Thursday, August 30, 2007

Good grief, indeed

Speaking of cartoons and the tears of this clown, I nearly wept when I read yesterday's installment of "Hi and Lois":

Whatever happened to daily newspaper comics? This one is so unspeakably unfunny, and it's very much par for the course. True, I know my response is partly informed by the fact that I've gotten a little older. I used to drool over the Sunday color comics in the newspaper (and, BTW, now that color comics aren't just on Sunday, at least on the web, then what's the point?) -- especially "Cappy Dick". Now I throw that section out with the Boston Store circular. But I mean, really.

Daily newspaper comics have been on my mind of late, largely because on my recent vacation I read a biography of "Peanuts" creator Charles Schultz I found at my grandparents' old house. (Okay, if you must know, it was a Reader's Digest condensed biography of Charles Schulz (Rheta Grimsley Johnson, Good Grief: The Story of Charles M. Schulz). My grandparents loved Reader's Digest condensed books.) Reading it I was reminded of what most people already probably know: That his massive success and vaguely unseemly marketing and licensing strategies notwithstanding, Schulz was kind of a troubled guy who wrote strips that were genuinely, often darkly, funny. I loved "Peanuts" when I was a kid and still have many "Peanuts" books, several of which I've just re-read. This strip is exemplary:

Schulz' material is so thoroughly familiar at this point that it's hard to imagine how revolutionary it must have seemed when it was new in 1950: Little kids cracking bleak jokes about psychotherapy and the Pauline epistles.

Schulz's draftsmanship was also, I think, radical in its simplicity for the time. Compare it to the lush shading and detail of a 1953 "Pogo" strip by Walt Kelly, my favorite newspaper cartoonist ever:

Now I haven't researched this, but I would accept the premise that "Pogo" and "Peanuts" seemed as unusual and superior in their heyday as they do now, and that the comics page then also had its fair share of lame shtick of the "Hi and Lois" variety. (I'm surprised to learn from Wikipedia that "Hi and Lois" dates back to 1954. Was it as forgettable then? (Except I always did like the drunk guy.))

Still, as we read more and more bad news about the newspaper business, I can't help but wonder: Why not try to attract and retain readers by spiffing up the comics page with material that's actually funny?

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