Friday, April 8, 2005

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Funny thing about the comics....


Jeffrey Zaslow writes in the Wall Street Journal (that link will work for non-subscribers) about how old comic strips are trying to stay fresh. Apparently the "Family Circus" above is one such example. Others include, according to Zaslow:

Blondie's daughter, Cookie, is dressing like Britney Spears....

Lately, Little Orphan Annie has landed in a North Korean jail and foiled terrorist plots....

Dick Tracy chases corporate crooks, including one with a trophy wife in continual need of plastic surgery. Prince Valiant might be living in the sixth century, but his current storyline has an ecological theme designed to resonate with 21st-century readers. Blondie uses a laptop in her catering business....

"Nancy," a character who has been around since 1933, watches "The O.C." on TV and recently booted her friend Sluggo from a competition a lot like "American Idol." Her Aunt Fritzi drives a sport-utility vehicle and loves such country-music stars as Faith Hill and Shania Twain....

The more macro trend Zaslow identifies is the barrier to entry that keeping old strips on the funny pages presents:

Other young cartoonists complain that cosmetic makeovers in these "dinosaur strips" are masking recycled plots and gags. They say a comic should die when its creator does. "There's all this new talent not making it on comics pages because newspapers are running Blondie and Nancy," says Stacy Curtis, a 33-year-old editorial cartoonist for the Times of Northwest Indiana, in Munster, who has had three strip ideas rejected by syndicates.

The half-dozen major syndicates receive 10,000 or so submissions a year from cartoonists. They pick altogether about 12 to 15 to launch. Some syndicates defend their reliance on old strips by saying profits from these popular old war horses allow them to invest in the promotion of new comics....

Though many old gag comics such as "Blondie" and "Beetle Bailey" are thriving, storyline strips are an endangered species. People don't read newspapers with the regularity they once did, so they don't follow the daily ins and outs of heroines such as red-headed reporter Brenda Starr. And given the fast-paced nature of TV and movies today, people have little patience for a 14-week storyline that plays out with "the speed of a dripping faucet," says Mary Schmich, the Chicago Tribune columnist who writes "Brenda Starr." Ms. Schmich hopes that strips like hers will gain new life because people can now read dozens of days at a time online.

What the Internet taketh away, the Internet also giveth. Which makes this as good a time as any to recommend Chris Muir's Day By Day strip.

posted by Dan on 04.08.05 at 12:09 PM


Sometimes strips really just need to step out of the way.

My personal pet peave right now is "Peanut's" by the late Charles Shultz. My local paper (Raleigh New and Observer) is running reruns of this strip from the 70's. This is taking up valuable space which would be better used to give a new strip a chance.

I don't see how we can get the next "Calvin and Hobbes", or "Pogo" if we continue to recycle the same old Intellectual Property for the benefit of the artist's survivors.

posted by: Steve on 04.08.05 at 12:09 PM [permalink]

posted by: Brenda Starr takes down Powerline on 04.08.05 at 12:09 PM [permalink]

Schmich has half a point about readership habits, but by far the most popular comic among newspaper readers in every survey is "For Better or Worse," which is pure soap opera with plot lines of at least 14 weeks. (It's also pretty good, which makes a big difference.)

It almost makes my head pop off that my own newspaper won't let Charlie Brown go to the grave. You know you're in a dinosaur industry when you run the recycled work of dead cartoonists along with "Annie's Mailbox." Sigh.

posted by: trostky on 04.08.05 at 12:09 PM [permalink]

The title "the funny thing about comics" shouldn't be allowed anywhere near Family Circus, about which there is no funny thing at all.

"For Better or For Worse" is winding up soon; some strips do retire rather than running their schtick into the ground. (Cathy is winding up, too; some strips retire many years after their shtick has been run into the ground.)

posted by: Jacob T. Levy on 04.08.05 at 12:09 PM [permalink]

I know consciously that it's better to just retire a strip than allow it to suffer the indignities of undeath, but I still mourn the loss of The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes.

posted by: Independent George on 04.08.05 at 12:09 PM [permalink]

I remember a Family Circus strip where the mom about to apply postage to a letter addressed to someone apparently living in the neighborhood. One of the boys urges her not to stamp it, and offers to hand-deliver it for a quarter - then (and still) lower than the first-class postage rate.

Endorsement of illegal private-sector competition with USPO letter delivery in the funny pages! The horror!

posted by: Alan K. Henderson on 04.08.05 at 12:09 PM [permalink]

Story comics do rather better on the 'Web, though. Anyone one else (willing to admit that they) read SomethingPositive?

posted by: David Ross on 04.08.05 at 12:09 PM [permalink]

The best strip of all was Bloom Country (may it rest in peace). Opus is SUCH a poor reincarnation.

posted by: Ray DeGennaro on 04.08.05 at 12:09 PM [permalink]

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