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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 11/21/2008

The Riff: Where the Wilder Comics Grow...

By Michael Cavna

The language of television ever changes. Radio chatter has grown more liberal in recent decades. But the dialogue standards in a family newspaper's funnies remain, for the most part, stuck in 1952.

Which stymies some comic-strippers who want to sound relevant in 2008. In recent days, Comic Riffs wrote about how syndicated cartoonists try to skirt language restrictions by employing faux-profanities, "near"-profanities or strung-punctuation dingbats.

Scott Stantis, an editorial cartoonist who also draws "Prickly City," is passionate about this issue.

Language "is a constant source of frustration," Stantis tells Comic Riffs. "Good lord, you can hear 'son-of-a-bitch' on a five-year-old [episode of] 'Frasier,' but I STILL can't use the word 'sucks' in 'Prickly City.' "

Signe Wilkinson, the Pulitzer-winning political cartoonist who also draws "Family Tree," has told 'Riffs that language restrictions, as well as PG-content limitations, frustrate her when writing her strip.

In other words, it's not just the likes of "Doonesbury" that routinely runs headlong into editor and reader sensitivities these day. Which gives rise to a modest proposal regarding hard-print comics:

Group the edgiest, "grownup" comics onto one page. Some newspapers already roughly group together the cartoons aimed at the youngest readers. On the flip side, a cluster of grownup cartoons could even be labeled ("the stunnies"?), so as to deflect criticism that "inappropriate" material got mixed in with the kids' funnies. As it is, when some comics traffic in edgier material ("Doonesbury" to "Dilbert"), they often migrate to elsewhere in the paper. Why not a mini-migration for the grownup comics?

Then again, that requires print newspapers to commit to running more than a dozen or so comics. Rarer and rarer these days, newspaper show the vision to run multiple pages of comics.

What do you think, 'Riffs Readers? We invite your comments -- be they full of "grownup content" or not.

By Michael Cavna  | November 21, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  The Riffs  
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That's especially ironic since Prickly City does, in fact, suck.

Posted by: stewartflamingo | November 21, 2008 1:00 PM | Report abuse

If you want gross, lewd language, go someplace else: a comedy club or a college campus. If you want me to read your comic in a family newspaper, stick with 1952...

Talk radio and TV sit-coms do, in fact, suck. Why are cartoonists trying to be like them?

Posted by: MSchafer | November 21, 2008 2:55 PM | Report abuse

CAVNA: I see Dick Tracy is in the news. Looks like old comics are making money in movies. I wonder why?

Posted by: MSchafer | November 21, 2008 3:33 PM | Report abuse

I always hated it when the Post would refuse to run an episode of the "Boondocks" strip (which was locally produced, and from the Post's syndicate!) not on account of language, but on account of message (i.e., it was deemed too controversial or opinionated or somehow offensive). Can't the comics page, as well as the editorial page, have a point of view?

Posted by: seismic-2 | November 21, 2008 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Good Lord, that sucks. Blimey. What the bloody hell are the syndicates fracking thinking? The mofo us totally boluxed.

Posted by: ArlingtonGay | November 21, 2008 10:16 PM | Report abuse

I am so tired of "edgy" language everywhere. I want the comics page to be free of the ugliness. So what if the comics are stuck in 1952? Avoiding bad language and expanding vocabulary to include synonyms that are not offensive is a good thing!

Posted by: PAreader | November 22, 2008 9:27 AM | Report abuse

Amen to PAreader's point. As if the English language doesn't have enough words in it to convey any idea...

Posted by: tws1372 | November 23, 2008 5:58 PM | Report abuse

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