Back in the days before the widespread use of the Internet, comic strips were collected in books, but you had to wait a while. There was typically a delay of one to two years between the time a particular drawing appeared in the papers and the time it was available in a book. I, being a huge comic strip fanatic, couldn't wait. I made my own collections by cutting strips out of the paper and pasting them into spiral notebooks.
I collected a lot of the most popular strips: Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, Dennis the Menace, Peanuts....and thanks to my dad's hoarding tendencies, I could raid older papers for Bloom County. But there was this one OTHER strip...
To explain what this is I'm gonna first have to give a history lesson. Cartoonist Bill Holbrook is famous for two things: one, for the furry webcomic Kevin and Kell, one of the longest-running Internet-exclusive strips in history (it started back in 1995)..and two, for the office strip On The Fastrack, his entry into newspaper syndication back in 1984. The unusual thing about Fasttrack is that its central character (and the one Holbrook is mainly known for), a Goth Girl named Dethany, did not exist for the first TWENTY-FIVE YEARS of the strip's existence. That's a long time to go without an icon. Thimble Theatre didn't take nearly as long to find Popeye.
Most typical Fasttrack strips are some kind of visual metaphor...for example, Panel 1 could show a football with Dethany's face on it, and Panel 2 could have her saying "Boy, big business really kicks you around!" That's mostly what Fasttrack is. But Holbrook is also responsible for a THIRD comic strip, which he started six years after Fastrack...
My local paper picked up Safe Havens about a year after it started, and kept it in circulation until the early 2000s. And from January through December of 1991, I cut the strip out of my grandma's subscription copies of The Oregonian and pasted them into this large Garfield notepad. I colored many of them with fine felt-tip markers, and took great care to stay inside the lines. Safe Havens was never as huge as the other two strips and I'm sure Holbtook would be tickled pink to learn SOMEONE out there was doing this.
The premise is that "Safe Havens" is the name of a day care center, run by Sue Havens, the strip's half-namesake, though she is not the focus by a long shot. It's the preschoolers she takes care of that are the stars: her own son Matthew, smart-mouthed Samantha, cool kid Dave, vain Jenny, artist Cam....and Roger, who is so shy he spends all his time hiding in a cardboard box.
Most strips focused on Cam were about his nosy, overachieving parents who had pre-determined his life goals. There's a hint of tragedy here; we never find out if he escaped their shadow.
Well, there's a resolution of sorts: as of THIS year, he's free!
And...just in time for artist jobs to be replaced by AI. It sure sucks to be Cam.
This goes without saying, but the kids in Safe Havens definitely do not talk like real kids. A lot of the dialogue seems aimed at the same Boomer Yuppie audience that On The Fastrack originally targeted...and that kind of subject matter feels far weirder in a day care center. I can definitely say that no child in the history of mankind has ever thought about this, ever.
On the other hand, Holbrook wasn't TRYING to be accurate with this one, but...yeah, as a 90s kid I can testify he nailed it.
30 years later, those two companies are a lot friendlier, but still separate entities. Nintendo and Sega will only merge if Microsoft buys them both.
Take that, Mark Rothko!
"My First Sony" was a line of electronics aimed at children that had bright colors and more durable parts that could withstand the blows kids would take against them. I used my My First Sony Walkman for way longer than it was intended for; unlike the adult model, it never really broke.
Anyway, Holbrook took this subject matter in an unorthodox direction. This is how I learned what a roadie was.
I can't claim that I "got" every Safe Havens I saved, but I did get this one, thanks to my mother re-entering college at the time. It was a common practice then to bring a tape recorder to classes so you could play back what the teacher said as a study aid....or, as shown here, you could skip most of the live class and get away with it.
Safe Havens had a pregnancy storyline throughout 1991; both Matt and Samantha's moms grew larger bellies at the same time. For Better Or For Worse had just finished a pregnancy arc that had received a lot of attention, so I assumed this was "inspired" by that.
The "chicken pox story" used to be a cliche of any series about children. By the end of the 90s a vaccine was invented and getting spots all over your body was no longer a rite of childhood passage.
Well....it probably still is for SOME families out there...along with measles, smallpox, COVID...
Imagine me, an average child who had zero knowledge of who was reporting for CNN, trying to decipher this gag. I had NO HOPE of realizing "Wolf Blitzer" was the name of a person. I tried to search the other bits of dialogue for "clues," trying to solve for X like an algebra problem. If a "wolf blitzer" enhances a fireworks display, is it some kind of bazooka?
And now that I know who he is I still don't get this, Holbrook. What, exactly, would Wolf Blitzer add to this scene? I'm so confused right now.
One belief I had as a kid -- and I have no idea where I got it -- was that ZZ Top's entire thing was based around the Rip Van Winkle story. They had long beards just like Rip, they had a hit song called "Sleeping Bag," and the "ZZ" in their name could reference sleep -- it made sense to me. And then this one strip seemed to confirm that theory. For any gullible readers out there, no, it's not true.
Around January of 1992 I stopped cutting the strips out, but I didn't stop reading Safe Havens -- it was right there, every day. But it did....NOT stick with this format. Let me first begin by saying if Matt McMuscles covered comic strips, he would have done this one a long time ago. Strap in!
A few years after Jenny and Dave attempted to "exchange" Roger, Holbrook made the decision to have the kids begin aging in real time. Before long they were too old to stay at a day care center, so the original premise was dropped...along with most of the original cast.
The strip started following Samantha exclusively, though Dave saved himself from oblivion by becoming Samantha's love interest. The meaning of the strip's name changed multiple times as Sam started attending "Havens Middle School" and later "Havens High." "Havens" was now retconned to be the name of the town and not some woman who had been banished to the same never-realm as Lyman and Major Bloom.
During the mid to late 90s Samantha joined a group of misfit kids who called themselves "The Other Clique." I've forgotten what most of them were like (there is no easily accessible Safe Havens archive beyond what I have scanned here), but I do remember one of them being a kid who perpetually hung upside down from a trapeze no matter where he was or what he was doing. Even outside, he was somehow hanging from that trapeze with no visible objects capable of holding it up.
Roger was still part of the cast, but the whole running gag of never showing what he looked like was much harder to pull off if he was too old to be hiding in a cardboard box. For a while he was always dressed in the school mascot costume, then he was wearing a different costume that was just a giant ball with the number "5" written on it. I never got any explanation for what that meant, but as peculiar and off-track as the strip was starting to become, we hadn't seen anything yet.
In the summer of 1998, Samantha took a trip to tbe beach, and met a mermaid.
Samantha and the mermaid became fast friends, and she started telling her about "The Other Clique." Samantha felt the mermaid might fit in better there. The mermaid agreed. And two weeks later the new school year started and there was a PERMANENT MERMAID added to the cast (whose name was "Remora Fontinalia").
The established rules were that Remora could will herself fully human for twelve hours a day, but would then turn fully into a fish for the other twelve. So she went to school as a human and, at nights, stayed in a fishbowl in Samantha's room. Remora started having feelings for the kid on the trapeze. He reciprocated those feelings but anguished they could never be together, for she was from the sea and he was...uh...from the air.
But there was a bigger reason. Remora kept getting herself into trouble and the kid on the trapeze had to save her. Remora informed Trapeze Kid he couldn't rescue her anymore because if you save the life of a mermaid three times, you TURN INTO a mermaid! Oh no! Meanwhile, everyone reading the strip started scratching their heads and saying "Bill? Uh, you're losing me, dude." But it kept going.
Trapeze Kid didn't turn into a mermaid....because Samantha turned into a mermaid. She put a life jacket on Remora while they were both in a swimming pool, not realizing that counted as Life Save #3 (even though Remora can darn well swim). The magic was irreversible! She was stuck as a mermaid forever! She had no choice but to take the "all human, all fish" option, and spend her nights with Remora in the fishbowl. But she had been studying genetics, and figured she could engineer a way out of it.
Sure enough, after a bit of trial and error, Samantha was able to splice the mermaid curse out of her genes and become fully human again. This launched her career in the field of genetics. Then Samantha's grandmother died, but she got hold of a magic ring that would allow her to talk to her grandma's spirit in any relective mirror. Then some other fantastical elements were added and by this point it had strayed so far from what it originally was that my paper pulled the plug.
That was twenty years ago. I haven''t read a Safe Havens strip since.
But it's been moving on this whole time and is still produced today. I should probably check back in out of curiosity and for the sake of this article, I should see where that whole story ended up going....
In other words, if you want to try picking up Safe Havens now, GOOD LUCK, BUDDY.
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