A Very Bad Comic Strip: John McPherson’s Close To Home

There’s a lot of crap out there when it comes to syndicated comic strips. I could get all Comics Curmudgeon on your asses and pick apart tons of strips for a variety of different reasons, but today I feel like picking apart one in particular. And that would be John McPherson’s Close to Home. This strip debuted in 1992, apparently an unabashed Far Side ripoff, except less weird and drawn worse. In the intervening bunch of years, it has apparently gotten much much worser. It consistently delivers the blandest stereotypes and joke set-ups, which is the worserest thing of all. It is a comic featured in my local newspaper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette (syndicated in like, 700 other papers, too, says wikipedia), and I look forward to reading it with great relish every morning. Because I hate it so so much. Because it perfectly encapsulates everything that is wrong and bad about newspaper comic strip writing. Because it is so poorly executed, I usually spend more time trying to comprehend what I’m looking at than I do not laughing at the punchline.

I have been grabbing a few select strips from gocomics.com over the last year or so, thinking maybe someday when I was super-super bored or bedridden, I’d write this blog post. But this morning’s comic was just bad enough that it motivated me to write this right now, today, while my hatred is at a healthy and exuberant high. Is the bitter, jealous rant of a fellow cartoonist? No. Good God, no. I can’t imagine the emotion of jealously arising as a response to this art and writing. This is simply the bitter rant of someone who hates looking at shitty things.



This is my suspicion: I don’t think John McPherson knows how to sketch. I think he has his idea and just starts inking it directly into a pre-printed rectangle. And hey, if something doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. No big deal! On a daily basis, this comic strip provides the worst composition I see from a professional published artist. So let’s take a look at the above example. The treadmill is in the center of the panel, but it is not the punchline. The punchline is that the owners are fat. But one owner is partially obscured by the treadmill, and the other one is cropped off the edge of the panel. So what the reader should immediately recognize is hidden. What really draws the reader’s eye is the large expanse of empty grass area. This had the potential to be a funny joke, sort of. But it is not.

—- UPDATE: FEB 3, 2011 – OH COME ON —-

What is WRONG with this fucking man? The first comic, as mentioned above, was poorly-composed and a mediocre joke a best. And now, some number of months later, here we are again, with a FRESH NEW TAKE on THE SAME JOKE. AND IT IS STILL POORLY-COMPOSED AND MEDIOCRE. And this time THE ARTWORK IS EVEN WORSE. Look at that fucking guy on the left! Look how fucking huge those people are in relation to that garage! What is that tennis racket doing? Why is this treadmill $50 more than the other one? What the shit!



I should mention here that these comics are printed in the newspaper in black and white. So panels like this look even worse there. Practically incomprehensible. The black window trim looks exactly like the porch posts which are supposed to be further away (at first I thought it was a three pane casement picture window). Are those curtains? What’s wrong with those curtains? I think the neighbors are in a screened in porch. Everything is extremely flat here; the depth is all ganked up. The dude with the binoculars sort of looks like he’s looking at the roof of the house, which makes it even more confusing to visually decode.



What a wonderful large expanse of blank white wall!



THE WRITING: This comic is a deft combination of two overused clichés in comics – a desert island gag and a “____ For Dummies” reference. The result is spectacularly forgettable. THE ART: Line variation can really help out a drawing sometimes, but McPherson likes to draw body hair and grime with the same pen he draws everything else with, I guess. This man doesn’t look like he’s been marooned on an island. He looks like he was mercilessly beaten with a cactus.



John McPherson is a man who has developed a humor style that only relies on two facial expression types: deadpan-blank or lobotomy-stupid. When he goes out of his comfort zone to try something a bit more emotionally complex, like say “being choked by a python,” what little style he has completely falls apart. As bad as I think this comic is generally drawn, this man’s face manages to look considerably worse (Is he crying or sweating? Why are his pupils dilated? Is there a glaucoma test joke I’m missing?). An aside: Why are his pants so baggy? Why are everyone’s pants in every comic so baggy? Points awarded for not leaving the upper third of the panel completely blank.



Jesus fuck, McPherson. Can’t you draw a fucking car? Do you know what perspective is? Is that supposed to be fire in a trashcan? Is that an Asian man in that broken window? Is that rat the same size as that man’s head? When did car manufacturers stop producing vehicles with hood ornaments, exactly? Is that a knife on the ground? Do most brick wall dead-end alleys have floor trim along the ground? Jesus fucking fuck, LOOK HOW FUCKING TERRIBLE THAT CAR LOOKS. Is it 40 feet long? Is the front tire bigger than the back one? IT IS REALLY REALLY BAD.




Comics need to communicate ideas simply and clearly, especially since they are often reproduced at smaller sizes. In this strip, a relatively simple visual idea is needlessly cluttered. The torch is the whole focus of the joke, but it is tangled up in the composition with the waiter’s arm and the table. the flame looks like a solid ropey thing connecting it to the steak. John Kricfalusi would have a seizure if he saw this. Meanwhile, the man’s arms seem to be melting into his upper torso. I think this is the third example I’ve shown that has a woman wearing that dress. Checkered pants? Where the fuck do you get checkered pants in 2010? Is he in a ska band or something? I don’t think there are any ska bands in 2010, either. Note that his pants are baggy. So is the tablecloth. Conspiracy?

—- UPDATE: JULY 2, 2013 —-

2013-07-02
Apparently this joke isn’t too rare HA HA HAH A ha oh god



So the rectangle that a comic is drawn in is called a border. The border defines what the comic panel is. Here, the artist has bisected his panel into two. Now, a clear-thinking person might go to the trouble to make the added borders match the existing borders. Maybe, oh I don’t know, use a fucking ruler. Maybe even get extra-fancy and use a little white-out to erase the ends so the two panels look like two distinct boxes. But no no no. That would look too good. McPherson has no time for such things. He’s going for the lumpy line look. And he’s going to lazily slap it on at a jazzy angle, to highlight the blank wall above the computer monitor that has no keyboard. Other things to note: What is that woman supposed to be driving? a ’62 Ford Pickup? Look at those fucking seats! The steering wheel! The copious headroom! I’m almost jealous. Also, what visual cue exists to let the reader know the woman in the top panel can hear what the man in the bottom panel is saying? He is not speaking into anything. She has no cell phone, no headset, no made-up dash-mounted speaker-thing with noise-lines emanating from it. She’s just a dead-eyed woman looking through a windshield that’s two inches away from her face, holding a shaking steering wheel with the skinny little deformed arm that is growing out of the top of her thigh.



An uncharacteristic and wholly unnecessary attempt at detail here. Whoa, man… I can see the nails in the clapboard! I can see… are those nail heads under the porch railing too? Huh? Wait… are those nail heads around the robot, too? More questions: Why does an outside door have trim you normally find on an inside door? Why is there so much attention paid to clapboard and nails, and then the door is entirely blank? Why does each porch step appear to be two feet tall? How exactly did the robot climb the two-foot tall steps?



Another fine example of body hair/grime gone horribly awry, but the thick, stalagmite-like flames really seem to dance on the page! The devil’s head actually starts off okay looking, but then the artistic choice is made to lose the black beard in the black robe. I just noticed that McPherson draws voice bubbles like retarded thought bubbles. Weird. And I will deduce from the increasingly sloped handwriting that McPherson is a lefty, and that his left elbow is Krazy-Glued to his drawing table.



This is the comic that caused me to start saving these things. The visuals of this comic panel are so poorly conceived it makes me writhe in pain. Remember now, this runs in the paper in black and white… Imagine just how blank and expansive that large field representing asphalt really is… that huge chunk of nothing that is taking up the entire bottom half of the panel. Now note the two things that are supposed to be the focus of the joke: the couple cropped off the right side of the panel and the (wheel-less??) car cropped off the left side. There is easily ten or twenty different ways this could’ve been composed to better communicate this crappy joke. But no, this is what the man went with. This. He drew this and thought to himself “NAILED ANOTHER ONE!” Shit, there’s that fucking dress again, too.

—- UPDATE: MAY 23, 2011 – WHAT THE GYAAAGGHH —-

I don’t know what to say. I really don’t.



TODAY’S COMIC, THE ONE THAT FINALLY MOTIVATED ME TO WRITE THIS POST: Where is the woman’s left leg? Is she kneeling? Is she kneeling with one leg in a hole? How much thicker and longer is the man’s right arm than his left arm? Why are his pecs so low? What happened, exactly, to that poor girl’s face? Is he standing upright in the middle of a tractor? Where the fuck is the back rear right wheel of the tractor? Since when are Nebraskans stereotyped as Simpsons-like hillbillies? What is that wavy arrow near the girl’s fist pointing at? Do Nebraskans normally use riding lawn mowers to harvest corn? Is it too much of a burden for the artist to Google Image Search something he doesn’t know anything about so he can at least make a cursory attempt to draw it correctly? How about corn? Is corn too hard to draw?

Close To Home. Nationally syndicated for 18 years. Carried in over 700 newspapers. Apparently there is an editor somewhere that approves of each strip. Good grief.


1. A few more CTH strips I’ve noticed since I originally published this post.

2. If you’d like to read more of my painfully insightful observations on the visual language of comics and cartooning, you should check out my half-kidding-around post Cartooning vs. Technology: How Steve Jobs Ruined Comics.


71 thoughts on “A Very Bad Comic Strip: John McPherson’s Close To Home

  1. So you get on him for both too cluttered panels and ones with too much blank space?
    Ok, drawing is not painting quality, but the one web comic that tried that folded for lack of time.
    For most webcomics I have seen and enjoyed, the story is the main thing. This daily joke comic is good enough.
    The ‘poorly drawn’ characters etc are just this comic’s style. Get used to it, we have done so for every comic visited.

  2. I am totally with you on this. Everything about that comic sucks. The drawing sucks, the jokes suck, the composition sucks, it is a really shitty comic.

    Yes, he does look like he was beaten with a cactus.

    She is kneeling with one leg in a hole.

    Standing in a riding lawn mower is how corn is harvested these days.

  3. spot on dude. this comic makes me bonkers. It’s complete garbage. It pleases my rage receptors to read comedic dissections about its many failings.

  4. Spot on! This comic is pure garbage. I’ve thought this for years. This guy rode the coat tails of the Far Side craze, and somehow is still employed. My 4 year old daughter can draw better pictures. His comedy sucks, nothing about this comic is even close to funny. I find myself turning to the comic page and going straight to this comic to see what utter failure made it to the strip this day. Absolutely terrible.

  5. Yes, I agree with you. “Close To Home” is crap. Mostly because of the horrible drawing. There are crappier ones, however. Take a look at “Reply All” by Donna Lewis. Her drawings are so rudimentary, she makes John McPherson look like Leonardo da Vinci.

  6. This comic is so bad I read it every day just to marvel at its awesome badness. It is almost never funny, although that is a criticism I could level at most daily comics, but the art is so devoid of even the most basic drawing skill that it often takes several minutes of head scratching to decode his intentions. He is especially bad at fire and pine trees. I have often asked myself if he has no access to Google images – that would be one explanation for his terrible art. He draws as if he has never actually seen the things he is trying to draw, but is instead relying on someone’s vague description. How did he ever get published?

  7. I thought I was in a time loop. I knew I’d seen the strip from today (May 23rd, 2011) before. Then I realized it was an earlier version, discussed on your site! Lo and behold, I popped on today, and you’ve already made a note of it. And then I had to double-check today’s date because McPherson has me all paranoid about the space/time continuum.

    How often does this guy plagarize himself? Is he going back through all his old strips to “improve” them, thereby moving from F to D-minus (if that?)

    My head hurts.

  8. Thanks for publicly lambasting that piece of shit comic. One of the worst I’ve ever seen. I haven’t lived in the syndication area for over 12 years and I’m still seething with disapproval. It begs the question, “whose responsibility is it to approve inclusion of Close to Home in a publication and wtf is wrong with that person anyway?”

  9. I made the mistake of buying a page-a-day Close to Home calendar for 2011; this has been the most miserable year of my life.

  10. THANK YOU for saying SOME of the complaints I have about this schlock artist. A few years ago I Googled up his background, and it alledged he was an engineer-become-artist. There is no fucking way this man knows ANYTHING about basic designs: he draws toilets anchored to the floor with ten bolts, his cars remind me of my LSD days in Los Angeles, and his perspective shows he doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground. I looked up his background because I thought perhaps he drew using his feet, being armless or something. No: an technical engineer.

  11. This is wonderful, thank you so much. I have hated this comic for ages and been waiting for something like this.

    I only wish how you would point out how unfunny these jokes are despite the terrible art. I’ll give a pass to crappy (even terrible) artwork like this if you can make me laugh. But the “jokes” beneath these images are devoid of humor.

    How is this man not embarrassed? What do his family and friends tell him about his work? Do they pretend to like it?

    I want to meet one of the simpletons that like this comic. They must exist, no?

    1. We tell him how impressed we are that day after day, year after year he not only sketches the tunes needed for a week, but for a wide variety of specials. Further, we tell him how we marvel that he’s able to produce witty themes and occasionally hilarious setups that keep millions of fans happy even when he has a real life with all of its realy challenges. You try it. Try it for a year. See how you do. Try it for two. What about ten? Could you keep it up? We tell him the truth–that he’s one of the finest people we’re blessed to know–a person who’d not waste his time responding to shit from hacks here. No, he’s drawing, unlike the witless pukes here who don’t seem to know the difference between an off-kilter cartoon and a first-year art class lesson.

      1. You know this guy gets PAID for this, right? He’s not some saint gifting the world with humor, it’s his job. Lots of people have the same job he has, and THOSE people use multiple sized pens, don’t rehash the same joke over and over, etc. If we should applauding the guy who creates this terrible, TERRIBLE comic strip, the worst I’ve ever seen, then what should we be doing with the people who actually demostrate talent and effort? Worshipping them as gods?

      2. No one said the ‘artist’ is a bad person… just that he sucks at what he does. It’s ok… lots of people suck at their chosen vocation. When you end up with a hack for a cardiologist, just remember- he’s a really great guy and has been performing consistently (but poorly) for YEARS!

  12. Ok, I’ll be the one that disagrees. I used to like McPherson. I actually found this web article because I noticed that the comics quality went distinctly downhill about a year ago and I was doing a web search to try to find out what happened. I guess he ran out of material.
    About the complaints. I personally don’t care if the comics are drawn well or not. Family Circle could be drawn by Rembrandt and I still would hate it. It is just not my sense of humor. On the other hand, I’ve seen stick figure cartoons that I liked.
    As for being a Larsen ripoff – maybe there is a humor style that people like Mc Pherson, Larsen, Herman Unger and the like have. It’s not a rip off, it is a style. Larsen dealt a lot with animals, McPherson rarely does, so the criticism that he is copying Larson doesn’t cut the mustard in my book either.
    BUT – as I said, the comic has distinctly been unfunny recently. So much so that I’m searching for a reason. I haven’t seen such a distinct style change in a comic that I follow since Mort Walker’s “Beetle Bailey” cartoon suddenly lost all its edge when he apparently self censored (or was forced to censor) the violence and tone down Miss Buxely’s outfits in – what? the 1990’s I guess.

  13. Quote: “Larsen dealt a lot with animals, McPherson rarely does”

    McPherson CAN’T draw animals, and he avoids them BECAUSE he can’t draw them.

    Virtually all cartoonist’s styles evolve, and most of them improve their drawings. Not McPherson: it gets worse.

    Perhaps he IS drawing with his feet.

  14. I love you man, you think exactly like I do about this McPhearson’s shit, hes horrible..

    I first learned about this when last year my mom got me a desk comic calendar thing for Christmas, I was like, cool this probably will be funny. Well not so much, every single page was horrible, It made me depressed every time I would read one of them, who thought this guy was good enough to be put on stuff people buy..

    Well I hoped this year for 2012 if my mom buys me another calender I hope it is not this pathetic excuse for a cartoon artist/comedian. Well guess what.. 2011 Christmas… another piece of shit McPhearson calender. I tried to get through a few days.. nope.. sorry.. not funny.. “throws in garbage”

  15. Enjoyed your comments which are spot on.

    We have this strip running here in Malaysia on the Star newspaper too and it’s always disturbing to see the excessive and grotesque body hair, the endless show of baggy clothes, the disproportionate body parts, and often, unnecessarily hairy inanimate objects. McPherson could also lay claim to being the only cartoonist who consistently drew the ugliest people in the business.

  16. The first time I’ve actually laughed at a Close to Home comic was while reading your blog post. Your observations are spot-on. There’re so many amazing comic and webcomic artists out there who manage to consistently deliver, both art-wise and in insights/humor.

    McPherson consistently fails. Why is he still drawing??

  17. LOL! I thought I was the only one who thought this was rather hideous. As an artist, I realize there are infinite styles, approaches to art (and writing). Diversity is a wonderful thing. That said, I was trying to figure out how this got published (instead of, oh me).

    Of course, I still think Picasso’s hideous too…

  18. Agree completely with all critiques. Much funnier than the crap Mcpherson manages to get published. If drawing POORLY and having no sense of humor was a crime, he’d be on death row.

  19. Never seen this strip before, but it is truly terrible.

    Re: you P.P.S. — The caveman comic takes a lot of parsing, but I believe what’s happening is this: An explorer/archaeologist is inspecting cave paintings (the dark part is a cave wall, and the deer is another painting). There’s one painting of a caveman coming up behind a guy in an explorer outfit and whacking him with a club. The explorer is caught in the moment of stunned realization as to what that means… right before the caveman who came up behind him knocks him out. Real stretch, poorly done. I think the trouble with most of these is that you have to completely undersand the joke before you can begin to process the art meaningfully. It’s like an inverse-comic.

  20. Thank you, this is superb. Just an idea about the last one–I’m pretty sure that is supposed to be a cave drawing, and those carrot things are stalactites. So the explorer is about to fall victim to the acto portrayed in the drawing.

    Get it?

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