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Legacy features still appreciated by older generation (UPDATED)

Over at Newsday, Bill Mcternan is talking about the comics that still grace the comics page decades after the original created has died.

When TV was an unfulfilled dream and a Sunday newspaper cost a dime, more or less, the comics were a kid’s domain.

When my generation was young, the Katzenjammer Kids and Jiggs and Maggie meant far more to us than the aristocratic president who calmed our parents with his fireside chats on the radio. Today, a golden-age comic strip can be as comforting as a Cagney movie or a Crosby tune.

So while the world continues to tumble from one crisis to another, there’s the reassuring thought that the good guy still triumphs, at least in the two-dimensional world of the comic page. And in the world of those of us with long, fond memories.

While the younger generation may scratch their head and complain that legacy strips are outdated and in need of retirement, Bill’s view gives everyone insight as to why older feature still rank highly on comic polls.

UPDATED: Mike Lynch noticed a great many errors in the Newsday article and points us to Mark Evanier’s site who does a fact-check.

Community Comments

#1 josh
May/4/2007
@ 10:05 am

So, by that logic, we’re just waiting for the last Mary Worth fan to die before we can claim a new space in the comics pages? That sounds a little depressing.

I am glad to have heard from someone regarding the enduring popularity of the legacy strips. However, it does not excuse the steep decline in quality that many of them have suffered since the departure of the original creator. Good comics should stay in papers; old strips relying on dedicated fans shouldn’t get a free pass. It’s every cartoonist’s mission to better the funny pages.

I say this having just begun to read The Complete Popeye (vol. 1). Whoa, that strip is full of energy. I understand why people were excited to read the comics. We need to keep that vitality going.

#2 jvwalt
May/4/2007
@ 10:45 am

Josh is right. Reading legacy strips is not like watching a Cagney movie or hearing a Crosby tune. It’s like watching Jimmy’s grandson “Buster” Cagney do a third-rate gangster impression, or listening to some lounge lizard destroy “White Christmas.”

And yes, the Elzie Segar “Popeye” was one of the great strips of all time… and ever since his untimely death, the strip has been mutilated by a series of hired guns. (Same thing happened to the animated Popeye cartoons. The Max Fleischer Studio ‘toons of the 30s were far superior to anything cranked out since then.)

#3 Jeff Stanson
May/4/2007
@ 5:47 pm

The dilemma for newspapers is “how do we please our readership base and attract the new readers we need in order to keep from dying out?” The majority of newspaper readers are largely older readers, and they still want some legacy comics around. Newspaper editors add newer comics in hopes of attracting younger readers, but older readers don’t like their favorite comics being replaced. So what happens? The older readers get torqued off and threaten to cancel their subscriptions, and the younger readers still aren’t attracted to printed newspapers. Do they go to generationally-customized editions, or do newspapers just put their stock in new media for younger generations and let the older generations have their printed media until it ceases to exist as we have known it?

#4 Mark
May/4/2007
@ 8:44 pm

Legacy strips like a favorite movie. I think this is a good way to illustrate my opinion on legacies. If you liked John Wayne films, you know you can’t go to the theatres today and expect to see one, you’d have to go buy a DVD. Well, if you need your daily Peanuts fix, you shouldn’t expect to go pick up the daily paper and see them, but should assume with the number of collections out there that you’ll need to buy a book or seven.

I think legacies should be put to rest with the original creator and their daily publication should cease aa well. If enough fans ask, anything can and will be collected and printed. Just my $.02.

#5 Mike Gold
May/6/2007
@ 10:53 am

If we had put “legacy” strips to rest when their creators left the feature, we would not have had Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse, Dick Moore’s Gasoline Alley, Mac Raboy’s Flash Gordon, Collins and Fletcher’s Dick Tracy, Feiffer and Wood’s The Spirit, or any of several dozen works that were absolutely solid features.

The issue is one of quality, sadly mitigated by newsprint real estate. And many of the current legacy strips are at least as good as many of the newer features on the page. Admittedly, that isn’t saying much.

The fact is, the newspaper comics page IS a legacy item. If you want to see anything even relatively new with any spark and originality, you’ve got to go to the Internet. Which, of course, is where we now go to get our standard newspaper comics.

#6 JeffM
May/6/2007
@ 7:21 pm

The comics are definitely in a world all of their own.

Imagine the networks replaying old TV shows from decades ago in their line-ups today? It would be suicide.

If I had a syndicate, I would offer these legacy strips as a seperate insert on sundays to newspapers and leave the regular pages to the current strips.

#7 Anne
May/6/2007
@ 10:02 pm

Perhaps you should explore that network analogy a little further. Consider all the collective TV channels including cable and satellite as the comics page. TV offers a little something for everyone, including channels like “TV Land” which – last I heard was very popular. It has been said elsewhere that not every comic needs to appeal to every reader. If your paper carries such a narrow selection that you have nothing to read but “legacy” strips, than I would definitely complain. I don’t think I could stand to watch nothing but “TV Land” 24/7.

If, however, your paper carries 5 or 6 legacy strips,5 or 6 newer strips like Pearls Before Swine, a couple of gateway comics like Garfield and Family Circus which really are aimed at young children, and has 2 or 3 spots in which it tries really new strips when they come out, I don’t see the problem. On any given day I probably read %70 percent of the comics in my paper. Some of them just don’t appeal to me. It has never made me want to cancel my subscription because it is not %100 what I like. Not only that, now that there are great subscription services on line, I can read some of my favorites on my e-mail every day. I much prefer to read them in print but I’ll take what I can get.

#8 JeffM
May/6/2007
@ 10:36 pm

My analogy did include all of the extra cable TV channels offered to viewers, hence the “seperate insert” example.

The major networks would NEVER throw in THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES right after CSI: MIAMI

But does it really matter? My paper still puts PEANUTS on the front page on Sundays and I have to admit, most of the other new strips don’t appeal to me either. Most look hackish and there just isn’t the humor content anymore. I mean, I can’t believe FRAZZ made it. If I was Bill Watterson I would be suing. It looks like a grown-up Calvin….and the writing is just plain boring.

#9 Jeff Stanson
May/7/2007
@ 6:21 am

You’re right, I couldn’t stand to watch TV Land 24 hours a day, but it’s because it’s gotten rid of all the “legacy” shows that made it a successful network. Look how well Spider-Man’s done at the box office this weekend — how come no one’s griping because he’s a “legacy” comic character? It’s the same argument, people…

#10 JeffM
May/7/2007
@ 12:32 pm

Not really. Stan Lee is still alive and producing Spidey.

If the creator is still alive producing a strip, then I don’t consider it a “legacy” strip. It just merely has staying power.

#11 josh
May/7/2007
@ 2:52 pm

My problem with legacy strips is not that they’ve been around a long time or that they target an older demographic but that, many times, the successive generations of artists and writers are not able to reach the high bar the original creator set. Sure, there are exceptions. But in comics, where the creator has control over the whole feature, you really need a strong driving force to carry it.

You can’t necessarily pass off your comics to your kids. Comics are not a shop with a sign reading “Johnson & Sons”. If a syndicate or a cartoonist wants a strip to last, they need to put in the time to find a suitable successor. Someone who won’t just ghost what the creator has done; someone who will make it his/her own.

Comics change whether done by the original artist or not. Look at how much Peanuts changed during its 50-year run. Nothing stays the same, even legacy strips. The power the cartoonist has is whether they will change for the BETTER, or for the WORSE.

#12 Mark
May/7/2007
@ 9:00 pm

This discussion could go on and on, and kinda has, and pretty much everyone has a valid point. Maybe part of the problem is the lumping of comics under the “legacy” banner. It seems to me there are at least 3 subcategories.

The first is comics no longer being created and all that’s being printed are re-runs, like Peanuts and apparently Calvin & Hobbes. Even Yahoo! comics page has Classic Bloom County. I believe these should disappear from the daily comics page and, as I stated earlier in this thread, one should assume the need to locate either from a bookstore or library the collected editions, hearkening back to my old comfy movie analogy.

The second is creations with continued adventures, like Dick Tracy and Flash Gordon. While I don’t read these, as long as the adventures continue and new ground is broken (does this happen?), I see their place. As another writer compared legacies to Spider-Man being done by different creators (although the actual comic strip is still done by Stan Lee, as another pointed out).

The third is the generational gag strips, like Hagar the Horrible and someday Garfield. As a kid I never missed either of these, but honestly neither has broken any new ground in nearly a decade. At least Cathy got married. And apparently the new ground B.C. broke was unwelcome in its later years. These probably fall best under the term “legacy” as they’re usually carried on by a family member, and I think these ones should rest with the orginal creator. For all of these being done, only Blondie seems to get any credit for being as good as the original, which I personally don’t agree with.

So I suppose that complicates it even more.

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