IT’S LIKE a Sudoku puzzle wrapped in an enigma shrouded in the mystery of a missing cartoon balloon:
Who would kill the comics in the New York Post and — with what remotely logical motive — why?
It has long been accepted logic that comics attract many newspaper readers, and that industry truism has persisted, even as the business of newspaper comics has changed radically in recent decades. For what honest reason, then, would newspaper honchos suddenly scrub their pages of every last comic strip? Beyond dollars and sense, that would seem to be a decision made with extreme prejudice.
Granted, as a cartoonist and comics fan, I am approaching today’s puzzle with extreme prejudice. Perhaps that’s why the answer has eluded me, at least since media-watchdog blogger Jim Romenesko spotlighted the development Thursday afternoon: “The New York Post Drops Its Comics Section (And Few People Notice).”
Now, I’m not yet convinced that few people noticed. I’d hazard the scenario that thousands of New York Post readers looked to feed their daily comics demi-fix in recent days and, flustered and flummoxed, just gave up the hunt as their subway stop approached or a neighboring de Blasio headline beckoned.
I mean, it’s not as if — if reports are accurate — the Post clearly alerted its readers of the dramatic change or anything. Not even a ransom note, apparently.
“One of my reactions” to this news, cartoonist Hilary Price tells The Post’s Comic Riffs, “is that there was no announcement in the New York Post. That creates confusion among the readers. If you’re sitting there on the subway and reading your newspaper and looking for your comics page, your first inclination is [to think]: I must be missing a page. Not: Oh, the comics are gone.”
One of the seven comic strips that has gone missing from the Post in recent days, “Rhymes With Orange,” is written and drawn by Price, who is a finalist for for the National Cartoonist Society’s Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year (which will be presented May 24 in San Diego).
“It didn’t seem respectful to readers” not to announce the change, says Price, whose strip is syndicated by King Features. “To have an outcry, you have to give people access to [knowledge of] the news.”
(Comic Riffs called the New York Post newsroom Thursday afternoon seeking comment; an employee acknowledged the news about the dropped comics, but the paper did not respond to multiple requests for more information.)
An announcement in the Post’s pages might have helped readers glean who made the decision. Some industry observers point to Jesse Angelo, who as the paper’s new publisher began making changes a year ago. Of the publisher, Price says: “I think he’s taking a gamble. He’s not reaching out to ask readers what [they would] like. His way of business is not a way I’m familiar with.”
Yet regardless of who made the call — and even if the New York Post was disrespectful, or thoughtless, or simply ham-handed in how it failed to sufficiently inform readers — the greater curiosity for me is: Why? In this act against comics readership, what’s the motive? Because if this move has any reverberations beyond the Post, such an insight might inform what other newspaper executives are thinking about their comics within the ongoing battle over print real estate.
Granted, seven strips is not an abundance of space to devote to comics. Yet it’s enough to be a distinct side-dish in the Post’s larger menu of engaging features.
“Even though they didn’t carry many comics, we still think it’s a mistake” to cut them, Universal Uclick president and editorial director John Glynn tells Comic Riffs. (The affected Universal strips are “Garfield,” “Heart of the City” and “Non Sequitur.”)
“A newspaper without comics is like a pizza without the cheese,” Glynn continues. “There might be a small amount of readers who like it that way, but everyone else will notice a big part of what makes newspapers special is gone.”
Also turning to a culinary metaphor, Price tells us: “The newspaper is a buffet. The comics page is a buffet.”
Besides the aforementioned strips, the other comics affected are “Dennis the Menace” and “Mallard Fillmore” (syndicated by King Features) and “Wizard of Id” (Creators Syndicate). The seven dropped Post strips (which Romenesko pictures here), it’s worth noting, represent a reasonably diverse blend of older and relatively newer comics, and of multi-panel and single-panel features.
Which leads me to ask, yet again: Why eliminate such broadly appealing fare from your menu of features?
“Perhaps if they [the Post’s comics decision-makers] learned something about comics, particularly on how they attract and hold readers, they might have thought to go the other way and invest in more comics to improve their product and bottom line,” Wiley Miller, the creator of “Non Sequitur,” tells Comic Riffs, by way of making a whole lot of sense.
“That, after all, is why comics were created in the first place, and it still works today as it did 100 years ago for newspapers,” continues Miller, who — like Price — is a finalist for the Reuben Award later this month.
“Comics provides entertainment for the readership,” Price says with emphasis. “With the Post’s gossip and celebrity news and opinions, the comics are one leg of that stool.”
Now, will enough readers care that, while looking at their New York Post on the subway or elsewhere, the seating just got less fun and inviting?