Friday, January 07, 2005

"Garfield" put to sleep

My friend Matt tipped me off to this yesterday. The Los Angeles Times kicked "Garfield" off its daily comics page (the Sunday strip will still run) in favor of a new (and much funnier, from what I can tell) strip, titled "Brevity." Unfortunately, I can't link to the article explaining the decision because it's in the "Calendar Live" section which requires a paid subscription. So I'll quote and link to the article Matt sent me from "Editor & Publisher."

"We're always trying to get some new talent in the comics pages," said Jennifer James, an editorial aide for the LA Times.

Applause for the LA Times! Now other big, metropolitan newspapers (and small market ones, as well) need to follow suit. Newspaper comics sections are filled with outdated, unfunny, long-past-their-prime strips, like "Peanuts," "B.C.," "Beetle Bailey," "Marmaduke," and perhaps the most popular comic strip punching bag, "The Family Circus." These antiques need to be shuffled out and replaced with more fresh blood. Where's the next "Get Fuzzy," "Pearls Before Swine," or

Gene Weingarten, a Washington Post humor columnist, had some funny comments on the matter during his weekly chat at yesterday, referring to "Garfield" as "
just stupid schmaltz."

"'Garfield' is the worst thing on the comics pages," Weingarten also said, "a strip produced by a committee, devoid of originality, devoid of guts, a strip cynically DESIGNED to be inoffensive and bad, on the theory that public tastes are insipid." Yowza!

My close-to-hometown paper, the Detroit Free Press, still has "Garfield," but it's been ahead of the curve with pumping its comics page with new blood over the past few years. Besides "Get Fuzzy," "Pearls Before Swine," other strips like "Speed Bump," "Frazz," "Housebroken," and "La Cucaracha" (and a handful of others I unfortunately can't remember) have all gotten a chance in the Freep. But they could probably do even more.

I know many people like old reliable stand-bys in their newspaper, but how many of these strips actually enterain their readers? How many times does one of these mediocre strips elicit a laugh, or even a chuckle?
Reading "Cathy" is just a routine, along with eating that morning bowl of Cheerios. Maybe it made you laugh once, or you related to something in it, so you keep coming back. But how often do you really remember a joke or talk about it with someone else? I've never had a conversation with a friend about "Heathcliff." But I talk about "Get Fuzzy" and "Pearls Before Swine" all the time with one of my good friends. (Is that the third time I've mentioned those strips? Geez, that's a lot of free plug-ola.)

Of course, one person's funny strip is another's groaner. I'm sure "Luann" and "Arlo and Janis" don't work for some readers, but I enjoy them. However, when they run out of gas or their creators decide to put the pens away, or worse yet, farm the work out to staffers, I'd expect them to go quietly and with dignity. And a good comics page editor would be more than willing to send them out the door.

(And if a reader was willing to cancel his or her subscription because "Garfield" was taken out of the comics section, then how seriously was that person really taking the newspaper in the first place? Maybe the newspaper has other problems besides the fat, lasagna-loving cat.)