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Posted at 11:44 AM ET, 03/ 2/2010

Denver Post cuts 22 comics: 'It appears we didn't totally screw up'

By Michael Cavna

"It's only Day One, but so far, it appears we didn't totally screw up."

It's Monday and Jeanette Chavez is fielding the first wave of reader responses. She has had a hand in the Denver Post's comics pages for nearly two decades, but before this week, she had never overseen such a massive cartoon dump: The Post has just cut 22 print comics.

"We've had calls and e-mails, but I don't think it's out of line for the number of features we dropped," says Chavez, the Post's managing editor, administration. "And so far, it's not all over one comic." In other words, she says, the response so far indicates there's not a single feature that will become a primary lightning-rod of discontent.

But a larger issue for the Post was: If a newspaper decides it can no longer afford to carry nearly four pages of comics, how does it downsize while still trying to serve funnies fans?

What this week's slashing of features is, really, is the other shoe dropping in Denver. A year ago, when the Rocky Mountain News folded, the Post inherited all the Mountain News's comics to "help the Rocky's comics readers absorb the shock," Chavez says.

"People would say to me: 'I know you can't keep all of these forever,' " says Chavez, who cites the cost of paying that many creators as one factor. "At the same time, we recognize that readers become accustomed to certain things."

So the Post conducted a reader poll that drew 18,000 responses -- 8,000 mail-in votes, 10,000 online votes. (Regarding the methodology, Chavez says that the Post actively sought to curb ballot-stuffing attempts and that there was only one vote permitted per IP address.)

Chavez notes that the first response she received to the polling, if only by chance, was: "You have too many comics."

The veteran journalist emphasizes that the reader poll was used as a guideline and did not replace the Post's editorial judgment. "While a survey isn't the answer to everything, it certainly will give you a few clues," Chavez tells Comic Riffs by phone. "It did give us some idea as to which comics were least popular. We used that as a guide for determining what we doing."

So, guided partly by reader polling, here are the 22 comics that the Denver Post cut:

Agnes, The Argyle Sweater, Brewster Rockit: Space Guy!, Candorville, Cul de Sac, Cornered, DeFlocked, Dog Eat Doug, The Elderberries, The Flying McCoys, The Fusco Brothers, Lio, Little Dog Lost, Loose Parts, Monty, Pajama Diaries, Pot-Shots, Prickly City, Rip Haywire, Rudy Park, Speed Bump, Zippy.

The Post picked up one daily comic: King Features's new Dustin,by Steve Kelley and Jeff Parker. It also picked up Pluggers and Scary Gary on Sundays.

This week's cuts result in the Post's having roughly three pages of daily comics and puzzles, says Chavez, who adds that any changes in the newspaper's online lineup of comics are still being determined.

According to the Post's reader polling, the 15 most popular comics were (in alphabetical order):

Adam, Baby Blues, Beetle Bailey, Blondie, Classic Peanuts, Crankshaft, Dilbert, The Family Circus, For Better or for Worse, Garfield, Luann, Mother Goose & Grimm, Pickles, Sherman's Lagoon, Zits.

"One lady called me [Monday] morning and started to complain," Chavez notes of the cuts that necessitated rearrangement of the surviving strips. "Then she said: 'Wait, you have my favorite comics still here. ... Never mind.' "

Acknowledging the severity of the comics cuts, Chavez says: "Am I ready to say that it was no big deal? No. But there are times you are inundated [with reader responses] and you know you goofed. After one day, at least, I don't have a sense of that at this time."

By Michael Cavna  | March 2, 2010; 11:44 AM ET
Categories:  The Comic Strip  | Tags:  Agnes, Brewster Rockit: Space Guy!, Candorville, Cornered, Cul de Sac, DeFlocked, Denver Post, Dog Eat Doug, Dustin, Lio, Little Dog Lost, Loose Parts, Monty, Pajama Diaries, Pluggers, Pot-Shots, Prickly City, Rip Haywire, Rudy Park, Scary Gary, Speed Bump, The Argyle Sweater, The Elderberries, Zippy, comics cuts, the Flying McCoys, the Fusco Brothers  
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Losing Brewster and Lio but having Beetle and Blondie in the top 15 tells you a lot about their subscriber demographic.

Posted by: hoo93 | March 2, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Really? The comics they kept are awful. For Better or for Worse isn't even an active comic! Stupid Foobs.

Cul de Sac is an awesome comic.

Posted by: em15 | March 2, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Some times I just feel like chewing my arm off, y'know?

Posted by: rhompson | March 2, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

>> rhompson:

Well-said, Sir Cul de Sac. Well-said.

My strip ran in the Denver Post, but were I still doing it, I a-fear its offbeatness would have precluded it from ever surviving this particular polling.


Posted by: cavnam | March 2, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Doesn't the Denver Post know that the proper way of deciding what strips to drop is to pay big bucks to hire an outside consulting firm to conduct a phone survey of random people who don't usually read the funnies?

Then move "Frazz" to the kids' page, and keep re-running the same "Cul de Sac" online every day since September. Yep, that's the way to do it, you bet!

Posted by: seismic-2 | March 2, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

I wonder how accurate their polling was and what methodology they used. If they only called people with land-line phones, for instance, they'd miss out on the usually younger people who only have cell phones.

That said, I think their choices of what to keep and what to cut had some odd picks. Get rid of Speed Bump? It's consistently great! Garfield and Family Circus are two of the favorites? Sounds like a much older demographic. Of course older people do buy more newspapers!

Posted by: allenofwoodhaven | March 2, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse

Ouch! Lio, Brewster Rockit and Candorville? Three of my faves!

Posted by: johnpage1 | March 3, 2010 6:18 AM | Report abuse

On the plus side: they dropped Prickly City

On the minus side: they pretty much swapped the "dropped" and the "kept" lists.

Posted by: MAL9000 | March 3, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Even though there's not much on the "dropped" list that I would immediately mourn (the exceptions being Cul de Sac, Dog Eat Doug, and Zippy), that collection of zombies in the Denver Post's top-15 list is very depressing, and proves that you can't create a good lineup of fresh talent by consulting with a geriatric readership whose lives all stopped when they graduated from high school.

P.S. Getting the axe from the Denver Post is not a major calamity, but having one's name misspelled (twice!) in Comic Riffs will make it very hard for people to find "DOG (NOT Doug) Eat Doug" - see:

>> Kilby: Yes, we corrected. We also caught (prior to publication) that the list we were sent also typo'd "Brewster Rockit [ROCKET]," "For Better or FOR Worse" and "DeFlocked [Deflocked]." For three of those four strips: Insult to injury, indeed.

Posted by: kilby | March 4, 2010 5:35 AM | Report abuse

Why is Frazz smaller in size!!!! Put it back with the other comics. Please!

Posted by: oldgal49er | March 4, 2010 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Good move: Dropping Argyle Sweater. Every paper should do the same.
Bad move: Dropping Lio.
Worse move: Adding Pluggers
Worst move: Keeping Cathy

Posted by: ChiJason | March 5, 2010 8:44 AM | Report abuse

I'm a Denver Post subscriber (and former Washington Post subscriber). I'm so sad about the loss of Cul de Sac - absolutely my favorite strip right now.

Posted by: oceanchild | March 7, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

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