Comics debate is nothing to laugh at

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Remember what your mama said?

Polite company doesn’t bring up three topics at dinner: politics, religion or comics.

That is what she said, isn’t it?

The last of that trio breeds fightin’ words just like the other two, only most of the comics bruises and scrapes are to the ego. Some readers slide right past the daily Funnies Page and skip the Sunday Comics, and life, to them, isn’t bad. But to the diehards, no good day can begin without a hefty dose of favored comic strips. And that’s where the battle begins.

When a Press letter writer recently noted his affinity for a cuddly comic strip about a young family and their cats, the editor of this publication added a note, asking what other people liked or disliked.

Dumber questions have been asked, but we can’t think of any off the top of our heads. The question was dumb because one of the fantastic things about comic strips — like music, like books, like teams, like desserts — is that almost everybody loves something but not everybody loves one thing. Even the Greatest Comic Strip of All time, Calvin and Hobbes, was not unanimous in its popularity. A 47-year-old man in Ajo, Ariz., was rumored to dislike Bill Watterson’s masterful creation.

And so with the Breaking Cat News letter to the editor, an informal survey began. As might have been predicted, the vast majority of readers responding to that simple, stupid question couldn’t agree on a darned thing. Like your granddaughter’s spilled spaghetti, it was all over the place.

So what’s the point? It’s this: The comics page is a smorgasbord with several factors determining what editors decide to offer. One is popularity of comic strips in other markets. If it does well in many other places, logic suggests it’ll do OK here.

Another factor is local reader feedback. Unfortunately, most readers don’t express opinions about comics until they’re removed in favor of a comic strip that looks like it’ll be more popular. Then the chorus of crying reaches a crescendo.

Still another major factor is cost. The Press spends about $70,000 on its comics each year, including fees to the syndicates that represent the artists, newsprint, ink and staff time. The price of comics only goes up, and in recent years so has newsprint and ink. That’s a significant investment for a fairly small paper like The Press and explains why some papers have reduced comics or dropped their comics pages altogether.

For the record, we’re not planning any big changes to our comics lineup based on the latest feedback. Like mama also said, it’s just good to know that people care.

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