A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But a Sandwich


Okay, so Barney and Consuela are aware they’re comic strip characters, which alone doesn’t make a punchline. What’s the joke, then?

(And of course if mentioning Dagwood and his signature sandwich were actually copyright infringement, that ship’s already sailed)


  1. It uses the now-familiar trope of punning “make me a X” between the senses of “build” and “transform into”.

  2. As so many people do, she’s confusing copyright with trademark. Only Dagwood can make a Dagwood(tm) sandwich. You can’t copyright an idea (such as a giant sandwich); you can only copyright each version, but there are millions of possibilities.

    Correcting for that confusion, I think the comic would make more sense to me without the 3rd panel. Given that the third panel is there, maybe I am missing the joke.

  3. Hmm, yes. What if he had said “Make me a Dagwood”? Would that be understood as shorthand for “Dagwood sandwich”?

    (I was about to add, Too bad there isn’t a recognizable famous Reuben, so that he could say “Make me a Reuben” and not leave us wanting to add “sandwich”. But then I remembered the cartooning awards with that name. Not that I know what the trophy looks like, or the namesake person.)

  4. “Too bad there isn’t a recognizable famous Reuben”

    Pee-wee Herman.


    I didn’t even noticed he turned into Dagwood in the third panel until I reread it. That actually doesn’t make much sense…

    But… “Okay, so Barney and Consuela are aware they’re comic strip characters, which alone doesn’t make a punchline”. Is is if it’s done at the right moment and in a light enough and clever enough way. And, no, you can’t actually infringe copyright be just mentioning something but… well, …. okay bear in mind that none of this is a hard and fast rule but:

    The heart of these breaking the 4th wall jokes is, we aren’t supposed to think about about it being a fiction and the characters aren’t supposed to be a fiction because if we are aware its fiction we can’t care about the story because we know it isn’t happening to real people so we couldn’t care about the story.
    But of course, we *are* aware it is a fiction and the author knows we know so when an author *does* break a fourth wall it seems somehow “naughty” and they got away with it. Even though they didn’t really.
    Furthermore… comics are supposed to be self-sufficient and they aren’t supposed to mention “competition”. Why not? Well, if you think about it, of course, one comic knows the reader reads other comics so why *are* should be be mildly surprised if a comic mentions another. Well, I guess it has to do with branding and how percarious it is. If comic A even mentions comic B it would seem like they’d be allowing the readers to drift off in droves to comic B so somehow that just isn’t done. And part of this is the idea that even mentioning would be breaking some copyright law.

    So I think Barney and Clyde is doing *just* enough to give the appearance that mentioning another comic and saying they are treading in another’s territory is *just* enough to be self-sustainingly humorous. …

    …. unless you actually *think* about it..

    BTW… outside of comics does *anyone* refer to them as Dagwood sandwiches? It just seems… to obvious a set-up. I’m not thinking so much “I don’t get it” as “Well, *everybody* has seen that joke a million times, right?”

  5. I… can’t quite get on board with the notion that one can’t care about a fictional story because it isn’t happening to real people.

  6. The basis of the joke is as Mitch4 stated in the first reply. In panel 3 Consuela is imagining Barney made into Dagwood (this is comic land, you just have to go along with Dagwood vs Dagwood sandwich.) Consuela then breaks the forth wall with the copyright joke. And I think it is a matter of copyright, otherwise Disney would not have gone to so much trouble a while back to get Congress to rewrite the copyright laws before Mickey went into public domain.

  7. guero, Disney deliberately conflated copyright and trademark in order to be able to continue getting royalties on their oldest films.

  8. Wasn’t there a discussion here once about cartoonists earmarking their weakest material for Saturdays, since far fewer people will see it?

  9. I may have brought that up. Pastis mentioned putting weak material on Saturdays in (at least) one of his books.

  10. Mitch4, the Reuben is named for Rube Goldberg, deviser of Rube Goldberg contraptions and Count Screwloose of Toulouse.

  11. You can’t copyright a sandwich either. You might be able to patent one, under the right circumstances.

  12. “You can’t copyright a sandwich either.”

    You can if you can qualify it as “architecture”. What are “Dagwood” sandwiches notable for? You also could get there by qualifying it as a work of sculpture.

  13. In panel 3, Consuela IMAGINES Barney with Dagwood’s head; that is why, in panel 4, he has to repeat his question: to interrupt her musings.
    Diplomatically, she offers a hero, not a sub. 😉

  14. In general, it’s very difficult to get copyrights for recipes, at least the basic list of ingredients and instructions. Possibly supporting text, like if the instructions had a story of how your grandmother taught you how to make it or something.

  15. Which is just as well, as one would hate to try to have to ascertain (let alone defend) the provenance of all the scribbles and notecards handed around in families.

  16. I think you can get a trademark for just about anything you use in trade, as long as nobody else uses that trademark in trade. So you can’t trademark a hero (γύρος) sandwich but if you made up a new name like “Powerlifter Sandwich” you could trademark that.

  17. ” if you made up a new name like “Powerlifter Sandwich” you could trademark that.”

    Maybe. If your new name is purely descriptive, it can’t be trademarked.

  18. “If your new name is purely descriptive, it can’t be trademarked.”

    Standard Oil did it.

  19. Standard Oil did it under previous trademark law, and gets grandfathered into the current trademark law.

    “Marks that are merely descriptive of the goods or services may not be registered on the Principal Register absent a showing of acquired distinctiveness under 15 U.S.C. §1052(f). ”

    — Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (1209.1)

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