Newspapers and comics: A historic tie

Published: Thursday, July 28 2011 3:50 p.m. MDT

"Pickles," by Brian Crane, which follows the exploits of Earl and Opal Pickles, appears daily in the Deseret News.

Washington Post Writers Group

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When I was a kid growing up in Barberton, Ohio, I lived for the Sunday comics. We didn't take the newspaper all week, but I was allowed to walk to the corner drugstore and buy one.

It was a ritual that was broken one day when I asked my dad for the coins and he replied, "I don't think we'll get one today."

I was crestfallen.

"Why don't you go out and look on the front porch?" he said. "I think I saw some spare change there."

I ran out to look, and lo and behold, there was the whole newspaper sitting on our porch. Finally, we were subscribers, and I could enjoy the comics week after week without trekking to the drugstore.

One of my favorites was "The Adventures of Smilin' Jack," the dashing aviator with a small, black moustache I could only dream of growing some day. And then there was "Dondi," about a war orphan with huge, sad eyes who was adopted by an American soldier.

And "Brenda Starr," which chronicled the exciting life of a red-haired newspaper reporter, not to mention "Dick Tracy," the square-jaw cop who had a cool two-way wrist radio. And to bring a smile and a chuckle were "Peanuts," with the innocent, klutzy Charlie Brown, and "Nancy," with her buzz-haircut friend, Sluggo.

Through the years, newspaper comics have been used as a lure to increase the number of readers, according to M. Thomas Inge, Blackwell Professor of the Humanities at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., and avowed fan of newspaper comics.

Comics were circulation builders in the past, he said, and newspapers in the same town competed to get the comics they thought their readers would follow. Many newspapers survived because of the popularity of the strips they printed, he added.

Newspapers and comics "are tied together historically in a way you can't separate them," Inge said. "That's where they started, that's where they began, and they were designed to suit that format and they still are. They were meant for that daily consumption, a joke a day, a bit of a story line a day."

Comics still have an interest to people who read the newspaper, Inge said, although there have been tough times in the industry and it's difficult for new cartoonists to break into the business.

Inge cited Richard Thompson and his "Cul de Sac" strip, which is carried by the Deseret News, as one of the new ones drawing attention. Thompson won the National Cartoonists Society's most recent Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year.

"Who would have thought another strip about children?" Inge said. "Children's strips hang in there and keep somehow re-inventing themselves. After we had 'Peanuts' and 'Dennis the Menace,' here comes 'Calvin and Hobbes' and here comes 'Cul de Sac.' People do seem to like strips about children."

Besides "Cul de Sac," Inge counts among his favorites the gentle "Mutts," also carried by the Deseret News; "Brewster Rockit," a new comic that looks at life from a space perspective; "Peanuts"; "Zits"; and "Dilbert."

Marilyn Broadbent, a reader from Logan, said, "We still read the comics, probably because one can relate to whatever the circumstances and laugh about our own situations."

After all these years, it's still comforting to go outside every morning and see the newspaper — with comics included — on the porch.

Your top 5

The Deseret News is considering changes to its comics page and is offering readers a chance to weigh in on our selection.

We'd like to hear your top five favorite comics printed in our newspaper — and, if you feel so inclined, your five least favorite.

Please email a list to comics@desnews.com or give feedback online at deseretnews.com.

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