Henry Allen speaks: When the reader reaches a tipping point
When the Comics Reach the Readers' Tipping Point
NOTE TO READERS: In the wake of recent newsroom events, more than a few readers have urged and encouraged Comic Riffs to re-post this rant, which was first published two weeks ago today. So, never one to refuse my readers, here's that re-post. All references to "shrinking patience" and "bout" are, quite seriously, coincidental. (I should also note: After Henry read this, he grinned a Cheshire grin, mulled in bemusement for a moment, then offered only two words: "That's. Good.") *Phew.*
Henry Allen's patience is shrinking like a stamp-sized comic. Pica by evaporating pica, the funnypages are testing his will to read. He might find "Judge Parker" beautifully drawn, but it is Henry who will be rendering his decision to swear off the micro-funnies.
"It's not worth it anymore. They're too damned small," he bemoans over the transom. Henry, who happens to be my pod's Pulitzer winner (for a while in Style, it seemed one was practically assigned to every Post pod), won his Prize for cultural criticism -- from Andrew Wyeth to R. Crumb, the man knows more than a wee bit about visual critique. And perhaps just as important to our discussion today, he relishes the well-illustrated comic.
Prompting our newsroom banter is this week's shrinkage of "Doonesbury" in The Post's print edition. In migrating from Style's Page-3 to Page-2 -- and untethering itself from The Reliable Source layout as part of the paper's larger redesign -- Garry Trudeau's 40-year-old strip has lost roughly a half-panel in width.
Henry's verdict: "That's it. It can't afford to shrink that much."
Thing is, "Doonesbury" still runs larger in The Post than do the comics on the funnypages proper. As many readers know, the consolidation of The Post's comics from three pages to two earlier this year resulted in shrinkage -- which throughout the industry has been on ongoing fact-of-life for many years. This reduction is widely perceived by editors to be a necessary evil, the cost of doing business now -- even given that demographically, many print comics readers are older. It's many of these older readers who write to Comic Riffs to say: Look, you're shrinking me right out of your reading audience.
In other words, one kind of shrinkage begets another.
Which mirrors Henry's latest personal declaration: That the stripping-down point has about reached his tipping point. When even mere legibility becomes a bout, it's tempting to throw in the towel. (As commenter "Mrhode" posted on Comic Riffs yesterday about The Post: "My wife's given up reading the comics in her 40s because you print them too small.")
Many readers, of course, will simply reply: Venture to the almighty Web -- there, the size of your comics is often only restricted by the size of your monitor or mobile device. Which is true. But the hitch and the glitch there are: Most newspaper comic artists still draw their ART so it "reads" visually when super-downsized in newspapers. So it's still print-page size that -- gradually for years now -- has led to an artistic dumbing-down of so many comic strips.
That said, I hasten to add: Visual simplicity and a clean style do not automatically equate with "dumbing-down." A couple of days ago, commenter "ishkabibbleA" asked me in this forum, in part: "Does uber-simplistic artwork lower the instrinsic value of a comic?" To which I reply: (a) Absolutely not; and (b) let's break this down into two distinct types of "instrinsic value."
First, in terms of AESTHETIC value, there's nothing I embrace more than the clean, well-rendered line. To me, a "simple," beautifully drawn "Peanuts" can hold more aesthetic value than highly filigreed artwork that becomes so cluttered -- no matter how stylish -- that all sense of line and composition are deflated if not defeated.
For purposes of today's Incredible Shrinking Comic debate, however, I also contend that comic strips have an instrinsic COMMERCIAL value that depends hugely on how effectively the art works within its specific medium. On this latter count: Such "simple-looking" comics as "Dilbert" and "Pearls Before Swine" (while also being consistently hilarious) actually gain value because at postage-stamp size, they're still relatively legible and their artwork doesn't melt into inky, Lilliputian mudpuddles. On the flip side, often more detailed art -- which for so many decades was an outright selling point of the funnies -- is reduced to annoying eye-chart art.
Given such splotchy Rorschach-test art, readers like the esteemed Henry Allen won't stick around, because they can tell you what such art means without having to gaze at it. It means: "Farewell, because you can kiss my comics readership goodbye."
And trust me, newspaper editors, when I say: That's no small loss. Because although millions of comics fans can barely see the strips in the newspaper, they can read the writing on the wall.
| November 5, 2009; 1:10 PM ET
Categories: The Comic Strip, The Rants, The Riffs
Save & Share: Previous: Have a favorite cartoonist video? Show us your links
Next: Remembering Comic-Con co-founder Shel Dorf
Posted by: mathitak | October 22, 2009 11:19 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: laura33 | October 22, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: tomtildrum | October 22, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: atherworld | October 22, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ishkabibbleA | October 22, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: marybindc | October 22, 2009 1:10 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: seismic-2 | October 22, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: kilby | October 22, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: marybindc | October 22, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: SportzNut21 | October 22, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: elyrest | October 22, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: seismic-2 | October 22, 2009 4:20 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: olddog1 | October 23, 2009 6:22 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: andym108 | October 23, 2009 7:06 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: buckeye96 | October 23, 2009 7:29 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: kroshka | October 24, 2009 1:59 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | November 5, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: seismic-2 | November 6, 2009 3:18 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: ishkabibbleA | November 6, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.