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the demise of newspaper comics, or Dagwood beats the crap out of Billy

I haven't bought a newspaper since September of 2001, and then it was only to clip articles about someone I knew. I read the paper online now; I get all the news I need that way and I don't have to wade through ads or ridiculous filler articles about stars getting married/divorced/pregnant/arrested.

I had a method of reading the paper back when I actually had it (Newsday) delivered to my home. I would read the entire sports section, flip the paper over, skim through the news, head for the editorials and then sit back and relish the real treat. Ah, the comics section.

Remember when the comics section brought daily delights? At its heyday, you could get Calvin and Hobbes, Far Side and Bloom County in one sitting. Everything else was just extraneous. [note: I refuse to date myself here and write about anything else before then. I did that already, anyhow]

You really don't have to pick up a paper today to know what's happening on the comics page. In fact, I will boldly predict what today's full-paneled, full-colored strips will bring: Cathy goes on a diet! Garfield eats Lasagna! Jeffy says something precious! Dagwood makes a sandwich and/or takes a nap!

Where's the fresh jokes? Where is the satirical commentary on modern life? Is life in comic strips really that predictable? I long for the days of Spaceman Ziff, talking cows and my favorite penguin. Yes, I know the penguin is back. It's just not the same anymore.

I imagine a world where all current comic strip characters live. Their daily lives are much like the lives they play out in the newspaper each day. Here comes Billy, running zig-zag through the neighborhood just to fetch his dad the paper, which was right on his front step all along! Ah, but next door neighbor Dagwood has had quite enough of this nonsense and runs after Billy, knocks him down and beats him with a Subway 12 incher. Cathy comes running out of her house to see what's going on and as Dagwood is mercilessly rubbing Billy's face in the dirt, Cathy gives in to her cravings and eats the Subway sandwich that Dagwood dropped. Uh, oh! Here comes the mom from For Better or Worse! She's is going to give them quite a lesson in how to peacefully mediate a fight and then they'll all head to the retirement home down the block to visit Annie and Broom Hilda and Brenda Starr, and Annie still looks like she's ten even though she has to be about 60 by now! And they would all be entertained with a fantastic donut eating contest between Garfield and Cathy, and later on Momma will find Cathy puking her guts out and she'll realize what the rest of the world figured out long ago; Cathy has an eating disorder, most likely brought on by stress from dealing with both her overbearing mother and her passive aggressive boyfriend.

Of course, if I drew that comic land one day, it would end badly. I suppose some giant, drooling alien who goes by the name of Calvin and looks somewhat like a dinosaur would eventually stomp through town, crushing every last cliched character to death. Free at last. Ding Dong, Ziggy and his animals are dead.

I long for the days when comics weren't so treacly and warm and fuzzy. I don't want to see Grandpa's spirit hanging over Jeffy's shoulder, making sure he doesn't get hurt. If I wanted something like that, I would just start a Precious Moments collection. I want to see more strips where moms tell their sons to go play chicken with a train. I want to see more surreal silliness.

One can only live so long on a steady diet of shopping and lasagna before they give up and close the paper. Sure, there are still a few comics I find interesting, but I can just click and read and not have to open the paper funny page to find Dick Tracy still staring up at me as if he was still relevant.

In my comic world, Dick Tracy would be retired by now, living in a one bedroom apartment where he spends his day cursing at Matlock on the television while resting another can of Miller Lite on his beer belly. Every once in a while, Brenda Starr would stop over for a visit, but things would always turn ugly when Dick reminds Brenda that she hasn't aged well at all.

Not many of them have aged well, actually. And the ones that did packed up and left the neighborhood a long time ago. Guess you gotta know when to fold 'em.


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» Life Is Like The Funny Pages from Electric Venom
Michele writes: Remember when the comics section brought daily delights? At its heyday, you could get Calvin and Hobbes, Far Side and Bloom County in one sitting. Everything else was just extraneous. [note: I refuse to date myself here and write about ... [Read More]


How spot-on, Michele. I open a newspaper's comics section occasionally, and flip through three pages to read maybe four comics. "Overboard," "Close To Home," "Dilbert," and...um...okay, maybe three comics.

Sailors on a pirate ship making dinner reservations or complaining to the cartoonist about the way they're drawn may not be as comfortably predictable as an obese cat sucking up lasagna or a neurotic woman spending six hours buying a bathing suit. But they're a hell of a lot funnier.

The Orlando Sentinel hides Dilbert in the business section. It's also fifty cents for the daily, and $1.50 for the Sunday paper. So I don't bother buying the paper either.

I am with you on the view of comics these days. I used to read the sunday funnies religiously. (I mean I'd put on a Pope costume before reading it)Now the only comics I read regularly are Get Fuzzy and every now and again Dilbert.

Well, I am not this old but I loved the Katzenjammer Kids, Thimble Theatre(the original Popeye) and Krazy Kat.

Mother Goose and Grimm is still good, and there is an occasional Far-Sidey flashback in that one once in a while. I usually just pull out the Calvin and Hobbes collection and re-read those.

Non Sequitur is good. I love Danae -- when I saw your "little dead girl" graphic, that's who I thought it was at first.

Helen, Sweetheart of the Internet probably would have been funnier before the dot-com crash, but it has its moments.

My Newsday reading pattern is: first Part II, front to back; then the main section back to front (sports, editorials, news).

I agree with everything you're saying here Michele, except that I think we ought to give Berke a chance before writing off the resuscitated Opus. Unfortunately for me, The Daily Oklahoman is one of the furthest right-wing newspapers in the entire country - they didn't carry Bloom County and I seriously doubt that they'll carry the new Opus.

The dynamism and freshness in comics passed into the online realm a few years back. The best that most newspaper comics pages have to offer these days is usage as a fish wrap. They lost their nerve and their soul. It's the same thing that's happened in radio and is starting to happen in TV. But online there are mountains of fresh, vibrant, interesting comics just waiting to be read, ranging from hillarious to serious. Many of them are much better drawn and better written than anything in the papers. I don't see why anyone would want to read comics in the papers when there's stuff like Penny-Arcade, Ornery Boy, Keaner, Sinfest, PVP, BOASAS, and so, so much else out there online.

Funny that you didn't mention dilbert in there anywhere. Dilbert is one comic that still carries sarcasm, surrealism and satirical commentary almost every day. But the rest of the page is pretty much moot.

I still like Dilbert, though it's getting a little predictable. (Hmmm.... let me guess... in today's strip, the boss says something stupid! And Dilbert says something sarcastic!)

There are two strips in my paper that I can bear to read: Foxtrot and Sherman's Lagoon. The rest: shite, shite, and more shite. On toast. With no jam.

I really like For Better or for Worse, but I agree with your assessments of the others.

Lately I sent out a query looking for good political cartoons. I have yet to find any that I routinely appreciate. More often, they read just like editorials, but less funny, less in-depth, and with the views enclosed in thought bubbles.

Foxtrot is good, but the best to hit in a while is "pearls before Swine". it has a certain "Larsenesque" quality to it

Can I be the first to call you an infidel for referring to "Spaceman Ziff" when it was really "Spaceman Spiff".


I'm with you on the comics, by the way. I like Baby Blues (especially with a 3 year old in the house), I still read Dilbert (but find myself laughing less and less), and all the rest are just... lame.

Why is it the crap comics like Marmaduke and The Family Circus will live on forever, while the great strips have all gone away?

I don't know what I was thinking, Cam. My only excuse would be lack of coffee at that hour.

I do like Baby Blues. For a while, the animated version was on Adult Swim.

CAM, the reason why dull comics live on is because the demographics of readers of newspapers are older. That means they're more set in their ways and more likely to react negatively to anything new, especially at the expense of the comfortable.

You're all wrong.

No, you're not wrong to have high standards, but you can definitely find the right comics if you look hard enough. Ignore the big names and go find any of...
The Boondocks (http://www.ucomics.com/boondocks/viewbo.htm)
Get Fuzzy (http://www.comics.com/comics/getfuzzy/index.html)
Jump Start (http://www.comics.com/comics/jumpstart/index.html)
Arlo & Janis

At least one of these will fail to disappoint you.

As for "Precious Moments"...

Those eyes, they keep watching me...

Boondocks can be funny when it's not serving as a showcase for MacGruder's increasingly nasty and embittered rage at that patently moronic chimp occupying the White House.

I second everyone who mentoned Get Fuzzy - best capturing of the essence of cats and dogs I've ever seen.

I don't see anyone mentioning 9 Chickweed Lane, which isn;t surprising, since it's not very popular (recall it being in the LA Times, but haven't seen it anywhere else). Check it out. It's quite funny, in a wry sort of way.

Most of today's well-established strips were funny once - Garfield was a viciously funny strip for the first 4 years or so before Jim Davis ran out of ideas - but the only one I bother reading is Dilbert, which is only mildly past its prime. And sometimes Peanuts; at least Schultz had the decency not to have some halfwit relative recycle his jokes in "new" strips, so instead you get legit reruns.

I'd like to add my praise for both Get Fuzzy and Foxtrot, which are funny at least 90% of the time. Foxtrot's king of the one-liner, and Get Fuzzy has great storylines (the Red Sox addicts meeting?)

Two more to add:

Zits. http://www.kingfeatures.com/features/comics/zits/about.htm

Tank McNamara. Yup, it's a sports comic.

Such shocking ignorance, Michele.

It's Monday. Garfield never eats lasagna on Monday; he's too busy hating Mondays.

I wrote this on Sunday, Sig.

C&H excepted, I haven't really been happy with comics since the days of the master of them all--Jimmy Hatlo.

They'll (still) Do It Every Time!

I'd like to throw a few names out there of strips that need some more attention. Big Top by Rob Harrell (ucomics)...Lucky Cow by Mark Pett (ucomics)...Monty by Jim Meddick(comics.com)... I think there ARE great new strips out there, but they're not seeing the light of day. Editors need to start chopping and start nurturing...

Glad you liked it! (The CliveEnvyIndicator made me laff.) I think the same thing about Wired's publication of the Slammer code -- and their really well-written description of how it worked, rendered in sufficiently plain English that it helped the average person understand precisely what a vulnerability was, how it worked, and why Slammer spread so quickly. In that sense, I think Wired's story quite terrifically served the public good. But they did in fact get a ton of heat from antivirus people about it.
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