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 —
Editorial: Warm thoughts on a cool day
As the snow and ice melt and our concentration returns to things other than winter, here is the final installment in a collection of recent developments in our community worthy of praise.
- Readers' Forum: March 12, 2014
RONN MOTT: SAWS
A few days ago we talked to John Anderson of the Greencastle Presbyterian Church. He’s the coordinator for a mission of the church that builds ramps and stairs for those who are physically handicapped in Putnam County.
EDITORIAL: Thinking warm thoughts (Part II of III)
• Renewing a local library commitment
LIZ CIANCONE: We’re not only ones ready for springtime
During the most recent of our numerous descents into polar temperatures, I was astounded to see a dozen or more robins up to their ankles in snow. They were fluffed out to about twice their normal size. I suppose that was an effort to provide a bit of feathered insulation against the cold.
READERS' FORUM: March 11, 2014
• Meat-free path to the fountain of youth
• Faulty point?
EDITORIAL: Warm thoughts on cool days (Part I of III)
• Something good’s brewing
• Y we can’t take it for granted
FLASHPOINT: Where Congress falls short, and where it doesn’t
At a public gathering the other day, someone asked me how I’d sum up my views on Congress. It was a good question because it forced me to step back from worrying about the current politics of Capitol Hill and take a longer view.
READERS' FORUM: March 10, 2014
• Our government’s heart and soul
• A plea for more give and take
MARK BENNETT: New public-access point begins quest to create more spots to experience river
Fairness holds no power over the Wabash River.
EDITORIAL: Ads on the sides of school buses? What have we come to?
Ads on the sides of school buses do not constitute a sign of the apocalypse. Western civilization will survive.
Flashpoint: President should stop Medicare Advantage cuts
Virtually all elected officials — Republicans and Democrats — share the goal of increasing access to affordable health insurance and helping families receive the best coverage to meet their specific needs.
Readers’ Forum: March 9, 2014
Mardi Gras great event for Swope
EPA regs will cause energy bills to soar
Please pray for Ukraine innocents
Sinful thinking on road to hell
Liberty — or licentiousness
People will not always agree
Botched chance at leadership
RONN MOTT: Radio now a long lost love
I fell in love with radio when I was 16, just a few short weeks before my 17th birthday. The man who did the deed and hired me was Adlai Ferguson.
EDITORIAL: Noteworthy in the news
Welcome to girls teams, fans
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Reader Poll results
EDITORIAL: What do Sony cutbacks mean?
It is easy to understand why shivers run down local people’s spines whenever rumors hit the streets about Sony DADC’s plant on Terre Haute’s east side. With more than 1,400 people currently employed in Sony’s production and distribution facilities, the community has grown somewhat dependent on the economic stability Sony provides.
- Readers’ Forum: March 7, 2014
RONN MOTT: Knicks
The big noise in the NBA is whether Carmelo Anthony will stay with the New York Knicks or go elsewhere.
If my memory serves, and it doesn’t always, Carmelo left the Denver Nuggets, the team that drafted him, to play in the bright lights of the Big Apple. It was loudly proclaimed at the time that Carmelo wanted to play for a championship team. The Knicks’ ownership bought a bunch of players and spent a whole bunch of money to aid Carmelo in helping the Knicks to get to a championship.
EDITORIAL: More ill will against gays
If you’re a feral cat wandering freely through a trailer park in Indiana, the General Assembly has taken action to make your life better.
Readers’ Forum: March 6, 2014
Utilities do need tighter regulation
Great work by TV sports staff
Editorial: A good place for persistence
The topic of Gov. Mike Pence’s effectiveness as the state’s top governmental leader during this year’s General Assembly will be hashed and rehashed after the session closes down in the next couple of weeks. At best, the first-term governor will get mixed marks.
- Readers’ Forum: March 5, 2014
RONN MOTT: Abraham Lincoln and George Washington
I remember when by edict the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington were lumped into a single celebration called “Presidents Day.” I thought it was stupid then, and I still do.
LIZ CIANCONE: Antiques show better than any modern programs
I’m not a big fan of television.
Readers’ Forum: March 4, 2014
Lunatic ravings of the far right
Let IRS take the bullying pledge
EDITORIAL: New attention on sex assaults
Youth sexual assault in Indiana is a troubling issue that has not received the attention it deserves.
KELLY HAWES: It’s time to take politics out of redistricting
A bill to form a bipartisan redistricting commission apparently died in the Indiana Senate last week.
Readers’ Forum: March 3, 2014
Social workers honor profession
FLASHPOINT: Restoring trust, respect in schools rests in fundamentals
A recent Harris poll of 2,250 adults reveals a troubling educational trend.
EDITORIAL: Voters don’t have to stand for entrenched partisanship
Realistic Hoosiers understand members of Congress will typically follow their political party line.
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