Friday, March 07, 2008

Graphic Lit: Grading the funny pages, part two

As promised, here's the follow-up column to my comic-strip critique that I posted yesterday. Don't forget, when I say "you," I'm referring to Patriot-News readers and not all you lovely Internet folk out there. I'm sure you don't like Zits either.

Q: What's a surefire way to get your inbox flooded with messages over the weekend?

A: Write a column critiquing your newspaper's comics section the Friday before.

Since my last column ran I've received more than 90 e-mails, telephone calls and letters, letting me know that I'm either: a) 100 percent correct; b) completely lacking in intelligence and taste; or c) somewhere between the two.

Most readers were extremely polite, however, and appreciative that someone wanted to write about the funny pages. In return let me say I valued each response, even the snarky ones, and my thanks go out to all who took the time to comment. I wish I had the time to respond to you individually but ... well it was more than 90.

I find the overwhelming response very encouraging. Obviously, comics still matter.

Going over the mail, I found a few recurrent issues that are worth pointing out:

1) Relax, we're not dropping any comics any time soon. There were some who thought the column was announcing some changes in the funny pages. It wasn't. This was just a chance to have some fun, garner reader interest and share some thoughts I've been having about the paper's comic strips. Some folks think about the meaning of life. I think about the dark undertones in "The Family Circus." I'm just wired that way.

2) You folks really like "Pickles." Of all the strips I neglected to grade, "Pickles" was the one for which most readers expressed their enthusiasm and wondered why I hadn't included it. It wasn't out of malice. I actually like "Pickles." I just had to stop at some point or risk having my column take over the entire Life section. If I do a sequel -- and I plan to down the line --
I'll be sure to include it.

3) You really don't like "F Minus." With one or two exceptions, the comic that received the most vitriol was the gag strip "F Minus." "Its title matches its quality" was a regular comment.

I don't hate it nearly that much, though I do find it veers wildly from "funny" to "mind-bendingly awful." As with "Pickles" though, I'll save my final grade for a future column.

4) Re: "Zits." Yes, I know, when my kids are teenagers I'm sure I'll find the strip to be an unerringly accurate view of life with an adolescent. Until then, however, my grade stands. It's not that I want the strip to be loaded down with "relevant" issues, mind you. It's just that I find the teens in "Zits" to be completely divorced from any of the fears, problems or joys that
plagued me when I was teen or the teens I know today. This is disconcerting enough to pull me out of the strip on a regular basis.

5) Re: "Doonesbury." My high grade has very little to do with the strip's political leanings and everything to do with Garry Trudeau's ability to portray the Iraq War veterans' plights with
sympathy and humor. As I said, I think the strip was all but unreadable for most of the 1990s (and some of the '80s as well). If you had asked me about it even five years ago, my grade would have been a lot lower.

6) "Comics should be funny" -- Many readers wrote in to express how important the comics pages were to them; how it offered a moment of respite from the daily grind, not to mention the oppressiveness of the dour news that clutters the front page.

I can sympathize and identify with that feeling up to a point. Where I differ a little is with folks who argue that the funnies have no business being anything but funny. You see, I don't want
them to be just funny. I want them to be good. Which is not always the same thing.

We're living in an age where just about every significant comic strip of the 20th century is being collected in a lavish format from "Gasoline Alley" to "Krazy Kat" to "Popeye" to "Terry and the
Pirates," just to name a few.

Many of those strips looked to provide a daily chuckle, to be sure. But they were also imbued with the creator's own unique vision. They offered more than just a daily laugh. They offered artistry.

Today the comics pages are dominated by "legacy" strips that limp along well past their sell-by date. They feel more like place-holders than comic strips. If I mock "Beetle Bailey," it's
only because the strip is a pale shadow of its former self.


"There is nothing comical about Doonesbury. Garry Trudeau is a perfect fit for you and your papers left-wing proganda agenda."

"F Minus gets a D-. It is fairly new; you should have found something else. Maybe you got it cheap."

"My husband and I wish to grade you with a triple F minus."

"You're a Democrat, aren't you?"

"I can't believe you gave Pearls Before Swine an A. I've tried too many times to read that strip, and finally decided to never try again. I find it to be not only dumb and not funny, but also not worthy of space in your newspaper."

"How do you come by denigrating Zits on the basis of not having to deal with drugs, sex, social pressures, etc. HELLO? It's a comic strip, not [Patriot-News columnist] Nancy Eshelman's column."

"You apparently have never had a military experience, had small children, or enjoyed the actions of a pet dog!"

"A few years ago my New Year's resolution was to stop reading The Family Circus. I'm happy to say it was a resolution that I've been able to keep. I advise others to do the same."

"I think for Hi and Lois you should have brought up how Trixie seems to be dominating the strip lately. It feels like every other day the strip is about her, which is not funny and not cute -- it's annoying. And I'm a girl. When a girl is saying babies aren't cute, you know something's wrong."

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2008



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