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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 07/29/2008

Seven Rules for Reading This Blogger

By Michael Cavna

We had a feeling this would happen. We just didn't expect it to be quite so soon.

Namely: We have offended one of our cartooning idols for apparently all the wrong reasons. Oh, we stand by our criticism, such as it was. But the reaction makes us realize that perhaps we have failed to provide readers with enough "Context" for this blog, particularly as it applies to comic strips. And we should add that we've heard from many an appreciative syndicated cartoonist who "gets" that this blog sometimes must dispense tough love from someone who's lived under the same cartoon roof (crosshatched, natch) -- a tough love born out of deep respect for those who strive for fresh ideas and lively lines for years upon years. For that, beneath our cheeky irreverence, we tip our cap and quill pen. Unless you drew "Nancy."

So to mend our oversight, let us present the ground rules -- our compact, if you will. We could call it our "Consti-toon-tion" or our "Magna Arta," but that would be wrong -- not only because it would ring too highfalutin, but also because the punning would become too painful. So instead we'll simply call it: Seven Rules for Reading This Blogger. To wit:

1. We're Here to Build a Better Comics Page. For many of us who still read and relish the printed funnies, our time is tight and the space is limited. We're just looking for Optimal Entertainment Value for our cents. And if we happen to build a better bridge (and dialogue) between cartoonist and reader, too, all's the better.

2. As Long As a Cartoon Respects Its Valuable Real Estate, We Will Respect the Cartoon. It can be a burden of drawing a daily comic strip: If a creator lets up on the pedal for long, the shift into "coasting" becomes all too transparent to many readers. This blog salutes all lead-footed cartoonists who consistently go pedal-to-the-metal creatively.

3. Comics Must Bring the Fresh Jokes. We don't always laugh at "Rhymes With Orange," but we always appreciate and applaud that it strives to be fresh and original -- which can't be said for numerous cobwebbed strips. If we Google your "new" gag and get triple-digit hits in the archives, you and your zombified punchline have failed us.

4. A Cartoonist Needn't Necessarily Be a Great Artist to Gain Our Love. "Dilbert" has long drawn criticism for how it is -- well -- drawn. (The "Zippy" artist -- he of the beautiful crosshatching and true perspective -- particularly has lobbed verbal darts at Scott Adams.) But here's the thing: We think the iconic style of cartooning has its place on the page, and Adams -- who did much to help move the industry into the 21st century -- was more inspired than most when he created the boss's devil-horned hair and his geek-engineer's upturned tie. In short: The inspired line trumps the "perfect" line.

5. If a Strip's Out-of-Touch, We Have a Moral Obligation to Call the Cartoonist On It. If a cartoonist's feature has antiquated gags, values, mores or worldviews (hel-lo, misogyny), it is our civic duty to point this out -- and, if necessary, respond with the sharpest weapon at our disposal: thoughtful satirical barbs. (And we are not just age-ist -- "Blondie," like an old storytelling uncle, occasionally still has moments of eternal relevance. Yes, we are being serious.)

6. We the People Are Permitted to Be Fickle. Understand that readers spurn most heatedly the ones they love or loved. Why are so many readers (including many commenters here) so disillusioned by, for example, the latter-day "Peanuts" strips? It's only because at its creative pinnacle, "Peanuts" won hearts and minds like few other features ever.

7. The "Declaration of Irreverence." When, in the course of human cartooning, it becomes necessary for creators to use satire, mockery, irony, visual violence, wordplay, hyperbole, spoofery and misdirection, then We, the Blog, are permitted to use those same comic tools to critique the features. The absurdly fallible Comic Riffs, like the cartoons themselves, values truth and humor above all. Well, besides the Pursuit of Due Respect From Our Peers and Readers. Unless, that is, you drew "Nancy."


By Michael Cavna  | July 29, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  The Seven Rules  
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Inquiring minds want to know -- who was offended?

Posted by: Downtown | July 29, 2008 11:23 AM | Report abuse

A hint, maybe?

Posted by: MSchafer | July 29, 2008 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Whoa!! You could have stopped at number one and said it all. But I'll give you number three. There is nothing more annoying than reading a strip and knowing its been done. I don't know how many time Far Side has been riffed but it's a lot. I read three papers in the morning two of them have comics which I save for last hoping I can start my day with at least a smile but lately it seems I'm just racking my brain trying to figure who did that before.
Include me on wants to know

Posted by: ease99 | July 29, 2008 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Ahhh, you missed an opportunity with #6...

"Rule Six: There is NOOOOO Rule Six!"

Right, that completes the readin' of the rules, Bruce!

Posted by: SportzNut21 | July 29, 2008 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Mike, have some stones ... piss people off ... heroes? The Nancy creators are heros? They're company men. You should be attacking them ... especially those in the ivory towers collecting paychecks ... all while they're what're bringing down the comics page... All the while they claim ignorance and that they're bowing to the will of the readers ... instead of enriching their syndicate or their unemployable sons, the reality is the syndicates and caroonists arrange call circles when they're cancelled to make it seem like people care. If editors had the stones to stick with their instincts instead of some pc correect nothing product, more people would care and read THEIR product and newspapers may not be in the state we're in today.

Early on Howard Stern's listeners averaged 2 hours -- 90 minutes for the people who liked him -- 150 for the people who didn't.

Give us a vital document! Something that represents the United States in 2008 ... not 1963. Don't let 80 year old women in Checy Chase edit one of the great newspapers in the free world.

Posted by: heyhey | July 29, 2008 10:40 PM | Report abuse

"Magna Arta"? Shouldn't that be "Manga Carta"?

Posted by: TB | July 30, 2008 9:58 AM | Report abuse

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