Because I am middle aged and need to get in training for my cranky Get off my lawn years, and because I’m in a pandemic with long hours sitting at home, I did a study of the Sunday comics section in the Buffalo News.
This was inspired by years of opening the Sunday comics section and rarely seeing anything that made me chuckle, impressed me with artistic skill, Prince Valiant notwithstanding, or combined humor with insight into our lives now, the magnificent exception being Doonesbury. Is there something wrong with me? Of course. Humor is in the eye of the beholder and I do not have 20/20 vision. Did I mention we’re in a global pandemic? But there’s something wrong with the Sunday comics, too.
Omitting puzzles and games, I counted 24 syndicated comic strips in the Sunday comics section. None originate here in Buffalo. Then I looked up their ages. From Blondie, founded in 1930, to the youngest, Pros & Cons, founded in 2008, the average age of a Sunday strip is 44 years old. If you aspire to be a Sunday funnies cartoonist, like I did as a child, you should have gotten started around 1978.
Only 3 strips, 12%, were founded in this century. Seven of the 24, or 28% of the strips, are 62 or older and eligible to draw Social Security. Their characters are frozen in a long-gone mid-20th century America.
American servicemen and women have fought in multiple conflicts since Beetle Bailey was founded in 1950, but you’d never know it from cringey plot lines that steer carefully away from anything resembling military life today. Aren’t there any veterans drawing comics about their lives?
American households come in all places, sizes, configurations, and colors, but on Sunday, I see a preponderance of white-middle-class-nuclear-families-in-the-suburbs (Peanuts, Family Circus, Blondie, Zits, Dennis the Menace, Sally Forth.) As though this specific demographic and its sensibilities represent something universally relatable.
One strip, Jump Start, focuses on a Black family in Philadelphia. Other than Jump Start, why is city life absent from the comics page? What about farm life? College life? Factory life? Aren’t there any strips by and about immigrants? Humor can be found everywhere.
We are living in a golden age of visual storytelling, starting with the zine movement, which took off in the 1970s, thanks to the advent of inexpensive photocopy technology. Graphic novels came of age in 1982, when Art Spiegelman won a Pulitzer prize for Maus. Manga, or Japanese comics, have had a devoted American audience for decades. This creative explosion is reflected nowhere in the Sunday comics, which are dominated by senescent strips from before I was born.
No doubt there is much to the syndication process that is invisible to the ordinary Sunday subscriber, but apparently certain comics now own valuable Sunday newspaper real estate in perpetuity, such as Peanuts, Blondie and Dennis the Menace, the last two of which are drawn by the founder’s descendants or others.
This does not occur on the editorial page. When editorial columnists die, their children are not entitled to continue Mom or Dad’s column. Emerging columnists and new viewpoints get an opportunity to shine. This natural cycle of talent has been stifled for decades in the Sunday comics. For the sake of the new audiences that the News needs and deserves, it is time to end Sunday comic strip monopolies from the last century. Please make me laugh again.
|Strip||Founded||Age in 2022||Eligible for SS|
|Pros & Cons||2008||14|
|Dog Eat Doug||2004||18|
|Pearls Before Swine||2001||21|
|For Better For Worse||1979||43|
|Hagar the Horrible||1973||49|
|Wizard of Id||1964||58|
|Dennis the Menace||1951||71||Y|
I submitted this as a My View column to the Buffalo News on January 24, 2022. Having gotten no response, I am posting it here. Lead image by author.