Originally, the comic was a single-panel gag cartoon, similar to Gary Larson's The Far Side. It grew more political in tone during the 1990s. The comic has become more traditional, with a multi-panel format and recurring characters.
Although many of the strips are stand alone, there are several ongoing plots in multiple universes that appear on an irregular basis. The largest one centers on the Pyle family that includes the Wise Beyond Their Years Danae and her sister Kate and their father.
It's also notably published both as a strip (wide format, like most comic strips) and as a panel (nearly square like The Far Side) Monday through Saturday, so a newspaper could buy it for either slot. This requires a single-panel installment to be carefully drawn so it could be cropped either way (often with the speech balloon reoriented), and multi-panel installments to be laid out so they can be broken up into two rows. Similarly, Sunday strips are laid out both for traditional layouts and with the panels stacked vertically, which also are manually reoriented by the artist.
This work contains the following tropes.
- Aquatic Sauropods: In an Ordinary Basil storyline, immediately after escaping a hungry T. rex by swimming to the center of a nearby river to take advantage of the beast's inability to swim, Basil and Louise find themselves quite surprised when the "rock" they're standing on rises out of the water and reveals itself to be the top of a creature's head. The sauropod, just as startled by them as they are of it, ends up unwittingly helping them reach the entrance to an adjacent upper cavern by throwing them in that direction with a swing of its neck.
- Bears Are Bad News: There's a running gag of bears luring people into assorted traps, with the implication being that the bears are man-eaters.
- Beat Panel: In almost every four-panel strip, the third panel is a beat panel.
- Canada, Eh?: Minor character Pierre.
- Canon Welding: Four recurring elements: Snarky little girl Danae, the observing everyguy, the Leisure Suit Larry-ish lawyer and Offshore Flo's Diner were merged into one story with Joe (the everyguy) at the center: Danae and her sister are his daughters, Bob (the lawyer) is his brother/drinking buddy, and Flo is his mother.
- Captain Obvious: The in-universe very appropriately named Obvious Man.
- Though in a subversion, he points out things that should be obvious, but that people are too dumb to realize.
- Conspiracy Theorist: Joe's brother clearly fits. In fact, he's an exaggeration of the concept, not even trusting Google.
- The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: When the court jester commits suicide, a member of the court asks how that could be, since everyone loves him for his biting wit. Then they walk into the throne room, where the jester is on the ground with a large mallet on his back. His entire back.
- Some readers complained that Lucy the horse was an expy of Hobbes, albeit indirectly ("I liked it better when it was with a tiger"). Lucy agreed.
- The Graevsytes, a family of monsters often featured in the strip around Halloween, are obviously patterned after The Addams Family and/or The Munsters.
- A 1998 story featured Joe interviewing "Red Tall", a caricature of cartoonist and columnist Ted Rall.
- Evil Lawyer Joke: As many as possible.
- Floating Continent: Helios, the world in the Ordinary Basil storylines.
- Friendly Ghost: Reginald, the ghost who haunts the house.
- Funny Terrain Cross Section: In this strip Danae and Lucy are attempting to dispose of a large number of notes from Danae's teacher by digging a deep hole in the woods. The cross section shows that all around the hole (including just beyond where they stop digging) are a couple of treasure chests, a dinosaur skull, and possibly the Holy Grail.Lucy: Deep enough
- Genre Shift: The comic used to consist entirely of a guy looking at odd situations, but eventually focused more on his family, especially his daughter Danae.
- Greasy Spoon: Flo's, also counts as a Local Hangout.
- Grammar Nazi: In ancient Egypt.
- Horsing Around: Lucy the pony is unusual in that as a talking horse she'll actually explain why she's acting spooky or headstrong.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: Lars, an alien, reveals that all human technologies were gifts from his people. Unfortunately...Lars: The only thing you talking monkeys have done on your own is turn all our benign knowledge into weapons!
Danae: Doesn't that make you guys the slow learners?
Lars: Oh, and rationalization. Talking monkeys have that nailed.
- Hollywood New England: The strip's setting is "Watchacallit, Maine", and the characters of Flo (the owner of Flo's Offshore Diner) and Captain Eddie (the fisherman who frequents that establishment) both talk with pronounced regional accents.
- I Want Grandkids: One 2021 arc has Eddie go into a largely idyllic parallel universe where Donald Trump was arrested for tax fraud in the 20th century and his friends find his stories legitimately interesting. However, Kate and Danae don’t exist and alternate universe Flo expresses good-natured jealousy that the Flo Eddie knows has "grandbabies."
- Jerkass: Danae.
- Lighthouse Point: The Ordinary Basil storylines start with a lighthouse.
- Little Miss Snarker: Danae.
- Lucky Rabbit's Foot: One strip has Kate gushing about the lucky rabbit's foot keychain she just acquired. Danae points out that if she got another one, she'd be twice as lucky. And that if she got two more, she'd be... almost as lucky as the rabbit.
- Mad Scientist: Dr. Von Rottweil. He's an exile from Helios.
- Missing Mom: Danae and Kate's mother ran off with a biker while the family was on a trip to New Hampshire.
- The Münchausen: Eddie is like this, often telling outlandish stories about his life at Flo's place, sometimes hoping to mooch a free lunch by telling them. The thing is a few of them are actually true, as Danae and others have found out, so it's very hard to tell which of his stories are true, which are exaggerations, and which are outright lies.
- Only Sane Girl: Danae, for the strip's value of "sane".
- Highly questionable; her penchant for amoral wacky schemes taking advantage of the latest in social manipulation and political corruption cause Joe and Kate to react in a manner more fitting of this trope.
- Oh, No... Not Again!: Eddie is prone to these.
Joe: What's going on out there?Flo: Eddie didn't check the tide chart, so his boat got stuck in the mud flats... Again.Joe: Uh... So?Flo: So he had to walk all the way back... Again.Joe: OK... but...Flo: Well... Some tourists saw him and thought he was walkin' on watah, so he's become a cult deity... ...Again.Eddie: Hey, it could happen to anyone.Joe: Well, once, maybe...
- January 28, 2013 recaps the previous week:
Flo: Really? Danae wanted to be the next Pope?!Joe: Yeah... So I had to tell her the harsh reality of the selection process... that they only choose an old white male who has the most minions supporting him for the post.Eddie: Don't worry, I tahned them down again.Joe: Wait... 'Again?'
- Then on March 2, 2013:
Eddie: OK... Wheah did I leave off?Joe: You and Santa were in the belly of a giant fishFlo: ...Again
- And on December 19, 2021:
- Potty Emergency: In one arc, Danae and Kate are snowed inside the house. This then becomes an emergency when their pets Lucy and Petey have to answer the call of nature.
- Reincarnation: Homer/Honor the Reluctant Soul's whole schtick is being incarnated into various lives at different points in history, usually meeting some sticky end.
- Scam Religion: Danae tries to create one in several strips that adhere to her Straw Feminist tendencies. The most vital Commandments are that girls are superior to boys, everyone is inferior to her, and you aren't allowed to question them. However, she adds a new one whenever she pleases, and at last count, had dozens. Thus far, recruitment is low.
- Silly Spook: Danae's house is haunted by her Great Uncle Reginald, a grumpy old coot who was clearly Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense during his life. Most jokes regarding him involve his dislike of technology and old-fashioned stuffiness.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: On the cynical side.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Danae. She has an extreme opinion of her skills and talents and a low opinion of anyone or anything that contravenes said opinions (as the "fungable" Story Arc clearly indicated).
- Snowed-In: Danae and Kate, along with their pets, getting snowed in kicks off a particularly bizarre storyline.
- Straw Feminist: Danae takes the typical little girl's dislike of boys and magnifies it to absurd levels. In the aforementioned Scam Religion, she claims men were created when God — who she naturally perceives as female — sneezed.
- True Art Is Incomprehensible: Parodied in a one-shot. An art critic finds an empty frame hanging in a gallery and goes into a spiel to the effect of "this is brilliant!" and includes words something like "true art is dead". Then a maintenance guy comes along and hangs a sign in the frame saying "Exhibit Coming Soon".
- Weapons-Grade Vocabulary: Weapon-grade FACTS. Bomb squad went in to catch a weapon grade speech