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Posted at 01:00 PM ET, 06/29/2010

THE RIFF: Is 'SNL' talent blazing a trail for the future of newspaper comics?


Just how far will fans of comics and comedy go to bask in a sense of nostalgia?

Michael Arndt, screenwriter of the record-setting "Toy Story 3," recently told Comic Riffs that his film's toy characters -- like the recently posted "MrCrazycommercial" retro ads on YouTube -- are meant to summon a generation or two's warm and fuzzy memories.

Kirk Thatcher, who directed last year's viral video of the Muppets singing "Bohemian Rhapsody," told Comic Riffs that his creative crew knew the nostalgic power of mashing up two things that first registered with millions of Boomers and Gen-X'ers in the '70s.

And our Style colleague Hank Stuever recently wrote that the book "You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto" "laments that for all the talk about the future, the Web is too frequently put to the uses of nostalgia. It has a become a tool we use to call up clips of TV shows we thought we'd never see again, commercial jingles we thought lost to time ... to remake or mash up songs we loved 20, 30, 70 years ago. It is a device by which we vote to have our surrogate TV grandma [Betty White] honored by putting her through the grueling pace of an improvised, live comedy sketch show."

That live comedy sketch show, of course, is "Saturday Night Live," which brings us neatly to the latest attempt by some "SNL" veterans to tap that same sense of nostalgia, if not exploit it.

Led by former "SNL' head writer Fred Wolf (who co-write the current film "Grown Ups"), a veritable retirement home of the show's onetime Not Ready for Primetime Players -- including Kevin Nealon, Tim Meadows, Molly Shannon, Colin Quinn, Norm MacDonald, Dana Carvey and David Spade -- is trying to help define the future of newspaper comics. And to do so, they are going back to the future.

"Beyond the Comics" is a new feature consisting of demi-sketch "webcomic" animations (from the Church Lady to Jack Handey's "Deep Thoughts") voiced by former "SNL" talents and some other comedians, including Sarah Silverman. And a handful of newspapers -- including the SeattlePI.com and SFGate.com -- picked up last week's test launch to see whether the feature has a future with newspaper comics readers.

(We should note: The feature was co-created by the marketing agency Wirestone, which says its participation included "strategy, character development, illustration, branding, design, sound effects, animation, and implementation." That all?)

So why should newspaper editors consider jumping on board?

Humberto Martínez, who writes for SeattlePI.com, tells Comic Riffs: "The project is a noble notion, attempting to revive the idea that people get their comics from a newspaper organization, alongside information that matters. Comic strips still do really well on our website, particularly 'Funky Winkerbean' and 'Zits,' which for years have mysteriously gotten tons of traffic on our site with help from Google and other search engines."

"This is a chance," Martinez says, "for someone to try something new and steal some viewers back from YouTube, FunnyorDie [itself founded by ex-"SNL" talent] and other sites that took some of that audience away from us."

And what's the reaction been like so far? One SeattlePI.com reader commented: "These comics are great! they blow garfield, beetle, et al right out of the water!" Another commenter posted: "Funny, funny, funny...plus we get to pick our fav." And another wrote: "The Church Lady sketch didn't seem nearly enough like the Original SNL Version to suit "my" tastes. But that's just me. ... That said, I thought it was otherwise very good and would definitely tune in again."

To which Comic Riffs replies: Are the animations really that good -- or is that just the nostalgia talking?

If you think the Beyond the Comics newspaper webcomics either rock or reek, feel free to fire away.

By  |  01:00 PM ET, 06/29/2010

Categories:  The Riffs, The Riffs, The Riffs | Tags:  Beyond the Comics, Fred Wolf, Kirk Thatcher, Michael Arndt, SFGate.com, Saturday Night Live, SeattlePI.com, The Muppets, Toy Story 3

 
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