Newsprint? Dying? How?

What exactly makes this a "comic" worthy of the "funny pages"

Somehow, people are shocked that newspapers are dying. I say that if these are the types of comics that get in over, say, something entertaining, then good riddance. I stumbled across an old series of articles by David Malki ! (yes, the exclamation point is on purpose) called the Comic Strip Doctor. In it, he describes why the worst comics in the paper are so bad, then tries to fix them, with varying results. It’s worth a read.* It made me remember how much I used to love the funny pages, and how much they sucked, both in retrospect and today. But I’m pretty sure comics were good at some point, right? And now we’re subjected to endless retreads of unfunny Family Circus and BC and Pluggers and (God help us all) Mallard Fillmore.

*When you’re done, read his comic, Wondermark. It’s pretty damn funny.

So how have comics fallen so far? At one point, you could find Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, Bloom County, and best of all, The Far Side in your newspaper every day. Now, apart from Non Sequitur and Get Fuzzy, it isn’t worth reading. Comics are always the first to get cut for space concerns and cost saving, even though they’re always popular. Meanwhile, pigheaded editors (I’m looking at you, Boston Globe) think it’s more important to have “balance” than humor. So if you want to run, say, Doonesbury, you have to run both Mallard Fillmore and Prickly City, even though neither has gotten a laugh, or even a knowing nod and a “that’s kind of funny, I guess”, in their entire existences. At the end of its run, if you wanted to have The Boondocks, you had to run a full-color, half page above-the-fold spread of BC and the Family Circus Present: Jesus is Great!, plus a nude picture of Sean Hannity, every single day.

The problem, I think, is that most editors strive for mediocrity. Rather than rock the boat or potentially challenge their readers, most editors would rather print something the parents can hand to their kids to shut them up at breakfast, thereby ensuring no child ever wants to pick up a newspaper ever again. That’s why we end up with harmless pap like Stone Soup and Frank and Earnest and Drabble. Even Zits used to be a sort-of interesting, sort-of-deep look at teenage life and parents raising teenagers. Now, of course, it’s been appropriately neutered and every punchline can be summed up with, “aren’t teenagers a pain in patootie, folks?” It’s harmless and it’s boring. People can “relate” to it, but only on a shallow and uninteresting level.

Not all comics are bad. F Minus can be funny in a sort of bizarre way. Doonesbury, even though it stopped being really funny and subversive years ago, still matters to a lot of people. But 90% of the comics page is drivel. How can this happen? It’s not like there aren’t good comics out there (and there and there and there). So if the news companies want my advice (and surely they do), here it is: Put better comics in the paper. Find new stuff. Find good comics to replace the musty old dogs there now. Is the comics page more important than better journalism and more responsible fact checking? Or interesting stories and features? Or having not Bill Kristol? No, it probably isn’t. But at least it would show us you care about something. Newspapers are great because one of them has everything (in theory). I can’t get sports and comics at Huffington Post and I can’t get news and opinion at ESPN.com. But I used to able to get all that and more from the paper. So please, please, PLEASE stop printing crappy comics on your already reduced comics page. Then we can talk about whether or not you still deserve readers.

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