Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Oh, Yeah, Those Pages With Lines On Them

In reading the biography of Charles M. Schulz, "Schulz and Peanuts," by David Michaelis, I was struck by the level of interest there was in "Peanuts" when it came out in the 1950s. Newspapers feuded over which would get "Peanuts." Newspapers promoted themselves as the place where you could read "Peanuts."

I wonder how many two-newspaper towns were sustained by: One had Ann and the other had Abby.

How the situation has changed. In this column George Rodrigue of the Dallas Morning News speaks to a reader's concern about the funny pages and Abby and their adult content and his 7-year-old (search in the post for the word "Sarda"). One could have an enlivening discussion about the merits of a Funnies section for kids and a Funnies section for adults, but first we'd have to have a discussion about even having them. Because, as Mr. Rodrigue notes to the reader:

"...Like most American newspapers, we have a long history of running comics and advice columns together. To tell you the truth, we don't think about it much."

Twenty years ago my newspaper had two top editors who obsessed over the comics and syndicated features. They knew readers bought the paper for specific things and a large number of them weren't news content. As stated earlier, we had our secret weapon, and it was the Cryptoquote. How many newspapers do we sell on the basis of the crossword puzzle, a feature placed in many papers with absolute disdain for those who work it?

Now, newspapers in general not only try continually to squeeze the space given to comics and other features -- which, of course, are not part of the core mission -- but many of them, out of a combination of a lack of interest and a skittishness that comes from having once tried to kill a cat or dog strip, pay as little attention as possible to one of the major draws newspapers traditionally have had. ("I didn't go to journalism school to talk to 5,000 readers upset that we dropped 'Fred Basset'! The damn dog probably died! Get over it!")

The traffic Newsday has drawn online with Walt Handelsman's animated cartoons shows that cartoons appropriate to the medium will succeed. Print is still a wonderful medium for cartoons. One can't conjure up a "Peanuts" or "Calvin and Hobbes," of course; the talent has to be there. But it sure looks like it would be there if we would again pay attention to how to promote it.

One of my dreams has always been that the New York Times, out of some fit in considering itself a metropolitan newspaper, would say, OK, well, let's run a few comics -- politically pointed, upscale ones, of course. ("Woody's World," by Allen Konigsberg.) The resulting interest in newspapers in running comics and puzzles, once it had been sanctified as an Appropriate Thing for Journalists to Consider, might knock down syndicate doors.

1 comment:

Brian Cubbison said...

I've always thought that if you're going to spend the newsprint on comics, make them big enough to enjoy. I also think that newspapers should have a page of classic comics for a comfort zone, and a page of hipper comics to promote newness.