The Continuing Collapse Of The Comic Strip

a.k.a. “Another One Bites The Dust”, in this case being Terry & Patty Laban’s Edge City strip, which just finished a 15 year run in far too typical a manner:  A good strip, well drawn, well written, a core base of fans & readers, but never enough to break mainstream consciousness and, in the end, not nearly enough to justify the syndicator keeping them on. Edge City - Terry and Patty Laban 1

Last November, as some of you may recall, Dinette Set went under without so much as an official nod from either artist or syndicator.

And Maria’s Day, a once delightful daily strip also found at GoComics.com has been reduced to Sunday-only single panel gags.

And several other strips are missing the occasional daily post; in a world where fewer and fewer newspapers carry fewer and fewer strips, these features are often found only online, and the blessing / curse of online media is that one doesn’t have to consume it on the creator/s schedule.

I mean, c’mon, folks, that’s what binge watching on Hulu or Netflix is all about, am I right?

The classic one-to-four panel daily comic strip is an artifact of the past, and even while new ones are being tried out, the sad truth is there is no real place for them.

Their offspring, the webcomic, may survive, but to do so it will probably have to evolve, both in terms of content and presentation.

While cartoons have been around since before Gutenberg, and had certainly been appearing in print as long as there were people making prints of anything, they certainly flowered during the heyday of printed media in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Comic strips were published (along with other regular features) with the intent of enticing casual readers back again and again to a daily newspaper.

While they certainly included younger kids in their audience, truth be told they had adult readers from the gitgo.

At their high water mark (roughly late 1920s to mid-1960s) they were essential cultural touchstones:  Regardless of who you were or where you lived, everybody was familiar with the comic strips that defined their culture (i.e., specific time and place in world history).

Foreign readers may have had an entirely different batch of strips[1] but nonetheless they had strips that defined their lives for them.

And regardless of whether the strips were gag-a-day, soap operas, adventures, or fantasy, something about them linked you to other people in your community / culture.

Even to this day, long after they have ceased to appear in print on a regular basis, certain comics strips still inform the national discourse:  “That crazy Buck Rogers stuff”, “Well, blow me down!”, “It was a dark and stormy night…”, etc., etc., and of course, etc.

They were an odd form of niche marketing:  There was seemingly a comic strip for every specific taste and interest and audience[2] and if one was willing to look, ample places for them to appear.

But nothing remains static and the days when the bulk of America gleaned its cultural clues through daily newspapers has long since passed.

And while many are fond of the format of the old comic strips, there’s really no compelling reason to stick with that format in today’s media world.[3]

Today’s webcomics don’t set the terms of the cultural debates, they only reinforce our pre-existing prejudices and biases, “prejudices and biases” here not necessarily referring to anything negative but rather the presumptions we live with in our daily lives.

We follow webcomics because they agree with our points of view, we do not turn to them to see what other people are thinking.

There’s no real innovation on the remaining comics page anymore.

There are a large number of very well done strips, but there’s no real breakthrough the way Calvin And Hobbes broke through, or even the original run of Bloom County.[4]

I read Peanuts Begins and get more out of it than any contemporary strip (and I do enjoy a number of contemporary strips).

As the writer Jack Enyart once observed, the best work in any medium is done at the very start and the very end of that medium’s dominance; the former breaking boundaries with new ideas, the latter distilling those ideas down to their perfect core.

We are enjoying the long wake of the comic strip; we will not see its like again.

But nobody really wants to close the bar and go home…

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[1]  Tho not necessarily; a lot of American strips found loyal audiences in some truly oddball places, such as the Nordic countries really glomming onto The Phantom.

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[2]  As a young boy, I followed Dondi religiously; the stories of a young Italian-American refugee trying to find his place in America resonated with me as my own mother was an Italian who met my American father during WWII.  Dondi is not held in very high esteem by most comic strip fans / historians, but it made a difference to me, dammit!

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[3]  Indeed, a strong argument can and has been made for more experimentation, but we’ll leave that topic for another day.

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[4]  Bloom County is back with new material online, and I read it, but it’s more for nostalgia than any real enjoyment. 

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Edge City © Terry and Patty Laban

 

 

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