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Courtesy of Brian Crane
Cartoonist Brian Crane

Earl Pickles is standing knee-deep in the living-room flood he caused by trying to fix a leaky pipe. Opal Pickles, who had specifically told him to call a plumber, is not at all pleased, which causes Earl to think: "How come I always get blamed for the things I do?"

Life is often like that for the curmudgeonly yet lovable Pickles clan. Best intentions go awry; good advice is not always welcome. Their foibles are humorous but also something a lot of people can relate to, which is why cartoonist Brian Crane chose that phrase for the title of his latest collection of "Pickles" comic strips.

The book represents the fifth such compilation of the comic strip that has been appearing in daily newspapers for 20 years.

A book is always fun, Crane said in a telephone chat from his home in Sparks, Nev.

"Newspaper comics have such a short shelf life," he said. "They are the epitome of yesterday's news. So, it is nice to see them collected in a more permanent form."

Crane will be in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Jan. 29, to talk about and sign copies of "How Come I Always Get Blamed for the Things I Do?" (Baobab Press, $13.95). The signing will take place at The King's English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, beginning at 2 p.m.

"Pickles," which has appeared in the Deseret News from the beginning, is a two-time nominee for the National Cartoonist Society's Best Comic Strip of the Year, and won that prestigious award in 2001. It appears in more than 700 newspapers worldwide and consistently ranks high in comics polls.

Twenty years is a big milestone, Crane said. "When it first started, it was in such a small number of papers. I hoped that it would make it one year."

What has made it work, Crane thinks, is that "most people know an Earl and Opal Pickles. They can be cantankerous, yet they have a deep love for each other. They could not get along without each other."

The Pickles clan includes not only Earl and Opal, but also their daughter Sylvia, grandson Nelson, dog Roscoe and cat Muffin, as well as assorted other friends and family. Over the years, Crane said, they have taken on personas of their own. He credits his in-laws, Bud and Ardella Long, with some of the inspiration, although that was not intentional. "It's only looking back that I see a lot of them in it."

And what do the Longs think of that? "It's never been a point of conversation with them," Crane said. But he does know they read the strip. "She has lost her eyesight, and he reads it to her every morning. To me, that's very sweet."

But as Crane has gotten older, he has also drawn a lot from his own life. "I identify with Earl in a lot of ways."

Earl's the kind of guy who can call his wife "sweaty (instead of sweetie) pie" by accident, who folds fitted sheets into a ball, who has a hard time hearing in the dark and might get donated to the Humane Society after Opal dies.

Those are things to laugh at or even cut out and put on the refrigerator.

"That's the ultimate compliment for a cartoonist," Crane said, "to walk into a house and see one of your strips on the refrigerator."

If you go ...

What: Book signing, Brian Crane, "How Come I Always Get Blamed for the Things I Do?"

When: Jan. 29 beginning at 2 p.m.

Where: The King's English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East

e-mail: carma@desnews.com