Four Color Philosophy: You Still Don't Get It

(Four Color Philosophy is a tag/subtitle for discussions of traditional newspaper comic strips.  Since they have a culture & issues all their own separate from comic books, they deserve their own category.)

Check out this article, in particular the sections "Future of Comic Strips" and "Online Leaders".

First off, let me just say something: I fucking hate Dustin.  It takes the worst moments of Zits (when the parents wallow in Baby Boomer nostalgia like pigs in shit and hate on Jeremy for not being middle-aged), gives it its own strip & constant focus, and adds a lovely "blame the victim" mentality as to why 20 & 30-somethings are being screwed over by the sour job market.  The only reason anyone likes it is because it's well drawn; the Cartoonist Society probably looks at the pretty art, ignores the bile in the word balloons, and decided to award based on its superficial quality.  Lio said it best in their Sunday parody: "Since I cannot say anything sarcastic about how young people are awful, I'll just stand here and look well-drawn."  It depresses and angers me that this piece of shit is being held up as the paper strips' salvation when it has much higher competition (Oh Brother!, Tina's Groove, Lio, Red & Rover, Cul de Sac, One Big Happy, and Pearls Before Swine to name a few) who deserve the attention & sales boosts it has gotten.  So yeah, HAAAAATE Dustin.

That out of the way, this article nicely illustrates both reader attachment to newspaper strips and why editors still don't quite get it.  People do get attached to their strips, just like the bailiff in the article, and they do get upset when they're dropped.  I am still mad that no local papers carried My Cage (easily one of the best strips in the past five years and one that never got the attention it deserved, mostly because of the older readership issue).  One reason I will always support the Courier Post is because they are the only paper to carry Red & Rover, let alone even try out newer strips.  And as a reader, I do get protective of the strips I like; I want to find the multi-paper owner who drops any & every PBS strip that mocks newspapers' head-in-the-sand mentality about economics and punch him in the oompa-loompahs for illustrating just what Pastis is mocking while being a dick about it.  And I would - and did - defend My Cage to anyone in earshot.  So hearing an editor appreciate this devotion and cater to it is a refreshing change of pace.

That said, the "don't get it" part comes into play when it comes to catering to a non-retiree audience and trying to play catch-up with webcomics.  The quote from the article states the base problem: "Since the newspaper’s print readership tends to be older, editors are afraid of alienating them or changing their preferred lineup of legacy comic strips. The flip side of this scenario is that young readers don’t feel a connection to some of these older strips, and the newer comics that could lure them in aren’t purchased for fear of upsetting regular readers."  Webcomics don't have the sword of elderly/aging-Baby-Boomer sales drops hanging over their heads; Penny Arcade can swear, make jokes that go over the heads of people who think gaming ended with Atari, and use off-color humor without fear of their webhosts dropping them for the slightest offense.  They can cater to niche markets and take artistic risks (like the wonderfully offbeat Wondermark) that your average older paper reader wouldn't tolerate.  Connecting with a younger demographic via the Internet is a start (Lord knows it's where I read all of my funnies except for the Post), but so long as the rest of the paper alienates them & caters to the Dustin mindset that all people born after 1970 are worthless, they will not want much to do with you.  You've already made it clear that you care about a literally dying demographic.  Yes, the older folks are your primary market, but stop treating them like they're your only market.

It's a shame to see the market for newspaper strips fail to get it and reward mediocrity for the sake of an aging readership at the expense of a newer, more vital one.  The editors at least recognize that it's a problem, and so do the comic syndicates.  Sadly, they don't know what the hell to do about it other than throw more crap like Dustin at us and hope that will attract the non-menopausal crowd.  Unfortunately, if that's the kind of work they think will help, they'll just alienate us more.

Comments

  1. The syndicate/newspaper strip vs. webcomics is a topic that has been beaten to death on the Webcomics Weekly podcast with Scott Kurtz, Brad Guigar and company.

    I don't even read a daily paper anymore, and so I'm very unaware of any new strips that make it to the funny pages. The death of newspapers themselves are contributing to the death of newspaper strips...There just isn't and audience anymore. In terms of the serialized strip format, the web is providing the alternative to the syndicates and provides all the advantages you lay out in your article.

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