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Mike Peterson takes on the comic poll

Frequent Daily Cartoonist commentator Mike Peterson looks at the reasons why comic polls are so popular.

It’s also important to realize that, as much as today’s editor is a stickler for proper grammar and follows rules in a way that would make the most tightly-buttoned librarian look like Oscar Madison, journalism majors don’t study a lot of math. Since they don’t understand the polls that other organizations run, they certainly can’t devise or interpret a valid poll of their own. And, since they aren’t good with numbers and don’t feel the need to fuss with comics, the last thing they want to do is get hung up in a lot of numbers having to do with comics.

Remember, too, that “monkey see, monkey do” is standard operating procedure in a lot of businesses, not just this one. Innovation is great when it works and will get you fired when it doesn’t, but, if you do something everyone does and it doesn’t work, you can shrug your shoulders. It should have worked. I followed the rules. It’s the economy. It’s the Internet. It’s not my fault.

Hence the standard “comics poll,” which isn’t a poll at all but which has precedents that you can cite.

Community Comments

#1 Mike Peterson
October/22/2010
@ 2:04 pm

Note that it was today’s Cleats that touched off the rant. Bill Hinds pushed a button.

#2 Jeff Stanson
October/22/2010
@ 3:31 pm

The Comics Poll, as we’ve seen it executed, is a gimmick and nothing more. Sometimes, it is about allowing readers to feel they have some interaction with the paper. Usually, it is about editors trying to take the sting out of pulling strips (“But we gave you a voice…”).

#3 Bill Hinds
October/22/2010
@ 10:11 pm

Cleats has suffered in many newspaper comic polls over the past nine years. That’s not surprising since many readers won’t even look at a strip “about soccer.” Niche strips may not have a wide audience but they often have a loyal audience. I could go on and on about the bland soup the comics pages become when you try to only run strips that cater to the majority, but the truth is the majority don’t take these surveys. These newspaper polls only reveal the opinion of people who take newspaper polls.

What really inspired the Cleats strip in question was a column by the fellow in charge of one of these polls at a paper in Ohio. He delighted in informing the results. The quote I remember was “Cleats–GONE!”

Well, he should be very delighted now, because as of the end of this month Cleats will be gone. The last strip runs on Halloween, and its worth seeing, if I do say so myself.

I really appreciate the newspapers that ran Cleats over the years, and particularly the ones that were still running it. I meant no offense with this strip to anyone working at newspapers, I just was trying to point out how it feels to have your head publicly set on the chopping block.

Gocomics.com will then begin rerunning the strip.

#4 Mike Peterson
October/23/2010
@ 5:23 am

This is a major bummer, Bill. I’ve been a huge fan of the strip from the start, but, of course, I also began coaching my sons in youth soccer back in 1979. The younger one became a middle-school soccer coach, the older has coached his daughters. The explosion of youth sports over those years has made it a major factor in the lives of families — but as long as editors defer to phony polls, and as long as those polls are set up to be dominated by the blue-hair crew, strips that primarily resonate with 30-somethings will not be able to get on the page.

The ridiculous part of this is that Bill and I are of an age — our group were the pioneers who coached in those years when youth sports were growing. And we’re (no offense, Bill) not really that young. But the kids we raised are right in the prime demographic. And the editors are missing it because they don’t have the cojones to take ownership of their newspapers and work to attract that group. It’s not the Internet, you idiots — It’s YOU.

I would say that Cleats has produced some of my most-cited strips in the long term. I’m forever digging up a years-old piece as a reference for something or other, because, though my years of watching my own kids fence and play soccer and hockey are over, I now find myself on the sidelines at my granddaughters games, and seeing the familiar parents, coaches and refs from Cleats all around me.

I swear, editors ought to turn the comics page over to advertising and quit dabbling in something they don’t understand.

#5 Guy Gilchrist
October/23/2010
@ 8:23 am

Dear Bill, That’s sad news. “Cleats” is a great strip.
But knowing you did your best, put out the best you could, and having that collected work to hopefully reach readers in book form and the reruns, hopefully is a bit comforting.

#6 Jeff Stanson
October/23/2010
@ 9:04 am

Bill, Cleats is the first strip I can recall following exclusively online. It was never available in my local paper, but I followed it from the beginning via the online services. Because my boys played and still follow soccer, a lot of it really rang home for our family. We’ll miss it.

#7 Ted Rall
October/23/2010
@ 9:54 am

Sorry to hear that, Bill. It sucks to lose work, especially for stupid reasons.

Even if newspapers were willing to spend money for real polls (i.e., calling a randomly selected set of readers), reader polls would still be a bad way to pick comics. To pick just one objection, since readers don’t see most comics that are available, how can they know that they wouldn’t rather see some new comic replace one of the ones their paper already runs?

They should also reference loyalty. A strip that 30% of readers like might only be slightly liked…readers are OK with it, but they don’t feel passionately about it. A strip hated by 95% of readers but wildly beloved by 5% might be worth keeping because it brings in those 5%. It’s hard for any poll to gauge reader enthusiasm levels.

In the end, the best comics sections have always been compiled by editors (single editors, not committees of editors) with great taste and strong convictions. Newspapers that want to save their comics sections, and their papers in generals, ought to hire such people.

#8 Bill Hinds
October/23/2010
@ 10:15 am

Exactly right, Ted. The editors should do the job they are hired to do.
I don’t think too many people read all the strips in the comics section. They have their favorites. A variety of options makes all the sense in the world.

#9 andy meijers
October/23/2010
@ 3:02 pm

Mr. Hinds- I will greatly miss Cleats, and, and I don’t even follow sports, nor did I participate as a kid. It has always been a gentle and friendly strip, poking fun at the life of suburban kids and their parents, but never in a mean way. The recurring message of ‘play nice, this is just for fun’ was a valuable one. I understand why you felt like you had to pull the plug, but your work was appreciated.

I keep hearing about these people who don’t read all the strips in the paper. Never understood that. How can you pass your eyes over that part of the page WITHOUT reading it? Sorta automatic, at least for some of us. I’ve read one or more newspapers every single day (other than when there were none available) since early grade school. Even now, in my mid-50s, I still start with the comics page.

#10 Paul Fell
October/24/2010
@ 3:48 pm

Bill, I remember when we were at a past Festival of Cartoon Art at Ohio State and you were passing around the first sample packets of “Cleats” prior to its launch. I thought it was a great strip then and still do to this day. I also realize that sometimes it is better to just end things and move on to the next challenge.

I recently read a posting on a cartoon board whose origins elude me now, but the writer was observing that it seemed weird that newspapers run comics polls, but somehow never run reader polls about reporters, columnists,editors, and publishers.

Go figure.

#11 Mike Peterson
October/25/2010
@ 3:27 am

“They should also reference loyalty. A strip that 30% of readers like might only be slightly liked?readers are OK with it, but they don?t feel passionately about it. A strip hated by 95% of readers but wildly beloved by 5% might be worth keeping because it brings in those 5%. It?s hard for any poll to gauge reader enthusiasm levels.”

That’s why the method I used only allowed them to choose three strips to “like” and three to “hate,” and divided them into categories. When readers choose to “hate” all the new-style strips and “like” all the old-timers, you get no useful information,

As for the latter point, a lot of the older crowd chose “Sherman’s Lagoon” as their strip to cancel from its category, but most of our (pitifully few) young readers chose it as the strip they best liked in that group. On a strict vote, it would have been dropped, but we didn’t because it would have been a stupid decision. Unlike other “comic poll” perpetrators, we were actively trying to avoid stupid decisions.

#12 John Read
October/26/2010
@ 8:14 am

What I’d like to know is, what is it about Ted’s comment that garnered 5 “thumbs-down” clicks? I’m wondering if there are people who automatically click the “dislike” button whenever Ted comments.

#13 Bill Kellogg
October/26/2010
@ 12:47 pm

Trying to cause trouble again, huh John? I got 9 ‘dislikes’ so far for a similar comment to yours on “Millionaire by 19” article. I’m still hoping for double digits!

#14 Dave Stephens
October/26/2010
@ 2:05 pm

It’s a popularity contest, obviously.

#15 Mark McComas
November/2/2010
@ 12:04 pm

Our local afternoon paper at the time, The Daily Mail of Charleston, WV, didn’t bother to conduct a poll when they arbitrarily pulled “The Phantom” 25 years ago. It caused an uproar, which of course is what they were looking for–they re-instated “The Pahntom” and everyone calmed down. Years later they pulled it and there was no hubbub at all.

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