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Homeless comic strip to raise laughs and questions

July 03 2010
Pulitzer Prize-winner aims to be thought-provoking

One thing most readers of The Pavement probably agree on is that homelessness is no laughing matter, but a new comic strip launching in the US this month disagrees. Barney & Clyde (pictured) stars a homeless man and a billionaire.

Sounds tasteless? In the wrong hands, it easily could be; but its creator, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Gene Weingarten, told The Pavement that he aims to create a strip that is thought-provoking rather than clichéd or insensitive.

Weingarten says that the idea came during an argument, when his 20-year-old son said: "You know what would be a good idea for a strip? A friendship between a billionaire and a homeless person." Weingarten added: "I just sat there for a minute, then stood up and walked over to a calendar on the wall of my home office and I circled the date. It was 28 April, 2005. That was the birthday of "Barney & Clyde."

When asked why he chose these two characters, he replied: "Increasingly, we're living in a world of economic polarisation, of haves and have-nots. This raises plenty of legitimate philosophical questions that could be dealt with, we hope, through the universal prism of humour."

A week in, the strip seems to be more about the haves - and the ethical problems with amassing piles of cash - than the have-nots. The homeless character's only appearance so far is when, passing the billionaire in the street, he surprises the richer man by giving him a dollar and advising, "Now, don't go spending it all on crack."

Still, it's early days. If the strip can keep asking big questions about money and inequality without lapsing into lazy generalisations about homeless people (or the very rich), then Weingarten may have found a powerful vehicle for exploring some of the biggest issues of our time.