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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 06/ 4/2009

Let's Get Small: Life With the Incredible Shrinking Comic

By Michael Cavna

If you can read this type, then perhaps the newspaper print comics aren't too small for you to read. Yet.

At the recent National Cartoonist Society's Reubens gathering in Los Angeles, there reportedly were the usual state-of-the-industry panel-chats and group-yaks. And according to her blog, "Stone Soup" creator Jan Eliot came away from a panel discussion mourning anew the degree to which her comic has been reduced in newpapers over the years.

Numerous comic creators have bemoaned and groaned to Comic Riffs about the space-reduction challenges they face. And some 'Riffs readers have said The Post should cut more comics in order to run the best-of-the-best at a size they deserve.

So the Official Comic Riffs Question of the Day is: When comic strips are published smaller than the size of "Stone Soup" (below), does that deter you from reading them at all?

'STONE SOUP' (UPS)Enlarge Image

By Michael Cavna  | June 4, 2009; 11:30 AM ET
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Yes, I find myself skipping more strips and going to only a few select favorites. My eyes! My eyes!

Posted by: abgr | June 4, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Yes, the comics in the Post, with the exception of Doonesbury, are now too small to enjoy.

Posted by: steveh46 | June 4, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

That Stone Soup size is fine. When Get Fuzzy is that small, I skip it because to much type in to small a space...very true of The San Antonio Express-News.

Posted by: ZeldaJane | June 4, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

What a softball question. Of course the comics are too small, to the point that I CAN'T read them in the Post unless I take my glasses off and put the thing to my face (where I see each pixel clearly). Even here, I'd like to see them a bit bigger by default instead of using the 'enlarge image' (registered user setting perhaps?)

On a similar note, just how big are these comics to start with, or would the answer just make us all cry?

Posted by: tws1372 | June 4, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

The comics are getting smaller?????? That's a relief. I thought I was going blind.

Yes, my eyes get older and the print gets smaller. It's an evil conspiracy and I'd complain if I could read the address to send complaints too, but IT'S TOO SMALL.

Posted by: filfeit | June 4, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

I would like to comment on the size of some strips on the web pages. I usually don't have a problem with the daily strips but some Sunday strips are so small that I can barely read them with my nose almost touching the screen. Just a week or so ago the Sunday "Pearls Before Swine" was so small that that the words blurred together [generally the whole strip was blurry looking] and I abandoned any attempts at reading them. There are some strips that I read on a daily basis and don't read on Sundays because I know they will be too small to read. BTW I just recently got new reading glasses so the problem is not with me. Given the fact that one strip is on one page why are some so small. Doonesberry is a joy to read because of the way it is laid-out so why not others.
Just curious!

Posted by: dre7861 | June 4, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Absolutely. Read the reasons in the posts above.

Posted by: JkR- | June 4, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

With this last round of shrinkage on the WaPo comics pages, I have now been forced to give up my life-long habit of enjoying the funnies at the breakfast table, because now I find myself needing to use a magnifying glass to make out most of the dialog (or understand much of the art, other than Mark Trail's giant squirrels). My reading glasses just don't do the trick any more. So, it's off to the computer screen, where I at least have some control over the image sizes. I must confess that this has made me seriously consider whether I shall renew my subscription to the print edition when it next comes due. I suspect that I shall not.

Makes great economic sense, doesn't it? Newspaper readers are an aging audience, so shrink things too small for them to read. Classified ad revenue is dropping, so shrink the classifieds to illegibility, too. Once you've lost all your readers and all your advertisers, **then** you will solve your revenue problems, you bet!

Posted by: seismic-2 | June 4, 2009 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Certainly the comics are too small. It does make me skip some and I had long been a reader of every strip on any comics page I've seen, even serials that I might only see while traveling and getting a paper that I don't regularly read.

It's a shame. Newspaper need to get more readers, not fewer, and yet they do things that drive people away. I know that costs are a huge factor, but keep the comics legible and I think more papers would be sold.

Posted by: allenofwoodhaven | June 4, 2009 7:15 PM | Report abuse

Yes. I definitely read less cartoons now because of the tiny size they are printed at.

Posted by: sandart | June 4, 2009 8:03 PM | Report abuse

Some question I have: (1) Were there strips chosen for removal from the print edition because they didn't work small? (2) Is that why the Quote-A-Crostic gone from the weekly print puzzles? (3) Why is there one exception to shrinkage, Slylock Fox? Is it really that deserving?

Posted by: Phred22 | June 4, 2009 9:18 PM | Report abuse

Oh, I read them, all right. Maybe this isn't what you want to hear, but I would read the newspaper comic strips even if the lettering were the size of gnats' eyebrows. I squint, blink, curse, and feel upset and suckered -- but I read them ALL, every word, and admire what artwork I can see, because I love the comics.

However, shrinking the size of the strips is a terrible disservice to the brilliant artists, to loyal readers, and to young readers who might be tomorrow's cartoonists. There has to be a better solution.

Posted by: Horsefeathers | June 4, 2009 9:38 PM | Report abuse


From art size to strip selection, several of these questions will be taken up in the days ahead. Thanks for your queries.


Posted by: cavnam | June 4, 2009 10:58 PM | Report abuse

Nice to know everyone is my age, and can't see anymore. But I have a solution: GET NEW GLASSES!!!! I have absolutely no problem seeing the comics, because I get my glasses changed once a year. GET NEW GLASSES!!!

Posted by: 2old2readcomics | June 5, 2009 2:42 AM | Report abuse

Actually, I find it just readable as is and fading fast.

Posted by: arcticrat | June 5, 2009 3:22 AM | Report abuse

I think in any such discussion it should be noted that in response to readers' comments, the Phila. Inquirer reversed its decision to shrink its Sunday comics. Of course, the paper is in bankruptcy, but still . . . .

Posted by: mjc570 | June 5, 2009 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Okay, I'm confused.

Michael - you should know better. Web image dimension and print image dimension are two damn different things.

Print is fixed, generally in inches (though I'm not sure if that holds for newspaper layout software). Online, we talk about pixels, since so few people have identical monitor set ups. They are different sizes, different proportions of width/height, and screen resolution is a personal user choice.

Right now, the strip above looks okay at a standard-ish 1280x1024 px (that would be pixels per inch, folks). If I bumped up my resolution to, say, 1600x1200, it would be MUCH harder to read. If I dropped it back to the old standard of 800x600, I could probably read it from the other end of the couch. Without my glasses.

You also have to take into account the prep of the online image. For example, Dilbert ALWAYS looks a little off on, at the native 624px width it gets crushed into. So I right-click over it and just "View Image" (in Firefox). Then I get the original image that was sent out for online 640 px wide. If you don't distort the images, they come through much clearer.

So who's to blame here is not only the newspaper management, but whatever developers they hired that didn't take a look at whatever the standard specifications are for online distribution of comic strips from the major comic syndicates...I'm sure THEY have a standard.

As for print, well, yes, the shrinking sucks. Even though the human eye can perceive much more detail in print than on a computer screen, that doesn't mean reducing the pixel size works. I'm guessing strips don't come out to newspapers for print as vector items - the shrinking causes loss in clarity (just like online).

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | June 5, 2009 9:34 AM | Report abuse

It's important to note that being able to "read" a comic strip is not just about the words. If you look at today's Zits, in the 4 7/8 inch size now becoming common, you cannot "read" the art.

The gag in a comic strip is supposed to be in the artwork as well as the text. You have to look very closely at today's Zits cartoon to actually understand what Pierce is doing in the first frame. It's essential to the gag, but you can barely discern it.

And to think that Pogo was pulled in the 70s because the size of reproduction no longer worked for Kelly's artwork. I'd give anything to have that size back!

Posted by: JanEliot | June 5, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Too small? Can't be any worse than box score agate in the sports page.

Posted by: terpfan2000 | June 5, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

If I say "yes," will they change it?

Probably not. But they could rid themselves of horoscopes in that they are inane and irrelevant (people, if you read them at all, ask yourself "why"?), thus allowing more space for comics.

That, and rid yourself of dead comics, and unfunny ones (Ernest and whats-his-face, for one). The Far Side knock-offs, the stupid one about fixing computers (does anyone find that funny?). Ugh...

Posted by: nagatuki | June 5, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

My wife & I are in our 60's, and near-sighted. We have to remove our glasses and get 10" from some strips to read them. Shrinking comics is just one more reduction in quality. The Washington Post is about 1/2 the paper it was just a few years ago, yet costs the same, and will cost more tomorrow. At some point, the Post's cost cutting measures will become self-destructive, as more of us cancel...

Posted by: Bflat | June 5, 2009 4:14 PM | Report abuse

I'm about this close to cancelling my subscription due to the small size of the comics. They're the only reason to buy the ComPost anyway.

Posted by: joy5 | June 5, 2009 5:48 PM | Report abuse

It is not so much that the print is small, although that is a problem. The problem is that characters become talking heads (look at "Pearls Before Swine"). With more room, cartoonists can become more creative and illustrative. More creative cartoons will attract more readers. More readers means newspapers will make more money. Hello, yellow journalism movement of the 21st century. Bring it on.

Posted by: larrybush | June 5, 2009 6:51 PM | Report abuse

I refuse to get reading glasses just to read Non Sequitor on weekdays. Maybe I'll see you in a couple years, Wiley, if you're still doing it.

Posted by: Jackmathias | June 5, 2009 9:03 PM | Report abuse

I have a 19" wide screen monitor, 1440x900 pixels. IE8 set to 125% magnification 2.50 mag reading glasses. Yeah, I can read the Stone Soup panel. On Sunday I have to go to 150%. Stopped reading newspaper comics a couple years ago. I like visuals large enough to see them. That's why I have a 51" HDTV and go full screen on computer video.

Posted by: jimbo1949 | June 6, 2009 2:28 PM | Report abuse

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