Eleven Sundays from now, Post readers are in for a treat: the color comics will take on a new hue. Come Nov. 15, the Sunday funnies will be printed with a new process that not only will make your favorite strips appear brighter and crisper but is guaranteed to prevent them from rubbing off, a revolutionary development in color printing. Alas, the process still has some bugs in it when it comes to reproducing black and white, the greatest combination created since man and woman.
This Sunday innovation came to light quite by accident, during my pursuit of information about the fiscal thinking involved in the use of comics in the daily press, and about why there are three great daily newspapers in the United States that seem to do perfectly well without them -- The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor. No other paper can. If you think that first cover story in the new Post Sunday magazine started a full-scale reader rebellion, it would look like a minor revolt compared with what would happen if The Post suddenly decided to drop, say, "The Far Side" or "Herman." In fact, The Post did abandon "Herman" a year ago, and the next day it registered nine on the Richter scale. "Herman" was reinstated pronto.
My research also revealed that The Post (and possibly the Baltimore Sun) devotes more space to comics than any other daily newspaper; that the comics are a serious "big bucks" operation, commanding the attention of top editorial and business executives; and that though the comics are a sort of financial lifeboat, it is women and children last in terms of readership. A recent survey shows that more men than women read the funnies, with kids coming in third.
Most newspapers, including The Post, do not print the Sunday comics themselves. Sixty percent of the country's color comics are churned out by the presses of a family-owned company headquartered in Buffalo. Every week, 10 trailer trucks travel through the night to deliver well over a million copies of the comics, which become part of The Post 10 days later.
As people more sophisticated than I are aware, there's nothing funny about the funnies. Making way for new strips of great promise is done with glacial speed by executives normally accustomed to dealing only with world-shaking events. A meeting to determine a major change in strips would be called by Deputy Managing Editor Richard Harwood, who is in day-to-day charge of the comics, along with other Sunday sections such as Book World and Outlook. Those attending the meeting would probably be the managing editor, the executive editor, the publisher and perhaps one or two news reporters to provide a "common touch." The convocation would have all the solemnity of a board of review convened to determine the legality of a death sentence about to be carried out at the state capital. To sign up a new strip that promises to be a sensation usually requires dropping one of equal length, and that is a decision of Biblical proportions.
Oddly enough, comic strips before the turn of the century were the source of a new phrase in the English language, "yellow journalism," which to this day describes sensational and irresponsible newspaper stories. It evolved from a circulation war between two New York newspapers, both of which used a strip of drawings -- probably not of the comic variety -- that were printed with yellow ink. The strip boosted circulation of both newspapers to more than a million copies a day, which newspapers have difficulty achieving today even in monopoly situations.
A byproduct of my research was forced reading of the Sunday comics. I may be a little slow, but one Sunday, for example, "Peanuts" and "Doonesbury" simply didn't register with me. When I asked friends to explain, they looked at me as though I were an idiot. The "Bloom County" strip startled me. In six panels, stripper Berke Breathed took on the TV performance of Lt. Col. Oliver North in an absolutely devastating commentary, alongside of which columnist Mary McGrory looked like Shirley Temple and columnist Haynes Johnson like Little Lord Fauntleroy.
The Sunday comics are a whole new world; and as Tarzan said to Jane: it's a jungle out ther