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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 01/14/2009

Do "Zombie Comics" Have a Reason to Live On?

By Michael Cavna

It's a riddle wrapped in an enigma trapped inside a coffin.

A syndicated cartoonist, speaking recently to Comic Riffs, was mourning the lack of fresh blood in the funnies. "Corpse comics," the cartoonist called those strips whose original creators died sometime ago. These little pen-and-ink moneymakers are, intentionally or no, bequeathed to spawn, to spouses, to syndicates -- to whoever might keep these comic-page ATM's plugged in and humming.

The living cartoonist's lament is a common refrain. And the choir of complaint naturally tends to come from living-and-breathing cartoonists who have more than a little stake in whether "corpse comics" themselves ever die (there's only so much space on the tightly packed ice floe). Still, there's a element to the criticism that resonates:

Are these dead-creator comics helping to kill off interest in all the print-newspaper funnies?

It's a double-sided debate, if not a double-edged problem. Such strips as "Blondie" and "Dennis the Menace" are still carried by thousands of newspapers, in theory continuing to bring millions of readers to the ink-and-newsprint paper. But are these strips creatively lively enough that they foster new, younger audiences? (In particular, "Dennis" often is cited as a "gateway comic" that is accessible to younger kids.)

For sake of argument -- if not to stoke the debate -- Comic Riffs today begins its Official "Zombie Comics" Chart, which registers the creative lifeblood of various "corpse comics" in The Post for a particular week.

(Michael Cavna) Enlarge Comic

What say you, Cartoon Nation? Am I being too hard on "Hagar"? Too easy on "Peanuts"? (Or vice versa?) And what "zombie comics" would you like to see go to the Big Final-Panel in the Sky, once and for all?

Elsewhere 'round the page...


The final panel of today's "Trail" is funnier, I find, if -- in interpreting the silhouettes -- you decide that Cherry is the one paying the compliment, and Mark "Brylcreem Boy" Trail is the one hoping someone would notice his lunar-surface locks (ooh, the reflection!). From such small twists come greater guffaws.


"Zippy's" deadpan take on the funnies -- voiced through ennui-plagued Lance -- seems to skewer "Family Circus" in a manner so archly satiric, I'm certain it would go over Jeffy and Barfy's heads, if not Bill's and Thel's. I hold out hope, though, that Dolly would have some vague sense that there was a disturbance in the field. Part of the beauty of Bill Griffith, though, is that the final panel has a "magic eye" effect -- he could always insist he was being completely genuine and straight-up. But I'm ain't buying it, Orlo.

By Michael Cavna  | January 14, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  The Charts, The Morning Line  
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You are not too hard on zombie comics. You could have included FBFW too. Peanuts is taking up space with re-runs, many of them from the really weak later years, that should go to some youngster who has something to say. At least Hagar, Dennis, etc., are producing new strips by someone even if not the original creator. We need new blood.

Posted by: steveh46 | January 14, 2009 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Too hard on Peanuts, too easy on Blondie. Schulz earned a permanent place on the comics page for turning the daily strip into an art form; instead of the same stale puns and tired platitudes and rehashed political talking points of some of these stains on the comics page, Schulz is always deep and soulful.

Now, those dead strips whose creators see fit to mutilate the bodies to keep the money coming, they should go. You want a gateway into comics for kids, give them a collection of the strip in its prime. (Arguably, you could do the same thing with Peanuts. I just want it to stay, and I tend to think I'm right a lot.)

I had the pleasure of interviewing Bo Grace once for a class project and he told me that comics used to make people laugh and today they just make people go "aww." That's been the standard ever since by which I judge the comics page, and newspaper strip comedy in general. Zombie strips are there for the familiarity. People want to look at them and get that "aww" feeling remembering reading them when they were at the top of their game, or when they were kids and didn't know better that they were reading stale or even recycled material. I would argue that the "aww" factor has reduced the comics these days to a shadow of their former selves. They're no longer serving their purpose, which was to be a different, original diversion in a medium considered reserved for objective relaying of facts.

...not that I was ever a bitter young comic stripper myself, of course.

Posted by: Ri_L | January 14, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

I'd mark Peanuts down as the prime zombie. At least in the case of Frank & Ernest, as with Dennis the Menace, you have a living cartoonist producing original strips--even if uncredited. There has not been a single new Peanuts strip since the retirement and death of Charles Schulz nearly nine years ago. If that weren't bad enough, with the exception of the strips it runs in its Sunday funnies, the Post's reprints of Peanuts all seem to come from the last two decades of its history. At this point, Schulz was well past his prime. It's long past time to give Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the gang the send off they deserve and make room for someone new.

Posted by: DCArtist71 | January 14, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

What a great chart! The economic news might seem less grim if you did some infographics like that for the business section.

Posted by: rhompson | January 14, 2009 12:08 PM | Report abuse

I agree Peanuts is the worst. I have never ever read a Peanuts strip that made me smile much less laugh. There's just nothing funny about it.

The funniest ever, and still is, is Calvin and Hobbes. That one I miss.

Posted by: aardman | January 14, 2009 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Too hard on Peanuts. But I don't read it anyways. Not hard enough on Dennis, who's no longer a Menace, or Family Circle, which is just bad.

So, what about the news in Judge Parker!?

Bad News: We go from a stripper psycho sniper to a high school bully drama???

Good News: We're slapping Cheerleaders!

Posted by: JkR- | January 14, 2009 12:35 PM | Report abuse

I'm still blissed that "Mary Worth" finally passed away.
What do you suppose Orlo is sipping while chuckling in bed?

Posted by: SM33 | January 14, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Too kind to Hagar, although since the original was never funny or interesting, I guess it may be unfair to expect more from the successor.

Too kind to Dennis, which was drained of any menace long ago.

About right on Blondie, which has at least made some effort now and then.

Peanuts should indeed cease, since it is purely reruns. But if it has to stay around, I wish the syndicate would rerun strips from early Peanuts, when it was still challenging and lively. Rerunning the later Peanuts is just doubly paralyzing.

Posted by: tomtildrum | January 14, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Not hard enough on any of them!

It is funny how the corpse strips mirror the newspaper industry. Antiquated and irrelevant yet a few vocal voices try to make you think billions of people actually care.

It's funny to think that William Howard Taft could have opened a Post in 1930 and seen Blondie.

If for some reason he was woken from the grave somehow picked up a newspaper today, "It's 2009 and they still haven't changed it. Boy, those are some lazy editors."

Posted by: LannyG | January 14, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Boot Hagar; it hasn't been funny or even amusing for YEARS.

Keep Peanuts! That's a comic that deserves to be granted sacred status; never to be removed.

Bring back FBOFW, as it's VERY worthwhile and focuses on today's topics.

Posted by: Alex511 | January 14, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

You are too lenient on Dennis -- the comic strip seems stuck in a 1963 sensibility. It does not resemble anything regarding modern life with children, but is not so cluelessly anachronistic to be unintentionally amusing, in the manner Mark Trail or Mary Worth are.

As for Peanuts, if the Post insists on running old strips, they should be from the 1950s or 1960s, when the strip was funny. Instead, we get the sentimental pap of the strips' latter years.

Hagar, Blondie, and Beetle Bailey all seem to be on autopilot. Some times their gags work (fewer with Hagar than the other two), often they don't. They are seldom the worst strips on the page, but if they went away, I wouldn't get too upset.

Posted by: OTBerbur | January 14, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

I completely agree with DCArtist71 and those who think Peanuts should go. I hate that those reruns are taking space from someone who is actually drawing strips.

I think you're too hard on Frank & Earnest, which still makes me laugh fairly regularly. (I wouldn't mind if the Post dropped it for something newer, but of the old ones, I tend to still enjoy it.)

And finally, I understand the standard that keeps you from including Beetle Bailey in these regular skewerings of old strips, but I still wish you would reconsider. That one's still number one on my drop list. Even above those darned Peanuts reruns.

Posted by: oceanchild | January 14, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

I strongly feel that the Post should drop Peanuts.

In defense of Marcus Hamilton, who does Dennis the Menace - when I met him at HeroesCon this summer, we talked a bit and he has to get everything he does approved by Ketcham's estate. So draw your own conclusions...

Blondie is well-drawn and occasionally shows flashes of life - like when Blondie and Tootsie went into business for themselves. It's been on autopilot for a while again though.

Posted by: Mrhode | January 14, 2009 5:33 PM | Report abuse

I used to wait for my Dad to come home and bring the NY Post to read Pogo. If a classic needs to rise from the dead, lets go back to the swamp.

Posted by: owl-hoo | January 14, 2009 8:01 PM | Report abuse

For those who revere Peanuts - what kind of legacy is this, millions of readers too bored to groan in disgust? Removing it from the funny pages would be a gesture of respect, IMO.

Posted by: marshlc | January 14, 2009 10:23 PM | Report abuse

I agree with OTBerbur regarding Dennis; the only time I ever paid attention to the strip in my childhood was when we learned about stereotypes in elementary school and my teacher had us pick out all the things that were wrong with that day's comic. Then again, I was in a lucky generation that had Calvin and Hobbes around until I was seven, motivating me to read the comics page. My seven year old vocabulary grew large, thanks to Calvin's oddly ample six year old vocabulary.

Posted by: jooolie | January 14, 2009 11:01 PM | Report abuse

I agree that Blondie is still funny and relevant. I don't know what Frank & Ernest was like before, but whenever I read it these days, it's just lame. I don't read Dennis or Hagar enough to comment on them.

And I think Peanuts, despite its zombie-ness, deserves an exception. If any strip has earned the right to permanent reruns on the comics page, it's Peanuts, which has an unmatched status in the history of comic strips. I understand why some people would want to see something new, but the humor in Peanuts has aged pretty well for the most part. And for all the people complaining about reruns of latter-day strips, recently Peanuts has been re-running strips from 1961 and 1962, when the strip was still good, in my opinion.

Posted by: DrewDC | January 15, 2009 12:49 AM | Report abuse

You can buy books to read all the Peanuts strips, if you want to do so. The current comics page shouldn't be wasted on reprints, when there is so much new material out there that we don't have an opportunity to see. At least the other Zombie strips have some new content (albeit usually stale jokes).

Posted by: seismic-2 | January 15, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

As far as zombie like goes, I would vote for the dismissal a couple of "current" comics whose creativity died years ago. On the Fastrack - yea, your three or four jokes were funny back when pc's first were in use, but we've seen them all a million times and we've moved on. Ditto Garfield, three jokes done ad nauseum over and over again - waste of space. Piranha Club and Lio also seem to be in the three joke category. By comparison, Blondie, in art, story and creativity is an order of magnitude better than any of these. Hagar and Beetle would not be missed.

Posted by: hdradio | January 15, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

I am another Peanuts admirer. NO WAY to taking it away!

Posted by: CALSGR8 | February 9, 2009 12:37 AM | Report abuse

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