And lawn chairs. After all, any man who spells a sneeze "Aeh-czshmpf!" has to have a good heart...

 

In the course of a radio interview, Brooke once discussed other artists and musicians whose work he admires. Some of his comments, along with samples of the works of these individuals, can be found here.

 

McEldowney's strips seem done more as a means of expression rather than for the purpose of making a living. It's plain he doesn't particularly care for syndicate restrictions on format, deadlines, or political correctness - all of which combine to make Pibgorn a much more suitable forum for his artistic and philosophical expressions.  On the web, an artist can do far more than in print.  That's not to say he's completely free... a few modifications were demanded to the final scenes of the Shakespearean adventure, which were happily corrected in the book.  Other changes were requested for 9 Chickweed Lane. Curious?  Click here or here.

 

He also cares neither for scorn nor kudos - he draws to please himself, and that's that. I for one am grateful for what he has brought to the world. That said, he is extremely gracious to his readers, answering emails and comments personally when he is able, and keeping us abreast of developments at the Chickweed Café.

 

Incidentally, his daughter runs her own weblog entitled The Snark Ascending. Surely the apple falleth not far from the tree...

 

Credit where credit is due

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A profound thanks from the devoted fans of 9 Chickweed Lane to Brooke's better half, who does whatever needs to be done to keep the good man at his drawing board and insulates him from the drivel of the occasional detractor.  May the Northeast winters be mild, the summers bounteous.

 

"No man can prosper without his woman's leave."

-Irish Proverb

 

 

 

 

 

Books

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All of the books below (with the exception of Hallmarks of Felinity) can be ordered online at Pib Press.

 

These books are beautiful, and the artwork breathtakingly detailed, much more so than visible on a computer screen. If you love the work of Brooke McEldowney, you owe it to yourself to pick up these collections. And no, Brooke didn't pay me to say that...

 

9 Chickweed Lane Books

At long last, the 9 Chickweed Lane strips are appearing in book form, beginning with Year One (1993-1994), as well as additional books of the more popular stories in recent years.

Brooke's first published book, Hallmarks of Felinity, has become a collector's item. A recent check showed 10 copies available at Amazon through private sources at prices between $56.00 and $163.00.  I have a mint-condition copy... $50,000 and it's yours.

EDIE ERNST - USO SINGER, ALLIED SPY

The immensely popular and touching story of Gran's youthful romance.

OUT WHOM SHALL WE GROSS?
The Chickweed Dailies,Year One (1993 - 94)

SONATA FOR PIANO AND ARMPIT
The Chickweed Dailies, Year Two (1994 - 95)

 

THE DAY MY PUBERTY DETONATED
The Chickweed Dailies, Year Three (1995 - 96)

RITA HAYWORTH, THE FATHER OF RELATIVITY
The Chickweed Dailies, Year Four (1996 - 97)

New! The story of Amos' and Edda's trip to the Brussels cello competition, and the best cure for hiccups...ever.

 

Pibgorn Books

Pibgorn, the Girl in the Coffee Cup is Pib's first adventure, and serves to introduce the characters of Pibgorn, Maurice, Geoff, Drusilla, Prince Crewth, Gaggot, and Luciano. Stolid Geoff rescues Pibgorn from a freezing death, after her wings ice up on an unauthorized winter flight. She pledges her eternal servitude, which Geoff is reluctant to accept, knowing how stodgy his church community can be about things like fairies and magic; but ultimately finds himself drawn in to a world far beyond the imaginings of a rather traditional organist.

Pibgorn Rep: A Midsummer Night's Dream is Brooke's re-imagining of Shakespeare's classic comedy, portrayed by the characters found in the Pibgorn comic strip.

The Poltergeist in the Piano is Pibgorn's second adventure, a mind-bending journey through space and time, including jet fighters, vampires and Space Opera.

Pibgorn and the Borgia Cantus is Pibgorn's third adventure, with a strong "Maltese Falcon" feel about it. The world saved by an accordion!

 

Forum

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The Comfy Couch of Confusion (v. 2.0) can be found here. Discussion about Pibgorn, 9 Chickweed Lane, life, the universe, and everything. Registration is required.

 

 

Miscellany

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A wonderful collection of 9 Chickweed Lane icons is available at Fearciuil's Livejournal. This is a gathering of some of McEldowney's more "interesting" expressions...

 

 

 

 


Footnotes:

 

1. Thanks to Poppysmatus for providing Ambrose's name

2. And as a very small personal aside, that's why I love McEldowney's work so much, and why I took the time to create this website. That's the kind of world I'd like to live in.