I defended Stephan Pastis two weeks ago, and now old people hate me.
Here’s the background.
Last month, the editor at my paper decided to make a change to the comics page, replacing Jan Eliot’s Stone Soup with Terri Libenson’s The Pajama Diaries. I can’t say I ever read Stone Soup all that closely, so it wasn’t particularly tragic for me.
But, it’s a change to the comics page. For anybody who might read this that isn’t involved in the newspaper industry, there are few things you can do that will illicit more anger on a newsroom that a change to the comics page. So in come the irate e-mails. But, not only do most of these e-mails decry the ditching of Stone Soup, they also demonized any changes to the comics page whatsoever and bashed several strips in paricular: Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine, Darby Conley’s Get Fuzzy and Tony Carillo’s F Minus.
I joined the paper right after another extremely controversial comics change, when a previous editor added Pearls Before Swine by getting rid of Alley Oop, which I came to discover had been running in our newspaper since at least 1935.
No, that’s not a typo. 1935.
That who crisis was eventually smoothed over by creating a separate “classic comics” section in the classifieds apart from the main comics page.
I’m a big Pearls fan, so of course I wanted to defend my favorite comic from what had become a steady stream of criticism. But there was two other things I was noticing.
First, all the comics under attack were new in comic terms, having been syndicated after 2000.
The second I’ll illustrate from a conversation I had about this with one of my pastors:
Me: Well, based on the way all these letters were written, the word choice, it seems like they’re all…well…veterans of life, you know?
Pastor: They’re old, Rob. Those letters were written by old people.
Me: Yeah. I was just trying to be nice, though.
So, I had my basis for writing a counterargument column. I said the average comic in our paper has been around for 20-plus years (I made a list). Frequently, comics that have been around that long tend to grow stale and irrelevant to younger audiences. Thus, it’s in newspapers’ and comics’ best interests to abandon comics that are no longer entertaining and give new artists an opportunity to get published and develop their craft.
If you missed the link at the top of the post, you can click here to read the comic here.
Not surprising, the reaction was mixed. I got a pretty nice thank-you e-mail from Mark Tatulli, who draws the strips Lio and Heart of the City. Yes, I even got some support from readers over 70, like this snippet from an email:
We are a nostalgic people, aren’t we? It is hard to see something that we have become attached to change. We trust that some things will always be there, like our favorite comic strip, or a favorite news commentator (I spent most of my life listening to Paul Harvey.) or a favorite sports team (Minnesota Lakers). When the inevitable happens and we lose a favorite, it shakes us a bit, and spurs some of us to try to get it back. But we are also resilient and flexible. After all, how could I have become a “Zits” fan, or an “O’Riley” fan, or (heaven forbid) a ”Kings” fan if I hadn’t experienced the changes that brought them about?
Oh, and I definitely got some scorn, too. It went about 50-50 each way:
Perhaps you should consider creating a separate section in the paper that contains strips that irritate, befuddle, or are just plain dumb. Since this suggestion is as senseless as some of the current comic section content, I hope you see my point.
Regardless of the “hate mail” you have received that denigrates certain strips, I would like to suggest to your Interactive Content Producer that these suggestions/complaints were all submitted by subscribers like me. I have paid to receive your paper for fifteen years and, like many other products, if I determine that I am not getting what I pay for, then I stop paying. If your Interactive Content Producer feels that his input is of a higher priority than those who pay to read the newspaper, then it might be a good idea to suggest that he should consider another occupation other than trying to provide content that meets the needs of your readers.
Yes, all that hate mail I got were from people over 70. And yes, this reader did highlight my job title sarcastically in the original post, although just in italics. He also later sent an Excel spreadsheet where he and his wife rated all the comics in our paper from 1 to 5 stars. The listed sample size was “two educated retired persons.”
But, was I just writing about comics, or was there more to it? Was I really talking about the future of journalism as a whole? Follow-up post to come on that.