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Posted at 11:01 AM ET, 09/21/2009

Puzzled? What Comics-Page Question Do You Have for The Post?

By Michael Cavna

'FRAZZ' (UFS)Enlarge Image

It's a simple question, really: Do you like "Slylock Fox" -- or other such one-off comics-page features -- fraternizing with your "Fox Trot"?

Riffs reader kilby raises a good point this week, questioning the necessity as to why non-comic features as "Slylock" and "Jumble" and "Samurai Sudoku" -- which by all rights sounds like a swell John Belushi sketch, btw -- must clutter up our Sunday funnies.

The traditional thinking, of course, has long been that offering games and similar features draws readers young and old to the paper in a particularly inviting -- some would say addictive -- way. And that comics and puzzles go together like Nancy and Sluggo, like Archie and Veronica (making Betty the "Horoscope" in this scenario, I reckon), like Frazz and triathlons.

And speaking of: Shipping out "Frazz" to the Kids Post page continues to spur questions, if not suggestions. So that said, the Official Riffs Offer of the Day is: Do you have any questions about comics production -- anything from The Post's decision-making process to broader industry issues of syndication and space? Anything related to this, Comic Riffs will endeavor to answer.

Meantime, I've got a sketch to rough out quickly here -- color me danged curious to figure out what a "Slylock Fox Trot" mashup might look like.

By Michael Cavna  | September 21, 2009; 11:01 AM ET
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Frazz on Kids Post (and therefore not 7 days a week) still irritates me. I have to say, I've kind of quit reading this blog because even though I saw numerous pleas to return Frazz, nothing happened. I figured if that couldn't change things nothing would, so I gave up. But am trying once again.

Posted by: marybindc | September 21, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Who cares? I'm doing just fine with only a hard-copy of the local newspaper on Sundays. Much of the time, I don't even read that!

If the artist that sketches Frazz had a choice, would he choose adults that may read his strip for the next 15-20 years, or kids that'll be around for 60 or more?

Posted by: MSchafer | September 21, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Is there any chance that someone in charge of the comics at the Post would ever come onto this blog and answer our questions? Probably not (it's never happened, has it?), but if the comics staff were to participate herein, surely the two principal questions would be:

(1) Do you actually **read** the comics??? If so, then why did you classify first "Agnes" and now "Frazz" as belonging in Kids' Post, even though both are surely not kids' strips (notwithstanding their featuring children as main characters). **Garfield** is a kid's strip, not "Frazz". Can you justify your placement of "Frazz", other than by admitting that you don't actually read it?

(2) Why was the decision of which strips to keep and drop during the recent downsizing outsourced to a contractor who simply conducted a phone survey of people who really aren't particularly familiar with the Post's comics? Can't you make your own decisions about what to keep or drop (assuming, again, that someone at the Post actually knows what's in the comics, an assumption that is called into doubt by the "Frazz" decision)? If the Post's editors are unwilling to pick the paper's comics, then why not rely on a poll published in the comics page so that it would survey people who actually **read** the funnies?

Posted by: seismic-2 | September 21, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Count me as a second vote for getting the Comics staff here to answer questions. My two:

1) Also previously mentioned: Please outline the decision-making process of what to keep and what to cut. Specifically:

2) How much bribe money are you taking to keep Peanuts on the page? At least the other zombies offer "new" (hee hee, ho ho, har har) material, not just plain old reruns.

Posted by: drewdane | September 21, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Seismic speaks for me better than I do....

I'd also like to hear or read a few minutes of the editor's thought process in putting together the page, balancing costs, artistic value, readership attraction, et al. Even without specifics regarding individual comics, I think it would worthwhile and interesting.

Move Frazz now!

Posted by: JkR- | September 21, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

I recently discovered "Cul de Sac" which is great but there's hardly ever a new strip. How come? Pickles is my favorite as he speaks to my age group and "Pearls Before Swine" is one I can't miss. I start my day with the comics before I read all of the bad news.

Posted by: Mandy6 | September 21, 2009 9:15 PM | Report abuse

The use of a contract survey to determine which features to keep or drop is a waste of money and an insult to readers. I'd like to know why the post chose this over reader surveys.
I don't mind mixing comics and other features on the same pages. This is an old practice, and it help readers find what they want quickly.
I resent some of the mix, however. It was also an insult when the post dropped the Saturday crostic and kept the horoscope.

Posted by: h22com | September 21, 2009 10:09 PM | Report abuse

I have several questions:

1. When making the decisions of what to keep and what to cut, how much do factors like "niche" and "passion" come into play? Ie: the return of Judge Parker comes to mind. Your survey didn't reach those readers, yet their passion for a niche comic strip helped it returned. Maybe I answered my own question?

2. I am hearing of a disturbing trend for cartoonists, their creators and the syndicates. Rate/fee concessions to keep a strip in a paper. Several papers (major papers) who are in financial peril/issue have asked (demanded) reduction in fees for the strips. Some heritage, longtime strips, which may command several hundred dollars a week are being asked for 30-50% cuts, or the threat of cancellation and replacement with a cheaper option. True/False? Don't lie, because I know of it happening elsewhere.

3. Lastly, why cut comics in the paper. Why not ADD comics? The news is mostly old and the comics are a unique attraction to a paper for the younger demo(s) that are leaving papers in droves. Are you not cutting your noise off to spite your face? And, before you answer, please remove your self-righteous journalistic glasses. It ain't all about the "news".

Posted by: Jam893 | September 21, 2009 11:04 PM | Report abuse

This blog offers us all the chance to vent some steam, but there's no indication that any of the editors have ever read anything here. Moreover, I don't think the Post's comics editors care one iota about what readers think. They make their own imperious decisions about what THEY think the comics should be, and foist the misbegotten results onto the public, whether we like it or not. That said, there is still some value in discussing the relative worth of the features that appear in the printed (fishwrap) version.

When I was visiting my grandparents as a kid, I recall enjoying the Sunday comics very much, because their paper printed a wide variety of "kids" features (puzzles, games, contests, etc.), much more than the Post did, even then. The "Jumble" is a sorry remnant of the fun that used to be available, whereas Slylock Fox is simply lame garbage, a clear waste of newsprint, even for six-year-olds.

I'm somewhat surprised that Samurai Sudoku has lasted so long in the Sunday comics. I wonder how many readers have actually attempted or even completed it even once. I used to enjoy the Saturday "crostic", but the Post's editors probably decided that it was too intellectual for most readers, in contrast with horoscopes, which are unbelievably stupid. Unfortunately, there are vast numbers of idiots who want to believe that a mass-produced oracle can give relevant advice. Other than the Wall Street Journal, there's hardly a daily paper that does not disgrace its pages with one.

Posted by: kilby | September 22, 2009 12:10 AM | Report abuse

>> kilby:

coulda sworn you were around for the Judge Parker Saga this year, but perhaps you weren't. you're such a sharp-eyed and devoted follower of comics in this forum that your first point bears addressing here:
after reporting first that The Post would drop 5-6 strips this year, Comic Riffs immediately realized that only 1-2 strips could be saved at most -- so 'Riffs urged readers to identify (via comments and polls) which ONE they might save. (Hardly ideal, but call it the Lifeboat Approach to Comics Survival.)

Post editors not only read your comments on this blog, but also noted the thousands of votes in two 'Riffs polls. Two Post executives told me that READERS' responses on Comic Riffs were the leading factor in prompting the return of "Judge Parker."

A small victory to some, but it was directly due to so many readers posting their smart and impassioned comments in this forum. So by all means, please: Don't underestimate the reach of your voice.


Posted by: cavnam | September 22, 2009 12:32 AM | Report abuse

I think the ressurection of Judge Parker was before I started reading here, but for me, it was hardly a victory (quite the opposite). Still, I suppose it's only fair that the folks who enjoy soap operas should get at least a little space in the comics. The Post used to sacrifice a whole page to them on Sundays (in addition to Spiderman, which is simply a dull soap with Spandex and netting added), so I shouldn't complain.

There have been other dramatic rescues of comics in the past (Prince Valiant comes to mind, a very long time ago), but I wouldn't classify these actions as a consideration for reader opinion: it's more like damage control, making up for previous bad moves. It takes a huge groundswell of irresistable force to get the immovable rock-headed editors to shift gears.

I remember the awe and wonder I experienced when I first saw Calvin and Hobbes in the new half-page Sunday format. "Cool!", I thought, "the Post finally did something right" (except that they should have eliminated the section header and raised Calvin to the top of the page, so that it would not have to bend over the fold). Still, it was excellent while it lasted.

Years later I found out I had given the editors undeserved credit: the Post had been an energetic opponent of the new Calvin format, and accepted it only reluctantly. I should have known.

There's no question that maintaining two sections of Sunday funnies (or four pages of dailies) was economically untenable, and that some strips would have to be dropped. However, the editors demonstrated their insensitivity by hanging onto a bunch of legacy junk, making the competition for the remaining space even harder.

Posted by: kilby | September 22, 2009 2:41 AM | Report abuse

I read the Post on-line and about half the time have problems accessing certain comics, especially Get Fuzzy, Pearls Before Swine and Dilbert. What gives? It's VERY annoying and starts my whole day off wrong.

Posted by: bthacker | September 22, 2009 7:25 AM | Report abuse

kilby saved Judge Parker??? Time to gather the pitchforks and torches crowd.

And, yes, some people actually have done the Samurai Sudoku puzzle.

Posted by: soccermutha | September 22, 2009 8:14 AM | Report abuse

Rats. I KNEW that salutation line in M.C.'s 12:32am post was going to get me in trouble, and I already asked him to fix it. I was trying to avoid burning more bandwidth here, but for the record, here is the e-mail that I sent directly to M.C.:

Date: 22 September 2009 08:52:10 GMT+02:00
To: Comics Blog Internet DrobBox
Subject: Blog reply 12:32 am 22 Sep 2009

If you have the power to edit your 12:32 am posting on 22 Sep, it would be better to remove the initial tag line (>>kilby:) and reformulate the first paragraph (to read in 3rd person) "coulda sworn 'kilby' was around for the Judge Parker Saga this year ..."

The reason is simple: with that tag, the line about "YOUR response" sounds like it is addressed personally to me (but I know it isn't, since I would never have supported Judge Parker).

It would also be good to change "response" to "responses", so that it is clear that EVERYONE'S (answers are) meant, not just mine.
(Hope that clears things up. - kilby)

Posted by: kilby | September 22, 2009 8:57 AM | Report abuse

P.S. I just checked, but the first "b" in "DrobBox" is not MY typo, that is actually the name that arrives when M.C. sends out a mail.

P.P.S. (somewhat off-topic) A long while back I hashed together some BASIC source code that could iterate out solutions to Samurai Sudoku puzzles. My original intention was just to grind out the easy numbers, leaving the "hard" part for actual "thinking" work. The results proved that almost all Sudoku puzzles are nothing more than repetitive crank turning: I almost *never* found a published Sudoku (normal or Samurai) that could the (relatively simplistic) algorithm that I had set up.

Posted by: kilby | September 22, 2009 9:20 AM | Report abuse

P.P.P. Sorry, dropped a word:
... that could STUMP the (relatively simplistic) algorithm...

Posted by: kilby | September 22, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

fr Mandy6:

>..."Pearls Before Swine" is one I can't miss. I start my day with the comics before I read all of the bad news.<

i LOVE Pearls Before Swine! It's too funny!

Posted by: Alex511 | September 22, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse


In the "Judge Parker Saga" comment, the "pronoun soup" is now fixed to reflect, um, reality. However, I do rather like the battlecry "kilby saved judge parker!" if 'Riffs had (a) a budget; and (b) kilby's permission, that would be the official motto for those Comic Riffs T-shirts I need to order.


Posted by: cavnam | September 22, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Well, in a word, "No." I hate to be a spoilsport, but besides enduring the 15 minutes of infamy, it would be unfair to put my name forward for a grass roots cause that I never supported, and would have worked to defeat if I had the opportunity. I am happy to share the comics page with the soap opera fans, but to me personally, "Judge Parker" is the most boring waste of newsprint imaginable (with the possible exception of "Mary Worthless").

I wish the Riffster all the best in his quest for a t-shirt budget. Try asking the Empress of the Style Invitational for some pointers on how to wheedle the top brass. In case of success, the slogan should simply implement the pronoun correction, using a great big "WE!" in place of any personal name.

Posted by: kilby | September 23, 2009 3:05 AM | Report abuse

To derail further, Kilby, I'm not surprised that you could write a program to solve sudoku. I always thought that's why people liked it so much--because you don't need much skill or strategy, it's just a mindless distraction.

That's why *I* like it, anyway...

Posted by: RKaufman13 | September 23, 2009 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Washington DC people may be chagrined to know that the Post's Sudokus are some of the easiest in the world. This does not bode well for our Federal Government.

Posted by: Jumper1 | September 23, 2009 10:11 PM | Report abuse

I see comics as part of a daily ritual which people become habituated to. Comics, horoscope, puzzles, and advice columns provide this ritual. Others are hooked on the sports, the obituaries, the stocks. Folks on the newspaper staff who answer the phones on a daily basis and deal with cranky readers' complaints reveal so much about the newspaper business, most people would learn a lot from listening to them. (My next-door-neighbor has that job!)

The non-news features contribute hugely to people subscribing to the papers year after year, and are still crucial to the economic well-being of the papers.

The replacement for Ann Landers is awful.

That is all.

Posted by: Jumper1 | September 23, 2009 10:19 PM | Report abuse

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