By their nature, cartoon characters of course don’t age. While this is good from a marketing standpoint (not having to produce, say, “old Bugs Bunny” vs. “middle-aged Bugs” vs. “young Bugs” dolls), from a storytelling standpoint it might feel odd to not show the characters with any sort of past. Depending on the story, it might also come off as too unrealistic in some circumstances.
While there’ve been some solutions to this (aging characters to a certain point/in spurts and then stopping; giving an in-story reason for a lack of aging such as a fountain of youth formula, being an alien, etc.; ignoring the issue altogether since they’re “just cartoons”; and the rarest, actually letting them age in real time), one of the most popular seems to be the “sliding timeline” or “floating timeline,” also known as “comic book time.” See my post discussing in more detail these various ways of handling non-aging cartoon characters.
I thought it’d be interesting to write about some examples of the use of sliding timelines in cartoons, and see where the status of the characters’ “pasts” (births, etc.) currently stand. I’ll start off with the comic strip “FoxTrot,” a Sunday (formerly weekday) strip drawn by Bill Amend.
“FoxTrot” focuses on the members of the Fox family: Roger, the family’s father (typical sitcom-style bumbling father), his wife Andy (the strip’s voice of reason, sometimes to the point of being a stick-in-the-mud), and their kids: teenagers Peter (obsessed with sports) and Paige (obsessed with shopping), and the strip’s biggest character, preteen Jason, who’s obsessed with all things geeky and then some.
The Fox family’s ages
One thing that’s been firm through the strip’s run are the character’s ages: Roger is 45; Andy is 42; Peter is 16; Paige is 14; and Jason is 10.
While not a subject heavily dwelled on, the Fox family’s pasts have been shown sliding forward over time:
- An early strip from the late 80s (where Andy gets hired for her newspaper column) has Andy trying to find the perfect column photo, and asks Roger what she thinks of one possible choice. Roger looks at the photo, and notes Andy’s “wearing a poodle skirt,” suggesting a 1950s childhood for the two. A strip from a few years later has Roger ask Jason if a cloud “looks like Trigger,” Roy Rogers’ horse, which’d also assume a 1950s childhood.
- Andy in one early 2000s(?) strip is seen looking over her old vinyl records, including some 60s/70s rock groups (the Beatles, Elton John, etc.). While of course they could’ve been used/older ones at the time she bought them, it’s assumed they were the popular acts when she was young. Of course, the main punchline was Jason asking “what are records?” Contrast this to Jason himself having used records in the earliest strips.
- During a late 90s storyline where Roger foolishly quits his job and winds up taking up day trading, he gets tired of hearing Jason insisting “stocks don’t go down” (during the stock market boom of the time). Roger ends up calling someone for investment advice, specifically asking for someone who was “born before the 90s.”
- The biggest shift might be in “Star Wars” itself. An early strip assumed Roger knew nothing about the franchise; the “Roy Rogers” strip above has him fail to recognize Jason’s “Star Wars” reference. A 2000s strip, however, has Jason shocked at learning Rogers himself was a big “Star Wars” fan as a kid, and had seen “The Empire Strikes Back” in 1980.
- Poking fun at all this is a 25th anniversary strip from 2013. Peter and Jason find a box of old “photos” (actual panels from the strip’s first year), and ponder how weird/off-model everyone looks. Peter then notes the box is “somehow” from 25 years ago, yet he’s only 16.
The Fox family’s changing technology
Along with the above, there’s also been various strips over the years that’ve shown the Fox family upgrading their computers, which’re always Apples/Macs (or Mac pastiche the “iFruit”) of some sort. I’ve written another post on the history of the Fox family’s changing tech.
As of 2020, the characters would’ve been “born” in: 1975 (Roger), 1978 (Andy), 2004 (Peter), 2006 (Paige), and 2010 (Jason). Roger and Andy have gone from being Baby Boomers (and their kids Gen Xers) to being Gen Xers themselves (and the kids now members of Generation Z).
One amusing consequence of the lack of aging is seeing various “back to school” strips each September that focus on Paige’s “first day of high school,” though this was more prominent when the strip was still running dailies. As if starting high school wasn’t stressful enough!