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Are today’s comics crossing the line more often?

This story out of the Columbus Dispatch interviews several editors asking if the strips in the funny pages are becoming increasingly more risque.

“I have seen . . . a decided tilt toward the outrageous ? risque images and language, name-calling disguised as political satire, oodles of toilet humor and several attempts to slip in a certain curse word and a certain racial epithet,” he said.

Other newspaper editors, too, say they think cartoonists increasingly cross the lines of taste and partisanship ? or at least come close to it.

“Political content has become more prominent,” said Thomas Mitchell, editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 15 years. “And there?s more sex on the comics pages and sexual innuendo and double-entendre.”

UPDATE: As if on cue, Scott Adams admits on his blog that he often tries to sneak things past editors.

I love trying to sneak past the editors filthy concepts that can be interpreted in innocent ways. That gives me deniability, as in ?What kind of filthy mind would assume I meant it THAT way??!!?

Community Comments

#1 Dominic
April/7/2006
@ 3:12 am

There certainly has been a bit of rise in sexual overtones (most notably among the Funky Winkerbean couples) but the language we are seeing in the daily strips these days has stunned me.

On October 25, 2005, Gary Trudeau delivered an address to newspapers editors. During this address he touched on the idea of vulgar language as follows:

“Years ago, when I was first starting out, the pre-religious Johnny Hart wrote a B.C. strip in which his little caveman hero, courting a pretty girl is told to ‘go to heck’. He walks off despondently, clutching the flower he tried to give her, and then looks at the reader and asks, ‘Where the hell is heck?’ Even though the word was verboten in 1970, what editor could reasonably pull that strip? And as far as I know no one did ? which had a profound effect on me. Keep it truthful, I learned, if you knit it into the context with care, editors may cut you some slack.
“So, for instance, when B.D. wakes up and finds he?s missing his leg and shouts out, ‘Son of a bitch!’, a few editors shut the strip down for the day, but I think most concluded as one editor wrote, ‘If I woke up and found I was missing a leg, that?s the mildest thing I would have said.’ The context was everything. The words per se, while not something you want to see on your comics page every day, were embedded in the emotion and pain of the moment.
Very infrequently, an editor will use such occasions to physical edit the strip ? to replace an offensive word with an inoffensive one — but it?s not like editing a traditional column ? it?s more like editing haiku ? almost impossible to do without throwing off the rhythm or the humor or the meaning. Plus it generally looks awful. It?s better for an editor to simply go with her own judgment that a particular strip is inappropriate for her audience, drop it, and trust that its tiresome creator isn?t likely to put you in that position very often, indeed tries pretty hard not to.
“As I say, I do appreciate the wide latitude I?ve been given through the years. And I hope by now we?ve successfully made the argument that difficult subjects can be treated in Doonesbury without upsetting the nation?s small children, because in our experience, small children have no interest in Doonesbury.”

Recently, although I doubt it is at all related, coarser and coarser language in slipping into the daily strips. While the use of symbols, e.g. #$%**!@, has been around since the days of Mutt and Jeff, it has typically been in the context of “background noise” ? mutterings by Sarge as he pummels Beatle Bailey (much like the Dad taking on the furnace in the movie A Christmas Story) or some kind of reaction or expression of exasperation. More and more it has come to the forefront and these “words” have actually become the punch line of the joke.

In a recent Candorville strip Clyde uses the N-word (although expressed as “N@*&$”) and Lemont’s, translated into slang, response of “@#$% is the punch line. It is the same with not one, but two Funky Winkerbean strips (and a third for Tom Batiuk for the same use in his Crankshaft strip).

Even more interesting is the use of actual curse words creeping into the daily strips. Steve Moore’s March 3rd In the Bleachers contains “run like Hell,” Trudeau’s Duke character yelled “Pick up, Dammit” in the March 1 Doonesbury daily and later BD has an “Well, I’ll be damned” revelation in a Sunday strip.

However, it seems as Darby Conley’s Get Fuzzy is really pushing the boundary. First Satchel the dog is passing gas, and then Conley seems to be taunting critics with his use of the word “crap”.

I am therefore anxious to get a Syndicate’s response to the following questions:

1. Do the Syndicates feel the strips might be pushing the language envelope?
2. What guidelines does the Syndicate use in accepting material from creators? What is the Syndicate’s opinion on what is generally approved for print in the comics page of a newspaper? Should “edgier” content be permitted?
3. Do you agree with Mr. Trudeau’s attitude that as long as the strip doesn’t appeal to a young audience, there should be more latitude? Should there be two distinct comics pages ? one for a general audience and one for a mature audience? Or how else do you restrict a young reader from seeing the language in Doonesbury on their way to Peanuts (even if they are not interested in Doonesbury)?
4. Is there a universal test of what is permitted or does it very from Syndicate to Syndicate?
5. Was there any discussion/debate between the cartoonists and the Syndicate regarding the content of this strip?
6. Was there any discussion/debate between the Syndicate and newspapers that typically run the strip?
7. Was there any feedback (positive or negative) resulting from the strip or others being published?

Alas, inquires sent to King Features and Washington Post Writers Group were ignored so the questions remain?

#2 Dominic
April/6/2006
@ 9:12 pm

There certainly has been a bit of rise in sexual overtones (most notably among the Funky Winkerbean couples) but the language we are seeing in the daily strips these days has stunned me.

On October 25, 2005, Gary Trudeau delivered an address to newspapers editors. During this address he touched on the idea of vulgar language as follows:

“Years ago, when I was first starting out, the pre-religious Johnny Hart wrote a B.C. strip in which his little caveman hero, courting a pretty girl is told to ‘go to heck’. He walks off despondently, clutching the flower he tried to give her, and then looks at the reader and asks, ‘Where the hell is heck?’ Even though the word was verboten in 1970, what editor could reasonably pull that strip? And as far as I know no one did ? which had a profound effect on me. Keep it truthful, I learned, if you knit it into the context with care, editors may cut you some slack.
“So, for instance, when B.D. wakes up and finds he?s missing his leg and shouts out, ‘Son of a bitch!’, a few editors shut the strip down for the day, but I think most concluded as one editor wrote, ‘If I woke up and found I was missing a leg, that?s the mildest thing I would have said.’ The context was everything. The words per se, while not something you want to see on your comics page every day, were embedded in the emotion and pain of the moment.
Very infrequently, an editor will use such occasions to physical edit the strip ? to replace an offensive word with an inoffensive one — but it?s not like editing a traditional column ? it?s more like editing haiku ? almost impossible to do without throwing off the rhythm or the humor or the meaning. Plus it generally looks awful. It?s better for an editor to simply go with her own judgment that a particular strip is inappropriate for her audience, drop it, and trust that its tiresome creator isn?t likely to put you in that position very often, indeed tries pretty hard not to.
“As I say, I do appreciate the wide latitude I?ve been given through the years. And I hope by now we?ve successfully made the argument that difficult subjects can be treated in Doonesbury without upsetting the nation?s small children, because in our experience, small children have no interest in Doonesbury.”

Recently, although I doubt it is at all related, coarser and coarser language in slipping into the daily strips. While the use of symbols, e.g. #$%**!@, has been around since the days of Mutt and Jeff, it has typically been in the context of “background noise” ? mutterings by Sarge as he pummels Beatle Bailey (much like the Dad taking on the furnace in the movie A Christmas Story) or some kind of reaction or expression of exasperation. More and more it has come to the forefront and these “words” have actually become the punch line of the joke.

In a recent Candorville strip Clyde uses the N-word (although expressed as “N@*&$”) and Lemont’s, translated into slang, response of “@#$% is the punch line. It is the same with not one, but two Funky Winkerbean strips (and a third for Tom Batiuk for the same use in his Crankshaft strip).

Even more interesting is the use of actual curse words creeping into the daily strips. Steve Moore’s March 3rd In the Bleachers contains “run like Hell,” Trudeau’s Duke character yelled “Pick up, Dammit” in the March 1 Doonesbury daily and later BD has an “Well, I’ll be damned” revelation in a Sunday strip.

However, it seems as Darby Conley’s Get Fuzzy is really pushing the boundary. First Satchel the dog is passing gas, and then Conley seems to be taunting critics with his use of the word “crap”.

I am therefore anxious to get a Syndicate’s response to the following questions:

1. Do the Syndicates feel the strips might be pushing the language envelope?
2. What guidelines does the Syndicate use in accepting material from creators? What is the Syndicate’s opinion on what is generally approved for print in the comics page of a newspaper? Should “edgier” content be permitted?
3. Do you agree with Mr. Trudeau’s attitude that as long as the strip doesn’t appeal to a young audience, there should be more latitude? Should there be two distinct comics pages ? one for a general audience and one for a mature audience? Or how else do you restrict a young reader from seeing the language in Doonesbury on their way to Peanuts (even if they are not interested in Doonesbury)?
4. Is there a universal test of what is permitted or does it very from Syndicate to Syndicate?
5. Was there any discussion/debate between the cartoonists and the Syndicate regarding the content of this strip?
6. Was there any discussion/debate between the Syndicate and newspapers that typically run the strip?
7. Was there any feedback (positive or negative) resulting from the strip or others being published?

Alas, inquires sent to King Features and Washington Post Writers Group were ignored so the questions remain?

#3 Mike
December/6/2006
@ 12:03 pm

Hmmm…I’d like to know those answers too, as I said in a related article. But i agree that Trudeau using “Son of Bitch” in the BD storyline was well within context. Personally I try not to use curse words at all, but I am sorely tempted to use “crap” and “dammit” sometimes since it actually fits the personality of one of main characters very well. (I usually chicken out and us @#$%!”)

#4 Mike
December/6/2006
@ 5:03 am

Hmmm…I’d like to know those answers too, as I said in a related article. But i agree that Trudeau using “Son of Bitch” in the BD storyline was well within context. Personally I try not to use curse words at all, but I am sorely tempted to use “crap” and “dammit” sometimes since it actually fits the personality of one of main characters very well. (I usually chicken out and us @#$%!”)

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