This Modern World

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This Modern World
This Modern World cast.jpg
Several of the main characters in This Modern World. From left to right: Sparky, Biff, and Blinky.
Author(s)Tom Tomorrow
Current status/scheduleRunning
Launch date1988
Genre(s)Humor, Political comics, Satirical comics

This Modern World is a weekly satirical comic strip by cartoonist and political commentator Tom Tomorrow (real name Dan Perkins) that covers current events from a left-wing point of view. Tomorrow also runs a weblog that informs readers about stories of interest, often presented as a follow up to his cartoons. This Modern World appears mainly in alternative weekly newspapers.


Visually This Modern World draws inspiration from a retro, 1950s sensibility, with brightly colored illustrations that are also inspired by clip art. Initially, the strip was almost completely composed of actual vintage clip art and magazine cutouts, assembled collage-style and often manipulated and retouched. However, Tomorrow has gradually replaced cutouts with his own drawings, which merely mimic the clip art look. Usually drawn in four panels, it is not uncommon for all panels to be identical or nearly so, with only the dialogue and/or facial expressions changing.[citation needed]

The '50s theme extends to the typically verbose dialogue of his human characters which is often bubbly, over-enthusiastic, and naïve; the stupidity of the humans is countered by Sparky, a fast-talking penguin (although the strip occasionally postulates he is actually an auk) with a red visor, who provides much of the strip's political commentary.

A recurring theme in the comic books (though far less so in the strips) was that of "reality engineering", wherein "the very fabric of space and time" is mined for "the good of mankind"; this periodically generates "reality discontinuities", where reality breaks down. These are (generally) resolved by reality engineers.Template:Tomorrow, Tom. “This Modern World.” Self-Syndicated, 1988.


From 2000 to 2001, an animated This Modern World series was produced by Flickerlab for Mondo Media, with Bob Harris as the voice of Sparky; each episode was approximately five minutes long.


  • Directed by Harold Moss
  • Writers: Harold Moss, Tom Tomorrow, Bob Harris
  • Executive Producer for Mondo Media: Jan Mallis
  • Produced by Angela Webb
  • Producer for Mondo Media: Eileen McKee
  • Animation Director: Miguel Hernandez
  • Animation: Matthew Benton, Anand Nunnally, Kareem Thompson, Angela Moy, Antonio Jimenez
  • Assistant Animators: Bill Stout, Matt Bookbinder, D.A. Strawder, Johanna Bystrom
  • Illustrations & Backgrounds: Antonio Jimenez
  • Sound Record & Mix: Tom Lino


The series has been through several incarnations through the years, the first of which appeared in the "Suburban High Life" comic books published by Slave Labor in the late 1980s. Characters include:

Tom Tomorrow (fictional)

In an "intermediate" version of the strip, a character named Tom Tomorrow was in the strip, he was a private eye who was dressed in a radiation suit so his face was never seen. He was eventually phased out.

Dippy the Wonder-Penguin

Tom Tomorrow's sidekick, his vocabulary was limited to "wank".

Sparky the Wonder Penguin

A sort of upgraded version of Dippy (who had been phased out by the time of Sparky's introduction), Sparky can actually talk. Similar to Dippy, Spark's first words in the strip are "George [H. W.] Bush is a wanker". A strong liberal advocate, he briefly became a Republican after being hit on the head with a random falling toilet.

Blinky the Dog

A small dog (Boston Terrier) who shares some of Sparky's political sympathies. Normally very mellow, he briefly became a radical when steroids were put into his food when he was intended to replace the then-Republican Sparky.

Bob Friendly

Mr. Friendly is in charge of the advertising section of This Modern World (thus breaking the fourth wall), it was he who introduced Sparky the Penguin. He appears only occasionally.

Dr. Wilbur von Philbert

One of the longest-running characters in the strip, Dr. von Philbert is the person who discovered how to mine reality for energy.

Biff and Wanda

Two blow-dried anchorpeople of the "Action McNews", a newscast in which Tomorrow suggests that most TV news is little more than PR spin. A Biff and Wanda strip almost always ends with a cut to a commercial break ("Now, these messages!")

Biff and Betty

Biff and Betty are two archetypes of 1950s people, who sometimes share their thoughts on the modern world. Biff often appears alone with Sparky, expressing a naive conservative opinion which invariably prompts an exasperated liberal rebuttal from the penguin.

Invisible Hand of the Free Market Man

Invisible Hand of the Free Market Man (abbreviated I.H.O.T.F.M.-Man in dialog in the strip) is a superhero character, wearing what is basically a Superman costume, with an I.H.O.T.F.M.-Man logo (a hand with the IHOTF in each finger, and M in the palm) where the Superman logo would be. I.H.O.T.F.M.-Man's head is a giant left hand with facial features in the palm. I.H.O.T.F.M.-Man is an ardent defender of Adam Smith's invisible hand metaphor, and usually intervenes in situations where the purity of free market economics is in jeopardy. His declarations are often based on principles of free market economics taken to their logical extreme; the first panel of a comic featuring I.H.O.T.F.M-Man is usually a parody of the cover of Action Comics 1.

Conservative Jones and Moonbat McWacky

Conservative Jones and Moonbat McWacky are two children used in the strip to satirize conservative talking points. Conservative, who is dressed as a detective, asks Moonbat questions about politics. Moonbat gives reasonable answers, which the Conservative turns into illogical statements about liberals.

Tom Tomorrow

Tom occasionally appears in his own strips, this time as himself (again, breaking the fourth wall).

Public figures

All the presidents since Ronald Reagan have appeared, as well as other political and media figures. Rush Limbaugh is a favorite caricature subject, although he usually talks through a radio and is not personally shown. (He was once, however, depicted as a pig, in a strip parodying the film The Mask.) Conservative columnist Ann Coulter is often the target of particularly unflattering caricatures, usually popping up in the middle of a strip to make a typically inflammatory remark, ending with a guttural "Haw haw haw!" laugh. In a few strips, George W. Bush gets hold of what appears to be the DeLorean from Back to the Future and goes back in time to meet the founding fathers. Karl Rove and Bill O'Reilly make frequent appearances.

Parallel Earth

The strip occasionally visits a parallel Earth, a deliberate parody of our own world. A "small cute dog" was elected as commander-in-chief in their 2000 presidential election, and re-elected in 2004.

Planet Glox

Actually shown is only a newscast from Glox with two anchor-aliens, their newscast resembles Fox News, and they report about news strikingly similar to that on earth, but in factual scientific terminology (i.e., Coneheads-style), thereby making, for example, fun of the public obsession with the sexual activities of public figures by referring to the global importance of touching reproductive organs.

Other recurring elements[edit]

Supergiant Conglomerated Corporation[edit]

A fictitious, stereotypical big business or megacorporation in an unspecified industry, but appears to represent the military-industrial complex; this company has been portrayed as being unethical, manipulative, obsessed with spin, and environmentally unfriendly. Occasionally written as "Supergiant Amalgamated Corporation".

Action McNews[edit]

The (presumably local) TV news program on which Biff and Wanda are anchors.


  • The Great Big Book of Tomorrow (a collection of the cartoons from 1992–2002)

External links[edit]