The comic strip 9 Chickweed Lane was started by Brooke McEldowney in 1993. Originally a gag-a-day strip about three generations of women in the Burber family: biology professor Juliette Burber; her teenage daughter, Edda, and her mother, Edna O'Malley, whom everyone calls Gran. (Gran has been written out of the strip after the end of a year-long flashback.) It gradually turned into a platform for the creator to express his views on culture, politics, religion and gender relations. Since 20-year-old Edda seems to have been promoted to being the central character, it also allowed McEldowney to indulge in his love of odd camera angles and polysyllabic words.
This strip provides examples of:
All Women Are Lustful: It is impossible to name a female character in the McEldowney universe (pregnant nuns included) that isn't obsessed with having sex in some way or another; either they're getting it and happy or not getting any and bitter about it.
Art Evolution: Edda was more menacing than pretty (you know that gleeful look on "peeing on [insert name here] Calvin"-sticker has? That was Edda's default expression).
McEldowney loves the female form (especially the legs) and isn't shy about it.
His love of classic cinema (30s and 40s) era also tends to come through almost Author Tract like.
Author Tract: Once Thorax, the dairy farmer from another galaxy, became prominent, the readers were treated to strip after strip detailing McEldowney's take on the world. Lately it seems that Seth is taking over that role.
Edda's Pregnancy Scare arc seemed to have exposed Brooke's pro-life stance: Seth was telling her to get married and have kids, a straw-woman thinks abortions are the only solution to unplanned pregnancies, Edda's grandma Edna is there to remind her that Edda's mother was unplannednote the sentiment is kind of weakened if one remembers that it basically ruined Edna's life: love for her children aside, she went from being an opera singer in New York City to a housewife in a tiny Midwestern town in a passionless marriage, which is implied to have turned her into the sour old woman we know and love. It's possible this was a response to Doonesbury's satirical week of strips about abortion.
Babies Make Everything Better: Not for Juliette and her now-ex-husband; unknown for Edna and Bill (AKA Gam-ma and Gam-pa); quite probably for Edda and Amos.
Batman Gambit(?): Apparently Edda's tyrannical director has been wanting to get rid of her for a while, so he pushed her to the Nicolette Cygnet guys hoping she'd either ditch ballet for fashion or screw up so badly she wouldn't be welcomed back. Neither happened but she did give a scathing interview to a magazine, which the director hopes will be enough to fire her.
Seth, Edda's dance partner/roommate (very muscular and tall) and his boyfriend (skinny and short).
Biting-the-Hand Humor: Edda was basically hand-picked to model for a clothing line that gave her such a large advance salary that she bought Amos an antique cello, despite never modeling before or even considering it. Her response to this generosity is to compare the execs to demon-worshipers and models to air-headed sex toys; her mother sarcastically describes the clothes as "menswear" as no woman would ever wear such uncomfortable and revealing things on her own (except for the "leopard-spot undies, those are [hers]"). The latest pinups mocking fashion ads ("Outdoor collection" = gumbooted and pregnant hillbilly; Something about a Rose = a mouthful of thorns) is either this and Edda was given control over an entire advertising campaign or the execs are deliberately making Edda look bad after Seth, disguised as a lawyer, forced them to rehire her.
Edda later tells a magazine that being a ballet dancer is great if you enjoy long hours, stress, and eating disorders.
Brunette Women Are Evil: Any brunette women (aside from Juliette outside the classroom) tend to be evil (Isabel, Amos's Portuguese pianist) or rivals (Edda's schoolmate Mary, whom Amos had a crush on). Fernanda Jons, a South American ballet dancer, once made homophobic remarks at Seth, although she appears to be foolish rather than evil.
Seth's note: Stepped out to buy some Brussels sprouts, fresh morels, aged Gouda and Cabernet Sauvignon. Stopping by your Uncle Roger's to tell him he's gay. Back by seven.
Brutal Honesty: Roger and Seth didn't meet on the right foot, what with Seth thinking Roger's mother's "affair" was highly romantic and Roger being in deep, deep denial about being gay, or at least really annoyed with Seth's insistence that he's in denial about being gay.
Roger: Edda tells me you're a wonderful, nurturing person who stands by his convictions and speaks from the heart. [beat] So is it all those special qualities that excuses you for being arrogant?
Compressed Vice: Edda's love of lowbrow pranks (like whoopie cushions). The first time it's mentioned, it's treated like it's as much a part of her character as her inability to keep a secret.
Contrived Coincidence: Edda possibly getting pregnant at the same time both her ballet director and the fashion execs want to fire her for trash-talking about the company and becoming more popular than the clothes(?!), respectively.
Cool Old Lady: Gran can be pretty impressive: she's definitely intimidating, and somehow manages to tolerate a relationship with Thorax.
Cosmic Plaything: Implied to be why Gran is a pessimistic bundle of negativity; not only was she branded a double agent by the Evil BritDesignated Antagonist, her future husband spent ten years in a psych ward due to having his brains scrambled on Omaha beach. He wouldn't have been there if he hadn't put the British guy in hospital for a week. Worse still, when he recovered, he'd gotten her to settle down in Omaha to live in the suburbs. Since she's a Creature of Pure Art, you can see how living in the presence of mundanes is a horror beyond comprehension.
Covert Pervert: Edda tends to take an unseemly interest in other people's love lives - up to and including her grandmother's.
Eternal Sexual Freedom: Some of the PDAs Edna (Young Gram) and Lt. Kiesl got up to would get you tossed out of most places today. (Or at the very least a pointed "Get a Room!!"). In 1950s New York City, you'd get the cops called on you. They did get the attention of a cop when Kiesl's ice cream cone melted and Edna cleaned his fingers with her tongue.
Even The Gays Want Her: Seth "falls in love" with Fernanda - specifically her tango skills. Apparently he can't judge the talent of his ballet partner while "working". And then he sleeps with her, or rather her "skills".
Everyone Can See It / Transparent Closet: Everyone just knows Roger is gay except Edda and the guy himself. How they can tell: he's snarky, has a huge vocabulary and has been hiding his sexuality by having lots of sex with his wife Penny and maybe pretending to have poor taste in food (or maybe he has no time and money for good food after taking care of his eleven children).
Evil Brit: In the World War II flashback, the English are generally portrayed in an unsympathetic light and a British military officer is the villain by default.
Expy: Isabel seems to be an expy of Pibgorn succubus Drusilla, only with short hair. The Straw Feministmight be another Pibgorn expy: Death herself, which makes her militant pro-abortion stance considerably creepier.
Fan Boy: When Seth becomes a fan of someone he becomes infatuated with them, whether they're an old woman with a pinched face or a young woman who insulted him once.
For the Evulz: Isabel's reason for seducing Amos is simply because he's already taken with Edda.
The Corrupt Corporate Executives decide to mess around with the fine print in Edda's contract after she spent all her advance money on a cello for Amos 'cause it's funny. It doesn't quite work since Edda has no problem being a lingerie model.
Father Of A Thousand Young: Roger, father of eleven "StepfordChildren". Seriously, they come in batches of identical blonde twins and triplets and when Seth goes to Roger's place they appear en masse out of nowhere and just stare.
Foregone Conclusion: We already know Gran chooses Bill in the end, it's stated right at the beginning of the arc!
Panel 1: Fernanda reenters Seth's room after taking a shower, her bathrobe tightly closed. Panel 2: Back view of Fernanda hugging Seth, her bathrobe now open. (Seth's wearing pajamas and Edda, who's been in the room the whole time, is now standing behind him).
When this Sunday strip◊ got pulled for implied sexual content, this was the author's response:
In January of 1996, I drew this innocent (to my mind) little cartoon. It went past my syndicate editors at the time, who, I admit, possessed the combined I.Q. of drain hair, however, they - as I - saw nothing wrong with it. It passed the scrutiny of features editors both in North America and abroad, also without hiccup. Then it appeared in print, and Sunday schools country wide were curtailed so their teachers might retire to restroom stalls and object in hyperventilating privacy. Chickweed was canceled forthwith, most noticeably at the Houston Chronicle. A letter sent to my syndicate, and speaking for many like-minded people, blurted, "THAT IS THE LAST STRAW!" Previously, I gathered, I had been providing enough straw to supply a good sized dairy farm and have enough left over for a tableau vivant nativity crèche; but the very last straw was this one. For those of you who cannot see the cause of the objection, you are fine, unsullied people, most likely dull company, but fine nonetheless. For those of you who see an act of oral sex, shame on you. Your Sunday school class is waiting.
The Ghost / Long Lost Uncle Aesop: Juliette's brother, Roger. Unseen and mentioned so rarely that many thought McEldowney made him up on the spot at the end of Edna's flashback arc. He appeared at Edda and Seth's place, at the eventual end of the WWII flashback arc, to rain on "Gamma's" lovechild happy ending parade and eventually come out of the closet.
Girl Next Door: What the Nicolette Cignet execs have found in Edda ("She's sexy yet innocent and even patriotic!"). For some reason this is bad but they keep using her anyway and even hire Seth "for the ladies".
Happily Married: Juliette and her professor husband; Amos and Edda in the future.
Hatedom: A lot on The Comics Curmudgeon, including how the smug, arrogant Seth is always right, to the point of Marty Stu. The bit about closeted uncle Roger being lectured by situationally-sexual Seth didn't win them any fans at Something Awful either.
Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: In the past, Seth tried to deny his sexuality by being a serial dater. Now he inverts the trope by mentioning his homosexuality seemingly every chance he gets. And Roger fathered eleven children.
Lately Seth seems to be inverting this thanks to him being unable to resolve his attraction to Fernanda against his stated sexuality and it becoming a case of Have I Mentioned I am Gay? considering he slept with Fernanda('s "art") and seemed to really be fighting the urge to sleep with Edda after she revealed that aside from Amos he was the only man she ever loved.
Heteronormative Crusader: Possibly Roger, although it's not yet clear if he knows Seth is gay. *Update*: Roger may not know about Seth, but Seth has figured something out about Roger.
Seth really, really, really wants Edda and Amos to get married and have their (still unconfirmed) kid, and god help Edda if she considers an abortion.
Honor Before Reason: The resolution to the flashback arc's Love Triangle seemed to be that Edna chose to honor her promise to Bill (whom she hasn't seen in a decade and just learned was still alive), despite the fact that loved - and was days away from marrying - Kiesl.
Seth proposing to Fernanda after learning that he was not only her first love but had taken her virginity as well. He's very relived when Fernanda rejects the proposal.
Amos is very certain Edda will want the ring he's giving her.
Edda doesn't take her mother comparing one's children to spinach stuck in one's teeth very well She meant all of Roger's children after the second set of twins and how he's stuck in the role of straight dad forever.
I Have No Son: Or sister, rather. One of the first things Roger does when he's introduced is to point out that Juliette is just his half-sister, even though he only learned the true story about their parents about the same time as she did. It's possible that Juliette rubbed the fact that she was a true love-child in his face a one too many times in between.
I Want Grandkids: Well, "nieces or nephews" for Seth (Juliette, the actual potential grandma, has confidence in Edda's decision, whatever that may be): he's so obsessed with Edda being pregnant that he's got her wedding dress all ready, forbids her from even thinking about an abortion, and threatens to transform the guest bedroom into the most over-the-top nursery even if she does. In Seth's defense it'd be hard for him to adopt a kid and be a professional ballet dancer (there's no proof he and his boyfriend have actually reunited), plus it's possible gay adoption/marriage isn't legal in New York yet due to comic-book-time.
A (belated?) Mother's day strip had Edda eloquently thanking her mother for passing down her good looks (and "Charlies", which shouldn't really matter to a ballerina); Gran chimes in that she had a hand in those genes too.
Idiot Ball: Edda wakes up feeling unusually nauseous and thinks she's pregnant. She goes from her home in New York City to her mom and stepdad in Connecticut, flies to her grandma and half/step/biological grandpa in Austria, flies back to NYC, tells her boyfriend Amos and her roommate Seth that she might be pregnant, and then has the courage to have a pregnancy test done only after Seth berates her for being an idiot and a coward for "not wanting to know the answer" in the first place.
Informed Ability /Off Stage Villainy: Fernanda Jons, a South American ballet dancer who is said to be more talented than Edda and was bigoted towards Straight Gay Seth a couple years ago. As far as we're shown, she's actually just a normal (well, as normal as a talented ballet dancer can be) girl who said something stupid once because she was trying to cover up a crush on him.
If it's possible for clothes to have informed attributes: The wedding dress Seth made for Edda is heavy with (invisible to the naked eye) pearl beads yet transparent and delicate, chaste yet slutty. We actually do see this outfit it's a perfectly normal/classy wedding dress, not some Guns N' Roses "November Rain"-looking thing.
Insult Backfire: Sister "Caligula", attempting to admonish Edda for her wild ways, asks what would happen if the army decided to have a dance party instead of fighting. Edda: "Peace?" Sister Caligula: Face Palm.
For some reason, the corrupt corporate execs think Edda would be adverse to being a lingerie model.
Intellectual Animal: Solange the cat, as well as an adopted/rescued greyhound and possibly another dog; haven't turned up in a long time.
Edda can't reveal to anyone that she's a fashion company's new spokes-ass, surprising Amos when he recognizes her in a giant poster. He shouldn't be that surprised, since she told him she's the company's "Golden Hind" before signing.
Mama Bear: Edda is "the love of [Juliette's] life" and God have mercy on anyone who harms her. During Edda's brief pregnancy scare, she wants to either hustle Amos to a church to get married with a shotgun at his back or bury his corpse and salt the earth.
Manipulative Bastard : O'Malley's superior officer, Colonel Yancey. It was revealed that he decided a long time ago that O'Malley and Edna had to get married no matter what the cost to themselves or their children simply to make himself feel better about being the incompetent buffoon who set everyone up to fail in the first place.
May-December Romance: When Amos and Gran got into an IM relationship. Amos posed as a military officer, and Gran as a hot Portuguese woman.
Mood Whiplash: Edda and Juliette have a pleasant meeting with their newly-discovered bio-grand/father Kiesel, then they admonish him for wasting his life pining for their grand/mother Edna, then he travels to Pennsylvania to pay a surprise visit to Edna, then she's shocked and doesn't want to meet his gaze, then they kiss, then Thorax shows up and silently leaves, and finally Edna moves to Vienna with Kiesel where she's promptly mistaken for Kiesel's wife.
More Teeth than the Osmond Family: A frequent knock on McEldowney's art: grinning characters appear to have triple the normal number of teeth. Also, women charcters frequently bare their teeth and/or snarl when they're in a sexy mood, so whenever the characters get frisky, the women always look like they're about to tear out the men's throats.
Name's... Similar Enough: Kiesl is mistakenly given an obituary after a man named Keisel dies. This wouldn't be quite so egregious if their respective names weren't Peter and Johannes.
New Relatives As The Plot Demands: Looked that way with the mention that Juliette has a sibling (Bill's biological child) who's never been mentioned before. Turns out her brother Roger has been established as such (but never seen) as far back as 2004. But as far as anyone can tell, he's been mentioned less than a dozen times, and not at all between 2005 and 2011.
The Nicknamer: Edda nicknamed her teacher/principal "Sister Caligula", her aunt "Penny-Auntie" and her roommate "App-Sethalby".
No Bisexuals: Seth still insists that he's gay despite being very, very attracted to Fernanda. He claims he's actually in love with her skills as a dancer despite constantly complimenting her on her beauty oh, and he sleeps with her.
Not to mention bisexuality never coming up as a possibility with regard to Roger or why Seth seems to be fighting the urge to sleep with Edda after she confesses her attraction to him.
No Sense Of Distance / No Sense Of Time: (possibly, I've never randomly decided to take a weekend trip to Europe) Juliette and Edda fly to Austria to drop in on Gran and Kiesel to tell them they might be great-grandparents and because Edda needs to talk to Gran and just as suddenly fly back to New York.
Nubile Savage: Juliette often fantasizes about being Panther Woman, Queen of the Jungle.
Only One Voice: All the characters are exceptionally verbose. It makes sense for Juliette to speak like this since she's a professor who routinely thrashes med students verbally and academically, but it never seemed as though Amos and Edda's Catholic school was quite that posh.
They also look alike: Juliet's husband is Pibgorns Geoff with grey hair; Young Gran is a dead-ringer for Edda; there's three identical brunettes (Drucilla the succubus, Isabel the pianist, and Fernanda the ballerina) and at one point Edda is talking to Isabel (Portuguese/older/worldly/short curly hair) and Edda like Fernanda's (South American/younger/"innocent"-ish/long wavy hair) saucy protege. Farm hand Sven is basically less-smarmy Seth.
The first daily color strip is presumably Amos complementing Edda, but they're shown from the waist down so for all we know it could be Edda's mother and stepfather.
Obfuscating Stupidity / What an Idiot: Roger's denial could be one of these. When Seth tells him about being gay, Roger gives a list of various meanings of "gay" ("You think I'm happy? Or should I list a bunch of bright colors?") except the obvious one. Seth can't tell if Roger is serious or trolling and it bugs the hell out of him.
One Head Taller: Seth is a head taller and a body-size wider than all the characters except Thorax. This does not stop Fernanda from occasionally being the same height as they dance (or "dance").
Apparently Brooke in real life, seen here◊. For reference, the woman on the right is around 5'11".
Pair the Spares: The two slightly older people who tried to seduce Amos and Edda.
The intelligence operation that Gran was involved in would have gone much smoother had the OSS lieutenant in charge told the British colonel whose POW camp she was assigned to who she was and why she was there. As it stands, her future husband got busted down to buck private for beating the snot out of the poor sap he failed to inform.
Retcon: A Sunday strip from the early 2000s has an old picture of WW 2 Gran with jet-black hair; of course, this could've been before her mission and she took to bleaching it.
Running Gag: Roger's horrible taste in everything: he prefers aerosol cheese and jug wine to aged Gouda and Cabernet, although having to take care of 11 children might have something to do with it.
Sadist Teacher: Juliette. Not only does she compare her students to cattle, she flies off into a blind rage the second one of them refers to her as anything other than Doctor Burber.
"Sister Caligula", scary head-nun of Edda's school.
Sexy Priest: One shows up and falls in love with a nun at Edda's school. She rejects him, but after they quit their respective orders they begin a relationship.
Shaggy Dog Story: As we know, the extended flashback was Gran's way of telling Juliette the story of how she met and fell in love with her biological father; when it concluded, Juliette was astonished by the realization that Gran wasn't talking about the war hero who raised her but the Nazi opera singer who Gran had slept with before marrying him.
Truth: Noun. That which most easily appeals to the fears, hopes, and prejudices of the hearer; in essence, a lie.
Lie: Noun. That which causes its utterer to be reviled; in essence, the truth.
Deceit: Noun. Example: A dog rolls on the carcass of a dead possum in order to deceive other animals regarding his identity as a dog (whereas) a man lolls in the scents of church in order to deceive himself regarding his identity as a thief, an adulterer, and a liar (the difference is that the dog does not first have to endure being bored by the possum).
Murder and Incivility: Opposites on the spectrum of affronts to society, incivility being the most heinous. On earth, the crime of murder is universally celebrated, a fascinating wellspring of entertainment profits that corresponds in direct proportion to the ferocity of the murder. To date, there are very few, if any, TV programs, novels, stories, plays, or films about incivility.
Sibling Yin-Yang: Juliette was a divorced mother of one while her brother Roger seems to be a Happily Married father of eleven. Juliette is also proud to be a literal love-child while Roger has issues with his mother's past; Juliette is a uninhibitedly passionate woman while Roger is a stereotypically conservative Catholic (and if Seth is right, a closeted one); Juliette is happily remarried while Roger just got divorced.
Single Issue Psychosis: If we're to take the entire Kiesl arc at face value, Gran's crabby bitterness and general anger at the world can be traced directly to giving up her true love in order to keep a promise to another. Once said love returns to her five decades later, that bitterness near-instantly vanishes.
Slice of Life: The comic's mode before Amos and Edda went to Julliard (a year early, 'cause they're so talented).
Straw Feminist: A random woman who's either a colleague of Juliette's (and thus a doctor) or a mere jewelry retailer, who thinks that all unplanned pregnancies must be aborted, not knowing that Juliette was unplanned and the old woman she's talking to is Juliette's mother. Brooke later clarified:
Q: Dear Mr. McEldowney, your cartoon yesterday was an offense and an insult to all people who uphold a woman's right to... .
A: To sum up: The writer is indignant, righteous, and not a careful reader. E-mail in this predictable vein has been arriving sporadically from citizens infuriated by what they prefer to feel is a slap in the face administered to pro-choice acolytes everywhere. The general view is that I personally am slug vomit. I, in fact and for many reasons, may be slug vomit. However, not in this instance. The cartoon I drew [op. cit.] does not portray a pro-choice individual. It trots across the stage a harsh, dogmatic butt-head, one of a kidney not infrequently encountered, a person who clothes her unpalatable thought in a sheepskin of implicit moral virtue: the word "choice." It is obvious she is not pro-choice, because she preaches no-choice.
Q: Well, I don't know anybody who would say such a thing!
Surprise Pregnancy: Probably. Edda felt sick one morning, traveled from NYC to her mother and stepfather in Connecticut, flew to Austria and back, told the news to Amos and Seth, and she still hadn't taken a pregnancy test. She finally went to a doctor after Seth pointed out how stupid she was for not "anointing the stick"; the doctor revealed that whatever state she's in is "the most happy result". Convenient Miscarriage seems to be out so far since even Edda would've noticed that. Turns out it was just a scare, although an abnormal period means she might have something that could make her barren.
Tap on the Head: Averted; the doctor handling Bill O'Malley's case told Yancey flat out that his former subordinate was a shell of the man he used to be.
Too Much Information: Remember, the WWII flashback is being told by an elderly mother to her daughter, plus her granddaughter and an entire ballet company eavesdropping on the phone. And later by elderly biological father to just-discovered daughter and granddaughter. Lampshaded, far too late, here:
Juliette:Gloriosky, mother. Gran: Well you asked what I did.note She bought Kiesl his very first ice cream, then licked it off his fingers. In public. Juliette: Not in such detail. Gran: Well, I'm telling you anyway.
It would've been Edna, Thorax and Kiesel (Thorax was Edna's current boyfriend), but Thorax left as soon as he saw Kiesel and Edna together.
Edda, Amos, and Mary, a friend of Edda's whom Amos had a major crush on in high school. When Mary visits them in college, Edda frets that Amos will remember his crush; fortunately Amos doesn't remember her (or at least has enough sense to claim that in front of Edda) and they pretty much spend the whole visit making out in front of her.
Very likely Seth, his boyfriend, and Fernanda - nope, Seth and Fernanda just end, and his boyfriend has hardly said anything about it.
And now Edda, Amos, and Seth: Edda's been in love with Amos all her life (and vise-versa) but she basically reveals that if Seth was straight she'd leave Amos for him in a heartbeat while Seth seems to fight the urge to make Edda actually pregnant. Oh, and Seth blurts out that he'd marry Amos in a heartbeat too!
Love Dodecahedron (now retired): Edda, Amos, Isabel, Burkhardt, and Janice. Violist Burkhardt Kriegl was first introduced as the boyfriend of Edda's fellow ballerina Janice; he later focused his attentions on Edda, who was not dating Amos van Hoesen at the time, leaving him "fair game" for his accompanist, pianist Isabel Florin. This was later resolved by pairing Isabel with Burkhardt and allowing Janice to pull a Brother Chuck.
Trickster God / Trolling Creator: God/"God", an incredibly smug, wormy-looking little man in a suit who previously decided to replace humans with cockroaches because he couldn't stand that such petty things resembled him, starting with a pregnant ex-nun's fetus she gave birth to a perfectly normal baby human girl. He's currently talking about quitting his job and letting "the suits" take over and claiming that he prefers the "small talk" of said ex-nun's prayers to "Sister Caligula's" strict performance reviews.
White Void World: With the occasional gradient; where much of the action takes place. Brooke was kind enough to put in some effort when Juliette and Edda visit Kiesel's grave in Vienna. Has become a very dark grayscale world in newsprint since Brooke started using color, starting with a strip that takes place at night and shows two characters from the waist down. Lately, pretty much all you can see is the characters' faces and limbs (although that may just be the LA Times).
Write What You Know: Brooke really did attend Julliard, though as an oboe player , not a cellist.
Younger Than They Look: Edda and Amos are twenty years old at most, but their mature style of speaking can cause some confusion. Seth is probably not much older, but at least one viewer thought he and Edda's uncle Roger were both in their twenties despite Roger having a receding hairline.