TERRE HAUTE —
The sound of my teenage daughter laughing at the newspaper comics inspires me.
Value endures in the daily artwork on paper. The sounds of pages turning, a coffee cup meeting a wooden tabletop and chuckles have not disappeared. My daughter is among those keeping that resource alive, every morning. It’s one of life’s simple joys, and it remains right there in front us, in black and white (and color on Sundays) — if we just pick it up and look at it.
Think of it: Nearly two dozen cartoonists offer to put a smile on our faces every morning, with a few sentences and wacky drawings.
It’s worth the handful of minutes it takes to read them. Anybody with a job can relate to “Dilbert” or “The Born Loser.” Any parent can connect with “Hi and Lois,” “Family Circus,” “Baby Blues,” “Dennis the Menace” or “Zits.” Married folks grin at “For Better or For Worse,” “Blondie” or “The Lockhorns.” Others remind us of the world’s absurdities, especially “Non Sequitur” and “Garfield.” They get clipped and stuck on computer terminals, office doors and refrigerators.
For me, “The Far Side” fit my sense of humor like a scuba suit. That Gary Larson gem ran in more than 1,900 daily newspapers from 1980 to 1995. It made me laugh almost every single time. In one classic entry, a line of people are greeted by an angel who says, “Welcome to heaven … here’s your harp,” while in the cartoon’s bottom panel another line of people are greeted by a devil who says, “Welcome to hell … here’s your accordion.”
I felt sad when Larson announced the comic strip would end on New Year’s Day 1995. Comics build such attachment.
“People are passionate about them,” said Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism at the Pew Research Center.
Understanding that bond was a prerequisite for Jurkowitz when he became ombudsman at the Boston Globe in 1995. “My predecessor told me, the thing that will generate the most outrage, the most complaints to the office, the most backlash, is any change in the comics page,” Jurkowitz said.
In the rocky, survival-of-the-fittest, 21st-century, lean economic era, some cost-cutting newspapers have tested readers’ affection for cartoons. The Newark Star-Ledger drew more than 1,200 reader complaints in 2010 when it downsized its comics section.
The Tribune-Star publishes 18 cartoons in its daily sections and 23 on Sundays, and that lineup has remained steady for more than a decade, Editor Max Jones said.
The “funny pages” began in the 19th century, and flourished in the 20th, before experiencing the struggles of the 21st. The ups and downs of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus and Snoopy turned “Peanuts” into a pop culture phenomenon. Charles Schulz created more than 18,000 of those strips for more than a half-century. They appeared in more than 2,200 newspapers in dozens of countries and languages. Since Schulz’s death in 2000, “Peanuts” reruns have graced the funny sections of hundreds of papers, including the Tribune-Star.
Its lingering appeal is a testament to the staying power of comics.
Schulz did not want another cartoonist drawing “Peanuts” after his passing, but several long-running comics are now the work of the creators’ sons or daughters, or teams of artists. “Hi and Lois,” created by Mort Walker and Dik Browne in 1954, is produced today by sons Brian and Greg Walker, and Robert “Chance” Browne. Mort Walker, 88, still draws his “Beetle Bailey,” just as he has since 1950.
“I’m stunned as to how many ageless strips are still there,” Jurkowitz said Thursday by phone from the Pew offices in Washington, D.C.
On the flipside, comic strip historian Allan Holtz said newspapers need edgier cartoon offerings — beyond reruns and non-controversial characters — to satisfy a demographic that relies on online news sources instead of print products.
“If newspaper editors would welcome comic strips with a snarky viewpoint, an off-center attitude, or a willingness to attack controversial subjects, they might just win back some of their younger readers, who have forsaken the daily paper in favor of Google News,” Holtz told the Tribune-Star. “Those readers need irresistible reasons for including print media in their daily time budget.”
Whatever the topic, the key to comic strip longevity is humor.
“It’s hard not to like cartoons, if they’re funny,” said Polly Keener, chairman of the Great Lakes Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society.
Keener is both a practitioner and teacher of the craft. Her cartoon strip “Hamster Alley” and puzzle “Mystery Mosaic” are nationally syndicated to nearly 450 newspapers. She’s also taught cartooning at the University of Akron, the city where she lives. Her 1992 book “Cartooning,” with a forward by Hoosier “Garfield” artist Jim Davis, remains well-known in the field.
With that vast background, Keener sees fellow cartoonists working hard to adapt their once-stable print strips to fit varying newspaper space demands and new, less financially certain online formats. “Most of us still, at heart, would like to see our work in print,” she said.
Many cartoonists use computers to color part or all of their creations. Keener does hers in black-and-white. “So I’m really old-fashioned,” she said, chuckling. “I even draw in ink.”
Such fresh pieces of art, on their own newsprint canvas, with original storylines, arriving at our homes, day after day, represent a precious commodity. If those comics fade or vanish, people would say goodbye to a piece of their culture. “They would lose America’s most popular art form,” Keener said.
The Great Lakes Chapter of the NCS includes 40 cartoonists, while the national society roster totals more than 600, Keener said. “All of my friends love their jobs and are going to keep on drawing their strips even if nobody buys them,” she said, “but we hope they do.”
Their appeal is their biggest advantage in the face of economic adversity — a slice of everyday life, with irreverent commentaries on coffeeshop topics that might not make the cable news channels. “So I think you would miss that” if daily newspaper comics ended, Keener said.
The drawing will never stop, though.
“It’s sort of like being on the ground with the people of the times,” Keener said, “and you may not get that elsewhere. What you may get is graffiti. You may get more people drawing on the wall, if you take away newspapers.”
Imagine trying to clip a chunk of drywall to a fridge.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Humor is the key to comic strip longevity
TERRE HAUTE —
- Mark Bennett Opinion
MARK BENNETT: ABA’s record proves Bobby Leonard’s a legit Hall of Famer
Bobby Leonard symbolized the feisty competitive flair of the old ABA.
MARK BENNETT: Letter from coach’s young daughter put pro sports, Christmas in perspective
Most of us sympathize with people forced to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
That list is growing, now that Black Friday has morphed into Black Thursday, causing retail employees to join doctors, nurses, hospital staffers, police, firefighters, emergency responders, military members, convenience store clerks, road crews and media to spend holidays at work. Ideally, we’ll feel gratitude when we require their services on those special days. Too often, their sacrificed time gets taken for granted.
Terry Leonard wanted the executives to remember her dad, and their family, at Christmastime.
And, amazingly, they listened.
MARK BENNETT: A degree of success
Determination to get that diploma Larry Bird’s deepest bond with fellow ISU alums, students
MARK BENNETT: Brad Fenton and friends set dominos in motion to make Larry Bird statue a reality
The idea has been out there for awhile, floating.
Locals in the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s would say, “They need to put up a statue of Larry Bird. I mean, one of the all-time greatest basketball players played right here in Terre Haute at Indiana State University.”
MARK BENNETT: Next chapter set to begin
Use the classic Tommy Tutone song to memorize the following number …
MARK BENNETT: One-ring blues?
Minutes before kickoff tonight, the Lucas Oil Stadium tech crew should play Sam Cooke’s classic, “(What a) Wonderful World” over the sound system.
MARK BENNETT: At Peace in Parke County
Northwestern Parke County — The stream merely trickles beneath Mill Creek Bridge. It’s just a few inches deep, but the water keeps moving.
MARK BENNETT: Terre Haute native Tommy John belongs in Cooperstown for pitching like a Hall of Famer
Few players in history left a greater impact on baseball than Tommy John.
And he did so through his performance on the field.
MARK BENNETT: Remotely confused
“Must See TV,” where have you gone?
MARK BENNETT: Popularity Contest: Congress does little to improve its standing with Americans
The members of Congress ardently resisting the Affordable Care Act emphasize its unpopularity.
MARK BENNETT: ‘The voice of the Democratic Party’
The ad stands as a campaign classic. Its scenario is part of history. Its narrator would be familiar to millions of Americans, yet anonymous, too.
MARK BENNETT: Transparency in public decision-making includes sincerely listening to the people
Transparency isn’t universally accepted in public entities.
MARK BENNETT: This Little Light: Remote chapel keeps a light shining on story of Flight 93
Father Al explained the meaning of the lamp. He asked me to light it.
The reverence in his voice offset the raspiness, left by his latest battle with cancer. Clearly, he saw this place as special.
MARK BENNETT: Reflections on the Wabash
The series “500 Miles of Wabash” wrapped up last Sunday after a five-week run. Readers offered some enlightening insights, memories and photographs as the series unfolded.
MARK BENNETT: Current Information: Put your Wabash knowledge to the test … or quiz
Just for fun, ponder a few questions concerning the large waterway flowing through Indiana and Terre Haute, as the Tribune-Star’s series, “500 Miles of Wabash” concludes in today’s editions. Those who’ve followed the five-part series of stories, photographs and videos about people and communities uniquely embracing the Wabash River may have a head start. If you’re just catching up, check them out in the online editions at www.tribstar.com.
- Answers to the Wabash River Quiz
MARK BENNETT: Pedestrian paths across the Wabash few, so far, but appreciated
The future tends to sneak up on you. Planning for it offers no guarantees, but it helps.
MARK BENNETT: Questions of fairness, impartiality, public trust legitimate in wake of school rating controversy
The discovery of a double-standard in public policy — or the appearance of it — weakens trust. The acceptance of a double-standard in public policy — or the appearance of it — erases trust. Indiana needs to draw a clear line between the former and the latter, and not cross it.
MARK BENNETT: Living downstream: From source, Wabash bears mark of mankind mile after mile
Something was missing. I’d never visited this spot before, but the view looked familiar. I’ve walked the banks of the Wabash River and its tributaries countless times, catching crawdads and skipping rocks in Honey Creek as a kid. On the other side of the state, where the Wabash crosses from Ohio into Indiana, trees arched over the water as it ran under a bridge on a quiet country road. It looked like western Indiana, except for one absent element. Litter.
MARK BENNETT: We are Hauteans (ho-shuns)
I fielded an hilariously disturbing question recently. A friend asked if the word “Hautean” is meant to be a derogatory label.
MARK BENNETT: Lesson in the Test
ISTEP is important, but it should not be predominant.
MARK BENNETT: Commencement Advice
Today’s high school commencement speakers should repeat their speeches in hospital delivery rooms in the months ahead.
MARK BENNETT: American nurses, medics, stranded behind Nazi lines, survived through tenacity, heroism, generosity
A story of survival, perseverance, danger, and extraordinary courage and generosity extended in the midst of war remained untold for decades, but thankfully not forever.
Mark Bennett: High-profile mural connects historical dots from city to river
At 96 feet wide and 2 stories tall, the power, impact and value of the Wabash will be evident.
MARK BENNETT: Life at face value: Mom’s simple advice still presents a valuable daily challenge
Most moms don’t base their advice on scientific research.
(Unless, of course, your mother is a scientific researcher. If so, carry a No. 2 pencil and take good notes.)
MARK BENNETT: Should I stay or should I go?
Some have their Bill Clinton-era Cavalier packed (with the trunk bungee-ed shut), apartment cleaned (except for the fridge), and iPhone GPS locked onto the fastest route out of Terre Haute. Others are staying — until they find a better job, or because they’re starting a career here, or because this town feels like home. In each case, a new stage of life begins today.
College Class of '13 gets a little extra advice
Local college grads will hear commencement speakers offer life and career advice this month. We’re offering them an extra dose here from folks who’ve found success in various vocations and regions of the nation. Many have Terre Haute roots.
MARK BENNETT: Spirited response to a rising river
The power within the Wabash revealed itself last week.
MARK BENNETT: Littered with irony: Why do people callously discard their trash, and who are they?
Though they aren’t acknowledged by the U.S. Census Bureau, there are basically two demographic groups of people … Those who would dump their old toilet on the banks of the Wabash River or a rural roadside. And those who wouldn’t.
MARK BENNETT: Performing under the radar: Toiling for years behind the scenes, Terre Haute native J.T. Corenflos finally earned a splash of musical recognition
People who diligently work to make others shine are a rare breed.
- More Mark Bennett Opinion Headlines
- MARK BENNETT: ABA’s record proves Bobby Leonard’s a legit Hall of Famer