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Fayetteville Observer: Generational shifts happening on funny pages

The Fayetteville Observer is trying to find a suitable replacement for Doug Marlette’s Kudzu, and like most paper’s they offered a poll. The results indicate there is a generational shift happening in the comic pages today. Instead rolling out the poll results, they interviewed their readers, an associate professor, and a syndication president.

According to people who study comics from a social perspective, the results aren’t surprising. Once a gateway for younger readers into the newspaper, comic strips have become niche markets, each fiercely fighting for a small but devoted audience.

“The days of a comic appealing to everyone are past,” said Jonathan Chestnut. Chestnut, an associate professor of visual arts at Fayetteville State University, is an expert on the impact of comics in social context.

“The comics today are aiming at niches, finding a spot where they can thrive,” he said. “They aren’t trying to be everything. They aren’t trying to be a new ‘Peanuts.’ They are reflecting the social norms of our culture.”

And, he notes, that culture is far different from the one that launched the golden age of comics.

“I wouldn’t say that the magic is gone from comic strips,” Chestnut said. “But look at the difference in American life. When I was growing up, we’d pull the Sunday comics out before going to church, and my dad would read them to us. It sounds so Normal Rockwell now, but that was our life.”

Community Comments

#1 Pab Sungenis
October/1/2007
@ 10:32 am

With very few exceptions (like “Peanuts” at its peak), no comic strip has ever appealed to everybody.

People who read “The Lockhorns” are not necessarily the type that would read “Mary Worth.” “Garfield” readers probably didn’t gravitate over to “The Boondocks” in large numbers. “Pogo” and “Blondie” probably didn’t share too many readers, nor would anyone who finds “Cathy” funny laugh at “The New Adventures Of Queen Victoria.”

This is not a new phenomenon. The only difference was that you used to have papers that bragged about having 50 different comic features just SO they could have something for everyone, while now you’re lucky to find a paper with more than 10-15 features. It’s not that people suddenly aren’t reading everything, it’s that now they have less to choose from so they are reading less.

#2 R Pyle
October/1/2007
@ 12:45 pm

I find both Cathy and Queen Victoria funny, each in their own way, and read both daily.

Oddly enough, I discovered Queen Victoria when it was recommended on a Gasoline Alley bulletin board. As I recall, you mentioned GA in one of the strips and it was bookmarked there.

Maybe crossover marketing is the way to go?

#3 Pab Sungenis
October/1/2007
@ 1:30 pm

I mention GA from time to time (most recently this past week). While Walt Kelly was the big influence on my writing, my Sunday strips owe everything to Frank King and his experimental period.

I still, however, stand by my claim that the “funny pages” have always been diverse, with no one reading (let alone liking) EVERY strip, and it’s just now that the pages are so much smaller that this fact is being noticed.

#4 Alex Hallatt
October/1/2007
@ 3:09 pm

I think that Cul de Sac has the potential to appeal as broadly as Peanuts did. It has cute characters, great artwork, depth of writing and humour.

#5 Garey Mckee
October/1/2007
@ 5:40 pm

It’s not enough for characters to be “cute.” Characters have to have enough depth and broad personalities to sustain ideas far into a strip’s future. And yes, I too think Cul de Sac has that.

#6 R Pyle
October/1/2007
@ 9:02 pm

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not disagreeing with your claim regarding diversity. My own taste in comics has changed so much through the years, it’s practically a textbook illustration of your claim.

You never know who reads which strips, though. Often it’s surprising.

#7 DaveK
October/1/2007
@ 10:17 pm

I agree that the diversity in the newspapers has declined. But that is the beauty of internet. With a few inexpensive subscriptions, I have access to hundreds of strips that I would not otherwise see. Comic artists and the syndicates need to exploit the net, not see it as the enemy. I may not sit at the breakfast table and read my comics any longer, but I do browse through my subscriptions throughout the day while at work. That has become my tradition. You comic artists are a clever lot. Figure out how to make this work for you!

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