The Comics Page: Living on a Thin Line

Jan Bosman in the Northwest Herald:

The last several months, I have noticed obvious differences among [the Herald’s comic] strips. Some cartoonists frequently incorporate coronavirus references into their submissions, while others stay with their basic story lines. For example, Tom Thaves shows Frank & Ernest wearing masks when they’re out in public. And those amiable characters make topical references to sports stadiums such as, “In baseball, ‘shutout’ now has two meanings.”

In “Blondie,” one of the longest-running strips, Dean Young has the Bumsteads, a middle-class suburban family, mostly continue with their daily mishaps – no masks in sight. And the “Pickles” writer Brian Crane portrays 70-year-olds Earl and Opal inside their house continuing to enjoy an imperfect retirement.

Jan continues:

Each cartoonist has a distinct point of view. And each has the primary responsibility to create cartoons that amuse, educate and entertain, helping newspapers that carry their work gain readership. That’s a hearty menu. And there are risks involved in drawing a strip, because the creator can’t please all of the readers all of the time.

For example, “Dick Tracy,” drawn for years by Woodstock’s Chester Gould, was widely criticized for being too right-wing in character and excessively supportive of the police. Critics thought Gould ignored the rights of the accused. The strip continues in newspapers today.

Jan concludes by noting

The comics that we read define so clearly who we are. They make us grin, chortle, laugh out loud or, sometimes, scratch our heads. They accomplish that by being relevant, but not too controversial, funny, but not crass or irreverent.

Though to be fair, The Herald’s comics pages contain only one somewhat political strip.

Jan does delve into some comic strip history:

“Beetle Bailey,” written by World War II veteran Mort Walker, was banned by the Stars and Stripes – the Pacific edition of the U.S. military newspaper – in 1954. The paper believed Beetle mocked the authority of officers and encouraged laziness in the ranks.

Though, like a number of people relating that story, she fails to mention Beetle Bailey was soon restored to the paper and continues running daily and Sunday to this very day. Even opening the Sunday Funnies of the weekend edition.



Speaking of Beetle Bailey, a letter writer to the Press Herald objects to the strip:

Practically every day I am amazed that the Press Herald continues to publish “Beetle Bailey,” which is dated, sexist, unfunny and based almost completely around the plot line of a superior physically abusing a member of his unit.

The letter lead to a number of pro and con online responses.

I wonder if the newspaper editor saved the letter to be printed on Wednesday,
traditionally Miss Buxley’s day to star in the comic.      Happy Birthday Beetle.

5 thoughts on “The Comics Page: Living on a Thin Line

  1. Nice post! Thanks. (I read the comments on Beetle Bailey. The problem with Beetle Bailey is not that it’s old or non-PC. Blondie’s as old as they come, and Pickles, like Calvin and Hobbes, has characters with stereotypical gender roles. But those strips are often (and in the case of C&H, was always) witty. The problem with Beetle Bailey, it seems to me, is that it’s taking up space that could be better used by more thoughtful strips.)

  2. I don’t know if Beetle Bailey is dated as much as the military is relatively unchanging. Drill Sergeants still chew out recruits, there is still KP, and digging ditches is commonplace. As long as these things exist (and they always will) Beetle will still be relevant. In a rapidly changing world (that is not always changing for the better) it’s not a bad thing to have a point of reference; a direct link to our past, lest we forget. This is why classics are classics. Besides, a good comic doesn’t necessarily have to be thought provoking, it just has to be funny.

  3. Speaking of Stars and Stripes, I just saw a BBC article that said Trump is shutting that paper down. Another outrage from a President who uses our troops like toilet paper. We must end this madness, or our country will cease to exist. And yes, I am a veteran.

  4. Well, that’s good news. It doesn’t get Trump off the hook for the other things, in my opinion, but at least Stars and Stripes is safe for now. You’re really on top of this one, the article I read was only a few hours old.

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