How would you change the comics? A veteran editor opens a window
It's my favorite quote about newspaper cartooning that I've seen in many moons, and I think the reason is because some of the ideas are so practical, they can ring as radical.
The quote comes from Dave Astor, whose longtime beat was syndicates. Writing this week in The Comics Journal, Eric Millikin asked the former Editor&Publisher journalist the ol' "If I Were King" question -- here reframed with a Seussian twist. The passage read as such:
MILLIKIN: This is the Dr. Seuss "If I Ran the Circus" question: If you were running a newspaper chain or comics syndicate, what risks would you be taking? What do you think the industry ought to be doing that they're not?
ASTOR: If I were running a syndicate, I'd add more alternative-type comics and keep only the best "legacy" comics (which, as many cartooning fans know, are those comics whose original creator is dead - often long dead). The fewer "legacy" comics, the more slots there would be for talented creators trying to break into the business. I think a syndicate should have a mix of all types of comics, but, in general, the current mix is too tame and not modern enough to attract enough of the young-adult readers needed by daily newspapers.
And if I were running a newspaper chain, I'd publish dozens of comics in each of the chain's papers, have a staff editorial cartoonist at each paper, and let reporters do livelier writing. I'd also settle for a smaller company profit and smaller executive salaries in order to pay for those dozens of comics, pay for those staff editorial cartoonists, and not lay off reporters. Obviously, no corporate-type person would let me run a newspaper chain in real life!
Bravo, Master Astor. Part of the reason I enjoy his thoughts involves what is being acknowledged:
1. Newspaper cartooning needs to take risks. For the health of these comics and editorial cartooning, standing pat is not a smart option. Many newspaper readers are continuing to migrate from print to Web for their funnies consumption, but the physical print comics remain an essential entry point for so many readers.
2. Too many "legacy cases" will bore the reader into disinterest or retreat. Astor is absolutely right when saying he would curb the number of "zombie strips." Zombies constantly need fresh blood; so, too, do the comics.
3. Comics pages trend toward the tame -- and thus lame. If TV's late nights were made up of only Lenos (likable but intentionally bland) and Lettermans (old-school ironic curmudgeon), the late landscape would be dull indeed. Comics need more Colberts, Craig Fergusons and Jon Stewarts -- like them or no, the counterprogrammed brands of humor make the mix so much richer.
4. Political cartooning provides a special perch. On the whole, the newspaper's staff editorial cartoonist still, inexplicably, seems to be going the way of the dodo bird. And yet few jobs at a newspaper provide such an immediate connection and raised profile with local readers. Yes, the political cartoonist will -- and should -- spur reader complaints. Yes, the political cartoon will -- and should -- take up some valuable print real estate. But yes -- the political cartoonist is to be protected and cherished like an endangered species.
There you have Master Astor's opinions. And there you have mine. We invite you to share yours.
| January 13, 2010; 2:15 PM ET
Categories: The Riffs | Tags: Dave Astor, Editor & Publisher, Eric Millikin
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