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Posted at 7:05 AM ET, 07/ 9/2009

Anatomy of a Censorship: Why a Strip Is Spiked

By Michael Cavna

When Censorship Takes the A-Train...


This week in "Candorville," almost nobody was offended by a cartoon that was seen by many even though it didn't run. Sound contradictory? Well, so much involving Michael Jackson can quickly get that way.

To clarify: Yesterday, Comic Riffs asked you whether you were offended by a censored "Candorville" strip that alluded to Jackson's child-molest cases. A whopping 95 percent of respondents replied: No, not really -- because "it's fair game when commenting on Michael Jackson."

This came after creator Darrin Bell's syndicate, Washington Post Writers Group, censored the strip, prompting Bell to rewrite the last two panels (as pictured above).

Although he blogged about the changes, Bell had no issue at all with the censorship by his editor, Amy Lago. (Full disclosure: Lago was my comics editor when I was syndicated by United Feature Syndicate.) Bell tells Comic Riffs: "I think Amy was right to say no to that cartoon if she thought it was indefensible. That's her job. Censorship is part of the editorial process and it's the reason papers trust syndicates."

For her part, Lago -- a seasoned comics editor -- stood by her decision. As a window into this process, she explained The Anatomy of a Censorship to Comic Riffs:

"There are certain detestable acts, such as rape and pedophilia, that can stop some readers from finding any humor whatsoever in a strip -- or in a column or in a standup routine. Darrin's original strip brought back the pedophile accusation in Panel 3. And also turned it into a punchline. I found that insensitive and felt it would have been hard to defend to anyone who has been the victim of a pedophile and feels that the subject is no joking matter.

"Granted, Darrin's not known for treating issues with sensitivity -- he calls out hypocrisy in 'Candorville.' And his point -- that hero-worship of a suspected pedophile is creepy -- is a candid one. And it's entirely fair. But we stand by our judgment that pedophilia isn't a joking matter, at least not for newspapers yet. And Darrin, though making a larger, more important point, did turn it into a joking matter in that third panel.

"We told him it was fine in the first panel, the set-up, because it was far enough removed from the joke. But we felt we couldn't send the strip if he referred to it in the third. It was still just too close to the joke.

"He was free to post it on his blog, of course, where he could defend it. It's a good point, and it was a sharp strip. It was more succinct than the final, and for those who would not be offended, it's a better strip."

To which I would add, there are two things that can be especially invaluable to a cartoonist: Having a good editor, and when needed, having a good blog.



'BLONDIE' (KFC)Enlarge Image

CAPTIONS WE'D LIKE TO SEE: Somehow in today's "Blondie," I'm hungry for a bonus tagline that skews these proceedings. Perhaps an introductory panel that reads: "The Early Love Life of Jared the Subway Sandwich Guy." But, you know, FUNNIER. This Riffster welcomes any and all suggestions.



WHEN COMICS SEEM CONSPICUOUSLY INSPIRED BY HOLLYWOOD: First off, this is more of the bizarre "Close to Home" panels I can recall in recent memory. And that's sayin' something. The reason, though, isn't one of quirkiness, but rather: How the @#%& can this strip pull off a gag obviously inspired by the Pixar film "Up" -- yet make NO direct allusion to it? At least turn "Mr. Reed" into "Mr. Fredricksen" if you're going to filch so blatantly. What's next: Monsters who need children's screams? If it's possible to despise the spirit of a gag, well, that's exactly the righteous indignation I've got percolating at the mo'.

In a more subtle fashion, I read the swell "Rhymes With Orange" and half-guess it was inspired by the recent "Jon & Kate" Mediapalooza -- as the real-life pair altered their seating habits and choice o' furnishings as the marriage seemed to curdle. Maybe it wasn't, but the mere connection by virtue of the timing makes this Riffster smile just a little more.

'SPEED BUMP' (Creators)

TWEET NOTHINGS: This is one of the best Twitter cartoons yet this year -- in that wry and economic New Yorker fashion. Plus, Dave Coverly's "Speed Bump" keeps the punchline under 140 characters, to boot. Bravo.

A FINAL NOTE: If you never read "Pibgorn," by Brooke "Chickweed Lane" McEldowney," today's strip is about as visually wild a webtoon as you'll find. Feel the burn.

If you've got a strip you love or loathe today, then you're invited to share them links.


THE 'RIFFS INTERVIEW: "Candorville" cartoonist Darrin Bell speaks his mind.

By Michael Cavna  | July 9, 2009; 7:05 AM ET
Categories:  The Morning Line  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Does 'Frazz' Have Zazz? It's Time to Defend That Toon
Next: Best Political Cartoons This Minute: We Pick 'Em


I'm a big Chickweed fan. I've tried to read Pibgorn. But I can't make any sense out of it.

If I want to be confused and bewildered, lost without an exit ~ I talk to my teenager.

Posted by: filfeit | July 9, 2009 7:20 AM | Report abuse

I;m a Chickweed fan also, and also find Pibgorn unreadable. Glad to know there is another party at the party.

Posted by: ZeldaJane | July 9, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

I have no idea what is going on in Pibgorn. He tends to use characters from 9 Chickweed but for different uses, so it gets doubly confusing.

BTW, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival had a display of Welsh pibgorns, so I finally know what one is.

Posted by: yellojkt | July 9, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse

An editor spikes a strip because it's too offensive, even though 95% of Riffs readers aren't offended by it? Well, I suppose at least it's reassuring that the comics editing of the Washington Post Writers Group is as out of touch with the general readership as is the comics editing of the Washington Post itself.

As for Pibgorn, don't bother to make sense of the plot - just treat it as all being a weird dream (even a Midsummer Night's Dream, if you will). Admire Mr. McEldowney's inspired layouts and artistic craftmanship, and don't worry about what it all means. Consider it to be the comic strip equivalent of a David Lynch movie.

Posted by: seismic-2 | July 9, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

The "Confusion Couch" aka the comments section of Pibgorn is where the readers go to discuss the plot, characters and/or anything else that strikes their fancy. Only strip I know where there are people waiting for the arrival of the new strip at 100am ET M-F.

Posted by: jimbo1949 | July 9, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

To be fair to the WaPo editor who had C'ville replaced, it was 95% of the people who read this strip and voted who said "keep it". Everybody knows we're smarter, cooler, and more in-touch with the Secret Life of Comics than most. No idea what the great unwashed would have thought/voted.

Posted by: filfeit | July 9, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

This is jumping ahead a day from the subject of the posting, but the July 10 ending of the Candorville Michael Jackson sequence was very effective -- suspenseful and moving, which is a lot to fit into one strip. And the last panel was definitely not a joke. I'm not sure that last panels have to be, or that that the last panel of the censored strip was entirely a joke, though admittedly it could be taken as one.

Posted by: nvanative | July 10, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

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