Cartoonist Bil Keane passed away at the beginning of November, leaving the fate of Family Circus somewhat uncertain in spite of his son’s continuation of the family business. Enough of the single-panel strips grace cubicle walls to earn respect for the artist, but his strip, like so many others filling newspapers, lost its originality decades ago. Perhaps newspapers will reconstitute the comic’s space to elevate another Far Side to greatness?
Most likely not. The last original Peanuts strip ran on February 13, 2000, the day following Charles Schulz’s death. Yet the comic continued, and not even under new direction. United Features Syndicate offered newspapers the opportunity to run Classic Peanuts, which are nothing but reprints of old Peanuts comics. But that strip entrenched itself so well in readers’ hearts that it’s getting yet another revival, this time in glossy form under BOOM! Studios’ management.
Such devotion to older material is what syndicates and newspapers bank on, and cartoonists are happy to give them what they want. New comics rarely get introduced, and oldies rarely innovate. Garfield always overeats, hates Mondays (a peculiar attitude for someone who takes pride in not working), and gives Jon something to talk to. The title character of Cathy continued to fret about diets, work, and her mother well after marriage, maintaining consistency until the strip ended in October 2010.
Newspapers occasionally debut something worth reading, however. 1999 saw the first national run of The Boondocks, Aaron McGruder’s comic about two African-American boys who move out to the ‘burbs. The strip challenged readers’ notions about race relations and politics, testing limits that many artists in general and certainly most other cartoonists were unwilling to push.
Alas, newspaper subscribers felt he pushed too hard and wrote letters to the editor in complaint. Papers started dropping the strip, and in 2006, it disappeared from print. Readers apparently relished the return to talking animals and precocious children, because the formula has hardly been challenged since.
Sure, webcomics like Something Positive and XKCD are sometimes offensive and don’t appeal to the lowest common denominator. But newspapers are already trying to do that. By appeasing everyone, they please no one. People who weren’t around for the first years of Garfield, Peanuts, and Cathy have moved on. Many want comics that are intelligent and hard-hitting.
And this is why newspapers should take advantage of the space they now have. Instead of making younger readers groan with Classic Family Circus, they should find a budding young webcomic artist, one who says “shit” and “fuck” every so often and talks about rappers and sex and pot. Possible future subscribers might just be drawn into reading more daily content if newspapers can show that they do care about younger readers’ perspectives, even if it’s just by starting out with one single comic.
Newspapers will continue to stagnate along with their comic sections if they don’t draw in new material. They’ll have a long way to go beyond that single section to maintain any presence at all, but they can start by making a gesture, even if it’s only the size of a single-panel comic strip, to signal to twenty- and thirty-year-olds that they are ready for something fresh.
Source: Comic Book Resources
Bree writes when she is not skiing off cliffs, facing down funnel clouds, or plumbing the depths of the internet. She's published short stories with Dead Dog Press, Six Sentences, and BlazeVOX and currently blogs about her hair-raising experiences in the Rocky Mountains at extremetothemax.com. She's still waiting on her… More » Comments are closed.
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Written by Bree Kornblum Katz (@breekatz)
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Bree writes when she is not skiing off cliffs, facing down funnel clouds, or plumbing the depths of the internet. She's published short stories with Dead Dog Press, Six Sentences, and BlazeVOX and currently blogs about her hair-raising experiences in the Rocky Mountains at extremetothemax.com. She's still waiting on her… More »
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