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Can comics save the American newspaper?

A columnist in The Advertiser recounts the use of comics to sell newspapers in the early 20th century and as American circulations are in decline, circulations in Latin American and Asia are growing in part because of a resurgence in comics.

Just recently a friend of mine, Terry Brown, shared with me an illustrated history of the comics. The book was a remarkable read as it highlighted much of Harms-worth’s work with Amalga-mated Press. It also illustrated very well the history of comics and the use of color to attract magazine readership. Comic strips would later be the focal point of many weekly and daily newspapers, and while comics seem to be a thing of the past there was a time when the success of the comic strip actually sold papers. Comics also became successful magazines lasting well into the 1960s and 70s.

Alfred Harmsworth was indeed a publishing genius who had a vision for his paper products. Today newspapers are in need of a publisher who can capture the imagination of the public through the medium of print. Otherwise I fear newspapers will slowly go the way of the comics in North America as worldwide circulation continues to decline in developing countries.

Newspaper circulation throughout much of North America is in rapid decline. In Latin and South America, readership is holding its own with modest growth in newspaper circulation. The biggest jump in newspaper circulation, however, is in Asia with tremendous growth in China.

And guess what is driving that growth? It’s the comics, of course, as well as the country’s appetite for business news. While comics have declined in much of North America and Europe, the comic strip is receiving a revival in Asia.

Community Comments

#1 Rachel Keslensky
@ 11:42 am

Surely we are joking?

Comics don’t need Newspapers, and while Comics may be SAVING Newspapers, if anything this should be met with renewed efforts to improve the standing of the average comic in a newspaper.

Comics can exist online just as well as they can off it, but it’s going to take a savvy franchise / syndicate / paper to be able to not only attract the right talent, but convince American Papers (as ever-hungry for the mighty dollar as they may be) to pay more for such comics.

In other words; it’s doable, but I’m not holding my breath.

#2 Larry Levine
@ 1:16 pm

Darn right comics can save newspapers, especially non-syndicated strips targeting a paper’s regional market, like Phil Frank’s “Farley” did.

I think this is the next wave for comic strips (along with the web). I’ve been looking towards this direction for my own strip.

#3 Wiley Miller
@ 4:37 pm

Comics have been saving newspapers for quite some time now. Every readership survey (the real scientific kind done by marketing, not like those idiotic comics polls) have consistently shown for decades now that the most widely read part of the newspaper, across the demographic board, is the comics, just behind the front page.

Any newspaper today that’s carrying comics would be out of business in a very short time if they decided to drop the comics section.

This is why the disinterest and outright loathing of comics by editors is so perplexing. We’re the last bastion keeping them employed.

But, yes, Rachel, we do need newspapers. Newspapers and comics have always had a symbiotic relationship. So as they go down, comic strips go down and cartoonists need to find another venue to survive.

#4 Jeff Stanson
@ 6:29 pm

There was a time when I bought several Sunday newspapers a week just for the comics. Today with the shabby way newspapers treat Sunday comics, I’m no longer interested. Newspapers are going to have to make some startling changes in page count and content of Sunday comics sections if they expect to get my business back. I think they’ve probably already lost this one.

#5 Garey Mckee
@ 7:05 pm

Comics definately sell newspapers, that I am 100% sure of. However, the shrinking number of people who actually READ a newspaper is what is causing newspapers to face their own mortality.

I don’t think Wiley will mind me sharing a conversation we had in an email exchange not too long ago, where he said that he writes his strip keeping in mind that anyone left holding a newspaper is literate and intelligent. I had responded that I just don’t see that much intelligence in the general public these days, to which it was noted that this coincides with the decline of newspaper readership.

So can comics save the newspaper? Maybe. But what will save society today from having their brain atrophy with all the slick sound bites and instant gratification these days?

#6 Malc McGookin
@ 8:28 pm

Yes, comics can save newspapers but not necessarily the comics presently in them. Only about 10% of existing comics deserve to be there, in my opinion, as they are the only ones people actively seek out and read.

The rest are there merely to occupy and preserve their syndicate’s shelf space.

Also, newspapers have lost their soul. They don’t have any individuality, in fact they don’t even look like serious papers, more like the freesheets you have thrown on your lawn twice a week.

#7 Larry Levine
@ 8:54 am

Along with creating a GOOD strip, the greater importance is in creating GREAT characters that readers will want to visit on a daily basis. Charles Schulz once said people don’t remember jokes, the remember the characters!

#8 Dan Thompson
@ 11:17 am

a local N.C. sunday paper I read has been running Peanuts for the past month with just the “throw away top row” and only the second row of the strip, NOT the 3rd row that has the punchline. I think I’m the only one that noticed.

@ 12:02 pm

Remember how the front page above the fold used to feature the editorial cartoon?
With the advent of advanced photography, that changed.
Perhaps some enterprising, independent editor and/or publisher would recognize the utility of featuring a comic on the front page, as a teaser. They could even rotate them, so as not to favor particular cartoons.

Just an idea.

#10 Charles Brubaker
@ 12:26 pm

>>a local N.C. sunday paper I read has been running Peanuts for the past month with just the â??throw away top rowâ? and only the second row of the strip, NOT the 3rd row that has the punchline. I think Iâ??m the only one that noticed.

Wow. The Nashville Tennessean printed Peanuts just like that once, although they never did that again (obviously an error from the paper’s part).

#11 Larry Levine
@ 11:32 am

Dan, The newspaper should note that PEANUTS Fantagraphic books are required to read the punchlines.

#12 Krishna Sadasivam
@ 10:33 pm

There’s a catch 22. The newspaper circulation numbers are dwindling and have been since the Internet started to pick up steam. The newspapers are increasingly catering to an older demographic – many folks in their 20s, 30s, and even early 40s are seeking their news information online.

The newspapers don’t want to alienate their core readership, so that’s why I believe the same strips (Peanuts Classic, anyone?) and a host of other staples (Blondie, B.C., etc.) are still there.

I’m not sure that adding newer comics (well written or not) will actually do anything to increase circulation numbers for any newspaper here in the US.

#13 Rod McKie
@ 7:17 am

I have always argued that it is possible that this can go either way. The people who run newspapers are as thick as mince, but they understand money. Just now, they fight for readers with products they give away that are LESS carbon neutral than printed pages.

Adertisers will go, in Scotland the Scottish Parliament and all the local authorities are withdrawing their advertising from the national press (something that the Wisenheimers strangely think will never affect them in the US and Canada – think again), some £62m per annum, and using their own websites to recruit and advertise their services. This is a sea-change that will impact greatly here. And then I would imagine further afield as other local government agencies the world over look for savings.

When the adverts go, they might come back or be filled by new business, so the spaces may close or remain open. If they remain open the cheapest way to fill them is with cartoons and comic strips. That is possible. What is also possible is that real competition for readers will begin and the tired old strips that only the old reliable readership, that no longer attracts advertisers, once insisted on seeing in their papers will disappear, to be replaced by new and exciting and relevent comics.

Either that, or the newspapers will cut costs as advertisers go and drop the comics like so many hot bricks. It can go either way, I think. So, it’s best to be prepared.

#14 pranav gupta
@ 11:28 am

this is pranav from india and i recently joined a newspaper in india. i m workin in marketing department and our newspaper is 3rd most popular in chennai region. i want 2 incresa d circulation of d paper. comics concept seems gud. can u people throw sum more light on it or suggest any other strategies

#15 Dawn Douglass
@ 11:47 am


You should definitely add lots of comics to your newspaper. India has consistently been a top market for mobile comic images and strips. Comics will be well appreciated there.

Not to be insulting, but Indian cartoonists are still learning the craft. If you want the really good cartoons that can keep readers coming back (and also be good examples and inspiration for your local talent), I suggest you contact Atlantic Syndication.

Just write to Kristin Norell (that’s a woman, in case you aren’t familiar with the name):

She can show you a number of comic features to choose from, tell you how much they will cost, and answer any questions you have.

Good luck getting to be #1! Comics will certainly help!

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