August 23, 2004
Tough times on the comics page

This NYT article about a recent trend in newspapers to cull the comics pages as a cost-saving maneuver leaves me shaking my head. Two comments from the story stand out to me:

“I think newspapers need some percentage of attraction to young readers to get them interested, get them hooked, get them off the Internet,” said Scott Adams, the creator of “Dilbert,” the 15-year-old chronicle of cubicle culture that appears in 2,000 papers worldwide. “The comics page is their portal. And right now, they risk having no portal.”

I'm a newspaper junkie, but I have to say that the comics are the one part of the newspaper experience for me that just isn't replicable on the Internet. I bring my newspaper to work with me so I can read the comics at lunch time. Having to click a few dozen links to read what I like just doesn't compare to opening a two-page spread and taking a leisurely stroll through it. And yes, the comics (and the sports pages) were my introduction to newspapers way back when.

The Chron, mentioned earlier in the story as having done some surveying to see what comics they might cut later, has four pages' worth of them, making them in my mind one of the best comic sections around. They picked up all of the strips that were abandoned when the Houston Post was sold for scrap in 1995, and have made only onesy-twosie changes since. To make cuts with cost savings in mind would now mean fairly wholesale slaughter, for if they don't recover at least a full page then I don't see the point. Be afraid, my fellow Houstonians, be very afraid.

Lalo Alcaraz, an editorial cartoonist for the alternative newspaper LA Weekly, who has been drawing “La Cucaracha” for nearly two years, was more blunt about the generational scrimmage for space on the comics page.

“If only science had not found a way to revive dead cartoonists and keep them alive, that would be helpful to me and a lot of guys coming up,” he said in a veiled swipe at, among others, “Peanuts,” which remains in syndicated reruns more than four years after the death of its creator, Charles M. Schulz.

Much as I love "Peanuts", if they're going to do reruns, could they at least do them from the older days, when it was a hell of a lot better? If you were only ever exposed to this latter stuff, which I note by the recent reappearance of the "Brownie Charles" sequence has cycled through at least twice now, you'd have a hard time figuring out why "Peanuts" is beloved enough to be worth keeping on. I'd rather see it die on the comics pages than wind up being remembered for the strips that run there now. Throw us a bone here, United Media.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 23, 2004 to Society and cultcha | TrackBack

Apparently, there is more than one set of reruns available. Newsday runs one set, and the New York Daily News runs the "classic" set that featured the "Brownie Charles" series.

As much as I prefer the printed version of comic strips, the electronic format is the only way to get the Calvin and Hobbes and Bloom County reruns, as well as the current Tank McNamara.

Posted by: William Hughes on August 23, 2004 9:43 AM

The chron itself has a comics page aggregator, with a build your own feature so you can cull losers like Tumbleweeds, Mallard Fillmore, and Nancy and Sluggo. For me, it's the best bet. It beats having to recycle papers.

Posted by: Michael on August 23, 2004 10:18 AM

I rely on the Chron's comics aggregator to get my daily comix fix of all the strips that are not available in the SA Express-News. (Monty, Boondocks, Funky Winkerbean, Crankshaft, Drabble, Heart of the City, La Cucaracha, Sherman's Lagoon, Spot the Frog).
I also visit daily to get a few comix that I can't find anywhere else (Big Nate, Pibgorn, Rudy Park).

I sympathize with the La Cucaracha cartoonist about dead cartoonists taking up space. At least Schultz refused to let someone else draw his strip after he was gone. Comics like Snuffy Smith, Nancy, Dennis the Menace, Shoe, and many others should have been retired when the original artists passed away.
However, I also agree with Charles that there should be a place for recycling classic strips that people of our generation missed. I'd love to see old Peanuts, Lil' Abner, Pogo, old Alley Oop and others.

Posted by: Mike Thomas on August 23, 2004 11:01 AM

Speaking of the old ones, I wonder if "Gordo" is still running anywhere, or if it's way too politically incorrect for these times.

I think "Prince Valiant" is now on its third or fourth artist/writer. Why?

Posted by: Linkmeister on August 23, 2004 4:13 PM