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Comic Strip / Curtis

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The Wilkins family.note 

A daily comic strip by Ray Billingsley, Curtis has appeared in newspapers since 1988. It centers on an urban black family, most notably the title character, 11-year-old Curtis Wilkins. Also in the cast are his younger brother Barry, their parents, and a small number of secondary characters.

The strip is noted for being one of the first major comic strips to feature a largely black cast, starting a wake of other such strips including Herb and Jamaal, Jump Start... and, of course, The Boondocks.

Tropes present:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Michelle considers Curtis this. Curtis often fells the same way about Chutney.
  • Accidental Misnaming: Gunther the barber can never seem to get Curtis' name right.
  • Alpha Bitch: Michelle crosses this trope with Rich Bitch, given how obscenely wealthy her parents are. She recently sank one grand on a foot cleaning treatment involving koi fish... which backfired when her feet ended up killing half the fish and traumatized the rest.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Subverted on both counts in a series of strips where Curtis and Barry find an unmarked videotape belonging to their parents. It is implied in one panel that it's a sex tape. However, it turns out that it's an old episode of Soul Train that their parents appeared on, which also serves as the "how they met" story for Diane and Greg. After watching the tape, Curtis and Barry have a newfound respect for their parents, i.e. that their parents actually did something "cool" in their eyes.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Michelle's pride in her achievements in modeling and acting is seen as prideful and "stuck-up" by the other regular characters (minus Curtis, of course).
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Curtis finds his brother Barry to be annoying and a pest. Despite this, Barry is still nice to him... sometimes.
  • Appeal to Worse Problems: When Curtis complains about not being able to see his friends due to social distancing, his father replies that Anne Frank had to hide in an attic with her family, thereby shutting him up.
  • Author Filibuster: In one story arc, some kids made fun of Curtis for being an "Oreo" (a black person that acts white). Curtis' father responded at length that if loving and taking care of one's family and ensuring that they had a roof over their heads was being an Oreo, he was proud to be one.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Curtis is always getting in trouble in school with his teacher (usually for reading comic books during class time), but in the spring of 2020, the Coronavirus outbreak hit both the real world and the comics... and Curtis got really, really upset when he found out Mrs. Nelson was in the hospital with the virus, and kept trying to get news from the doctors about her status (which he couldn't, since he wasn't a relative), and even made plans to sneak in and check on her himself. A few months later, when she got better and came to his home, he was head-over-heels with joy at seeing her again.
  • Betty and Veronica: Chutney (Betty) and Michelle (Veronica).
  • Big Eater: Curtis. Some examples include him saying, "Can we stop for pizza before going home to dinner?" after chomping down a bunch of hamburgers, sneaking an entire Dagwood Sandwich into the movie theatre and eating it, before then popping out some fried chicken...
    • One set of Curtis' cousins who visit for Thanksgiving.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Barry likes to provoke Curtis, then appeal to the fact that his mother is a dupe to get Curtis in trouble for wanting to hurt his poor, sweet, angelic brother. Then, for being a manipulative little sack of shit, Barry gets rewarded with ice cream. Millions of older brothers of all races across the nation declare Dude, Not Funny!.
    • Barry is finally caught in the act and punished in 2015 for putting toenails in Curtis' sandwich, a time where their mother starts getting wise to her husband's hypocrisy too.
  • Book and Switch: Curtis often tries to hide his Supercaptaincoolman comics this way while in class. His teacher is never fooled.
  • Bumbling Henchmen Duo: Derrick and "Onion" are a pair of bullies who frighten the protagonist and his brother, but they're rather incompetent as bad guys otherwise.
  • Camera Obscurer: A running gag involving Curtis' barber, who claims to have met someone famous. When asked to show proof, he will inevitably produce a photograph of himself with his arm around the celebrity... except that the "celebrity" will be obscured by a finger.
  • Cassandra Truth: Yes, there really is a "Flyspeck Island Chameleon" who turns invisible and performs comic mischief. Yes, the adults are going to keep pinning the blame on Curtis.
  • Catapult Nightmare: An August 2020 arc where Curtis catches up with Michelle ends this way. Curtis pays Michelle a visit, only to discover that she's put on some weight during the pandemic. She takes a diet pill her father's chemist invented which makes her skinny again. It then makes her older, inflates her and makes her explode. Curtis wakes up screaming.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Gunk exhibits various odd behaviors and abilities as required by the plot.
  • Crazy Cultural Comparison: Every time Gunk discusses Flyspeck Island's customs.
  • Darker and Edgier: Believe it or not, the Kwanzaa stories get insanely morbid at times.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: While the creator clearly intends for Barry to be a stereotypically bratty little brother to Curtis, his actions are so frequently mean-spirited (and of a "because I can get away with it" bent) that Barry ends up as this.
  • Diabolus ex Machina:
    • Resident school bullies Derrick and "Onion", who seemingly wait to ambush Curtis when he needs some conflict in his life.
    • Until Curtis got them expelled.
    • Said expulsion seems to have been retconned so that Billingsley can go back to tormenting Curtis.
  • Dreadful Musician: Curtis and his saxophone, which his dad was said to have compared to choking a goose.
  • The Faceless: Originally, Curtis' parents were only seen from neck down, but eventually the artist started drawing their faces.
  • Faint in Shock: Curtis decides to prank his class one day for Show-And-Tell by bringing in a bag of "zombie brains". The things certainly look like brains, because they are. Curtis soon admits that they're just cow brains left over from a meat-packing plant. Then Curtis discovers that his teacher, Mrs. Nelson, is lying prone, with only her rounded belly and boobs showing in the panel. Curtis doesn't wait for her to regain consciousness, instead taking himself to the principal's office.
  • The Freelance Shame Squad: One of the strip's running gags is, the annual Back To School shopping trip, where Diane takes Curtis shopping for clothes and (ostensibly to hand him clothes to try on) opens the dressing room door on Curtis (who always has his pants down) wide enough for a crowd of bystanders to laugh loudly at the sight. Diane never seems to make the connection between this sad fact and her son's reluctance to shop with her.
  • Gum In Hair: One arc starts with Barry putting a piece of gum in Curtis's hair while he's asleep, gluing his pillow there. Mom has to cut it free, leaving Curtis with a huge bald patch.
  • The Hilarity of Hats: Regularly discussed in Sunday strips, as the title character often gives commentary on the silliness of the extravagant hats that the church ladies wear.
  • History with Celebrity: Peculiar barber Gunther often claims to have rubbed elbows with various celebrities, and has photos to prove his claims. However, someone's thumb always intrudes on the camera lens, obscuring the "celebrity" next to Gunther.
  • Homemade Sweater from Hell: Curtis' dad claims to have won the Ugly Holiday Sweater contest at work for the past three years. He's not too thrilled about it.
  • I'll Take Two Beers Too: Type two in the March 2, 2019 strip. The look on the face of the guy taking their order is priceless.
    Curtis (at a pizza place): "Four regular slices, please! Two cheese, pepperoni and sausage on the other two, one grape soda, one root beer, and one glazed doughnut and one eclair." (turns to his brother) "Do you want anything, Barry?"
  • Known Only by Their Nickname: "Onion". Always used complete with quotes.
  • Mad Love: Curtis is crazy about his "girl" Michelle, even though she doesn't feel the same about him, even hiring an airplane to write that out in the air for him to see. His crush on Michelle also sometimes enters Stalker with a Crush territory with at least one comic strip having Michelle tell Barry that she keeps on seeing Curtis everywhere she goes and that she's scared to even go to the bathroom because of this. Not to mention the fact that he is apparently able to break into the apartment building she lives in for visits, even though there seems to be plenty of security.
  • Magical Negro: Inverted with Gunk, the Magical Token White.
  • Mama Bear: Diane is fiercely protective of Curtis and Barry. This was exemplified when a car skidded out of control and pinned Barry beneath it; Diane LIFTED the car WITH HER BARE HANDS and pulled him out.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Something like this is sure to happen any time Gunk plays a part in a story. The flora and fauna of Flyspeck Island is pretty weird, and it's hard to tell just how all of it works. (Although some of it is pretty useful; his tomato plant once ran away, but once they caught it, it kept a pizza parlor from going bankrupt.
  • Monster Roommate: Curtis once wrote a story about a guy who becomes roommates with a zombie when the zombie wanders into his house one day and becomes The Thing That Would Not Leave.
  • Never Trust a Hair Tonic: A few examples, often thanks to Curtis's misuse of a Flyspeck Island substance.
  • Nonchalant Dodge: In one series, Onion challenges Gunk to a fight. Gunk refuses and doesnít take it seriously. When Onion attacks him anyway, Gunk weaves and dodges all of Onionís punches with little effort, without breaking his smiling expression.
  • Non-Human Head: Wilkins likes to read comics featuring Supercaptaincoolman, a kind of African expy of Superman, whose nemesis is Doctor Horsehead, a Mad Scientist with the body of man in a nicely tailored suit and a horse's head that whinnies when he laughs maniacally. Doctor Horsehead routinely snares The Hero in situations where Only the Author Can Save Them Now, which go unresolved, because Curtis gets his comic books confiscated for reading them in class.
  • Oblivious to Love: Curtis never seems to notice that his good friend Chutney is madly in love with him. Or that Michelle isn't romantically interested in him, for that matter, and only even thinks of him as a friend occasionally.
  • Once a Season: The Kwanzaa arcs, which are released once a year during December.
  • Overly Long Name: Gunk's name is actually an acronym for his full name, which is "Gladimus Unfred Nostradamus Klaustauvicke".
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Inverted — the disguises Michelle sometimes don to avoid Curtis are ridiculously good (one of them is a full-body "fat woman" disguise), yet Curtis can always tell that it's her.
  • Parental Hypocrisy:
    • Curtis' dad has become terrible at this, especially when criticizing Curtis about money. A guy who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day and refuses to even consider quitting even after nearly burning the apartment down after falling asleep smoking really shouldn't criticize his son for trying to sponge money, especially when the same son points out several times how much the habit costs. It comes to a head in a 2015 strip when Curtis asks to sell his old typewriter on eBay, and he gives it to him, saying it's not worth much; only to demand a lion's share of the large price Curtis gets from doing so.
    • Diane has her moments too. During April 2016, she spends a whole week saying mean things about her now-deceased father-in-law "Grampy Wilkins" who she hated, the feeling being mutual. When they find out he left them a vase full of money in a cabinet, she changes her opinion of him quickly.
  • Parental Favoritism: Barry by far. He not only frequently torments Curtis, but is able to avoid punishment (and pass the blame on to Curtis) because he can taunt Curtis into trying to smack him, then cry to mom, who frequently says "Since you have nothing better to do, Curtis, do chores". Barry is often shown taunting him after this.
  • Perpetual Poverty: The Wilkins (mainly Greg) constantly complain about scraping by to make ends meet on Greg's salary (Diane appears to be a stay-at-home mom). Yet they never seen to be short on food (See Big Eater), the boys always seem to have electronic gizmos current enough to keep them happy, and Curtis and Barry are frequently seen in a movie theater (usually a low-budget zombie movie) with Curtis displaying his Big Eater habits.
  • Rap Is Crap: Curtis's father has nothing but disdain for rap music and is constantly butting heads with his son over his love of the genre. Ironically, despite the strip's attempts to portray this as a product of a generation gap, Comic-Book Time means that a few decades into the strip's life, he would've grown up when rap was becoming popular. One Sunday strip gives some justification for this aside from the usual parental disapproval of their kids' music: Greg thinks that rap stars are spoiled and entitled. When Curtis tells him to give his favorite singers a break because they've had "hard lives," Greg informs him about the early jazz and blues singers of the thirties and forties who, because of Jim Crow laws, traveled and lodged in squalid conditions during their careers and weren't even allowed to eat in the clubs or stay at the hotels they brought in money for. Curtis, with typical eleven-year-old cluelessness, snaps back, "I guess it doesn't matter to you that some of these people grew up without cable!"
  • Refugee from Time: Greg's dislike of rap music being portrayed as a generational thing made sense in the early days of the strip, but by now, he would've grown up with rap music. Styles have changed since the genre's inception, of course, but it's still played as blanket hatred of all rap rather than disliking newer trends and subgenres.
  • Rebellious Princess: Or in Gunk's case, "Prince."
  • Reset Button: No matter how long-lasting or major the repercussions of a storyline should be, things are firmly back to normal come the next storyline.
  • Running Gag: The strip cycles through them like clockwork. A few examples include Curtis screwing up, Gunk doing crazy things, Barry being an obnoxious bratty little kid getting Curtis into trouble, Curtis sneaking food into the movie theater...
    • Gunther the barber constantly claims to have met famous people, and whenever he produces a picture, there is always, ALWAYS a thumb covering the lens over said famous person.
    • Gunther's complete inability to remember Curtis' name.
    • Curtis leads Barry to a seemingly prim-and-proper organization that turns out to be a record store selling rap albums. Curtis explains that every time parents find the store, "they rally together and torch it!"
    • Curtis playing rap at full blast with his dad, Greg, screaming, "Curtis, turn that rap junk down!" Inverted in one strip where Greg and Diane play 1970s songs from when they were younger. This has become problematic in recent years, as Greg and Diane act clueless about '80s and '90s music that nowadays would be what people their own age grew up on, while Curtis uses slang and enjoys entertainment of a sort twenty years or so out of date.
    • Curtis and Barry go to church, where Curtis will do a hilariously snarky commentary on the over-the-top hats being worn.
  • Signature Headgear: Curtis himself is always seen with an oversized green cap; he even sleeps with it on.
  • Status Quo Is God: See Reset Button.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: In a recent sequence, Gunk decided to dive into a freezing cold river to rescue trapped dolphins only to end up being treated for hypothermia after being mistakenly declared DOA by EMTs who forgot about the mammalian diving reflex. While glad to see his friend had survived, Curtis was not happy with being put through the emotional wringer by screw-ups.
    • In an end of August 2022 sequence, Gunk brought with him a self-replicating neverending salad bowl which he gave out to many different people (selling them nullifies its powers). While very popular with the people, the grocers hated it as they were going bankrupt and their produce was dying.
  • This Loser Is You: There have been a lot of strips that show us that Curtis is a rather heedless young boy plowing headlong through a city filled with angry people who hate him because he won't do what they expect of him.
  • Token White: Gunk.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Most of Curtis's problems in life stem from the fact that he is too blasted stupid to follow the rules or pick up on the fact that his behaviour irritates people around him.
  • Very Special Episode:
    • Early strips focused on Curtis trying to get his dad to quit smoking, Curtis finding a crack baby in a trash bin, etc.
    • Periodically there'll be another strip or two where Curtis makes off with his dad's cigarettes and flushes them down the toilet. It's entirely possible the artist is actually rerunning the same strip, for all that anything new happens; Greg rages, then impotently acknowledges his wife's point when she tells him his son means well and is just looking out for his health.
    • During the 90s, there was an extended story where Curtis' mother became pregnant, with most of the focus being on Barry's jealousy and apprehension over no longer being the cute, coddled one. When the baby was about due, though, Barry and Mom inexplicably decided they needed to go out at night alone for some eclairs. Some thugs came up and mugged them, punching Mom in the stomach hard. The baby ended up a miscarriage. The entire neighborhood banded together, agreeing to never forget this terrible tragedy and watch out for each other. Of course, the unborn sibling has never been even vaguely alluded to since, Aesop Amnesia being in full force for everyone and everything.
    • There was also a sequence where Curtis went through a door and found himself back in time on the day that Martin Luther King was assassinated.
    • One series had Barry running into the house yelling that Curtis had yanked him by the arm and hurt him. It turned out that Barry was about to get into a stranger's car. Diane blew up at Barry for this, of course, then calmed down and explained that she was just upset. Barry told her that the guy had claimed his dog was lost and might respond to Barry because the dog liked kids. This upset Diane even more, since this is right out of the kidnapper/child molester's playbook. Fortunately, Curtis had the presence of mind to get the license plate number before the guy sped off, so they reported it. Barry said tearfully, "He seemed like such a nice guy," and Diane, obviously very rattled, replied, "Too many tragic news stories start off with those exact words, honey." No mention as to whether the guy was captured, but it's chilling to think of what could have happened if Curtis hadn't been there.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The city Curtis was set went unnamed for years, until a story arc involving Curtis and Barry sneaking off to see the Obama Inauguration IDed their hometown as Baltimore.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: See Bratty Half-Pint.
  • Your Mom: All the time, from Derek and "Onion".