Sunday, April 15, 2007

Legacy strips




After the Johnny Hart's death last week, Creators Syndicate announced that his strips, B.C. and The Wizard of Id, would be continued by assistants and "digital archives." Some folks are upset about this. One of the common myths in the internet comic strip community is that new cartoonists are kept out of the newspapers by the proliferation of "legacy strips," or, in other words, comics by dead guys. When a cartoonist dies, his strip should cease running and a new cartoonist should get his chance, goes the popular thinking. And I've found myself disagreeing.

While we're getting rid of fifty-year old Peanuts, should we also keep John Lennon off the radio, stop selling Miles Davis albums, and take I Love Lucy off the air?

No doubt, some of these legacy strips are patently awful. (I'm looking right at you, Nancy.) But, so is most everything on television, commercial radio and the best-seller lists. Unfortunately, the major networks and the major newspapers aren't necessarily catering to our refined tastes. They are putting out what they think will sell. And for the most part they're right. Most newspaper readers would prefer to see Dagwood collide with the mailman for millionth time instead of reading a brilliant web-comic filled with timely pop-culture references and sassy talking animals.

Anybody frustrated with the staleness of newspaper comics can find fresher, quirkier stuff elsewhere--the web, a big city's alternative weekly, a good comic book store. Any good cartoonist frustrated with the business aspect of the whole comic strip business can create his or her own alternate distribution system. It's not the syndicates' job to make sure you get exposure. That is yours.

14 Comments:

Anonymous Adam said...

Maybe you realize this, but your comparison is completely off. Re-running Peanuts is comparable to playing John Lennon, selling Miles Davis albums, and running re-runs of I Love Lucy. Setting assistants and "digital archives" loose on B.C. is not.

I would compare it to dragging the dead body of Lennon out of his grave, touching it up a bit, and then waving it around on stage while lip-syncing songs written and sung by his relatives.

That may be a bit harsh... but you get the idea. :)

10:22 PM  
Anonymous counterhegemony said...

I'm not sure pitting the comics page vs. other mainstream media - i.e. the radio and television - is a completely fair comparison.

The comics page is only one small aspect of your typical paper, whereas the music format and television shows chosen by a particular station is the sum of its identity. This is important, because if a person doesn't like a particular song or show, they can switch the channel... However, most people who don't like their comics page probably won't drop their subscription, because they still like/need the stock page, the opinion page, the headlines, local sports, etc. So basically, there is no motivation for a comics editor to actually provide a quality product, and in fact spending money to find and encourage new talent is probably outright discouraged... why bother, when Marmaduke still makes the shut-ins chuckle?

If mainstream radio was allowed to get away with this type of lazy business sense, two-thirds of our radio stations would still be playing the latest "hits" as interpreted by Bing Crosby and Lawrence Welk. Radio and television was forced to evolve to appeal to changing cultural tastes... for far too long, the comics page hasn't. And this latest nonsense with B.C. only shows that no-one established in the business will ever care how culturally irrellevant their product is, as long as their checks don't bounce.

2:16 PM  
Blogger Antonio said...

I kind of agree with the previous comments, but I
think you're right about
new cartoonist finding their own ways of getting exposures
and not leaving it up to the syndicates.

8:01 PM  
Anonymous R said...

RI agree for the most part, but I guess one advantage of working with a syndicate is it gives you more impetus to get off your ass and finish your strip on time. Being left to your own devices can make you sloppy.. at least, it makes me sloppy.

7:46 AM  
Blogger narthan said...

All I'll say about the legacy comics issue is that I have no idea who they appeal to besides comics bloggers who maintain a smirking love-hate admiration for them.

Speaking of Nancy though, I was reminded of this article by Scott McCloud:
5 Card Nancy

SPP in one of my favorite webcomics last week:
Gunnerkrigg Court

8:44 AM  
Blogger Mike P said...

SPP in my very own webcomic.

2:48 PM  
Anonymous windie said...

I want Quality strips on the page... And lets be honest, really good strips get their shot (ie: Get fuzzy or The Boondocks 6-7 years ago).

Hell, I'd go as far as to say that most of the strips that get their chance at syndication are crap, and deservedly don't make it.

I kinda like the legacy strips, because it means you probably have to be truly amazing to get that piece of space on the page. We don't need mediocre new strips

2:09 AM  
Blogger Marion Delgado said...

count me in thinking the tiny space for comics, which is shrinking in most papers, as is the readership, shoud not be used for classic or legacy strips. This is more like if there was one radio station in the whole country and it only played 20 songs a day, with maybe 5 songs different each day area to area, and the music was nearly all oldies, mixed with golden oldies.

2:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The comparison between comics and radio isn't very accurate or illustrative, but worse is the bald statement that "Most newspaper readers would prefer to see Dagwood collide with the mailman for millionth time instead of reading a brilliant web-comic filled with timely pop-culture references and sassy talking animals."
Empirically speaking, most newspaper readers have demonstrated that they would rather see nothing at all than Dagwood, et al., which is why Comics pages are continually losing space in large dailies. Further, given that it's impossible for timely, clever strips to get on the page, exactly how would you know what "most newspaper readers" want?
The overarching point is that comics page, take as a whole as a product sold to attract advertising dollars, is pretty unsuccessful - and legacy strips are at least part of why. If you want comics to survive in newsprint, they need to become a viable product. That means becoming relevant and entertaining again - could any other irrelevant, stale, lame product expect to survive simply on nostalgia?
You like Peanuts? Cool. Buy the book and give up the newsprint space for some artist who has a pulse.

10:44 PM  
Blogger cbrubaker said...

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/fun/safehavens.asp?date=20070428

Check out today's "Safe Havens"

9:17 PM  
Blogger Antonio said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:13 PM  
Blogger Antonio said...

Isn't this Save Haven doing the same joke as Retail? http://bp3.blogger.com/_69PbV4q6pQ0/RhM0aPFeGYI/AAAAAAAA

10:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never heard of this blog before I caught up with "Safe Havens" (already linked in another comment). Very interesting. Added to favorites. I don't subscribe to a print newspaper - get all my comics from my web subscriptions - or freebies - so.... does that make me one of the bad guys? (SPP in Sunday 4/29/2007 Frazz...)

6:26 PM  
Blogger Scanman said...

Adam makes a good point, most of the legacy strips are like seeing tribute bands. Yeah, we love the songs but when it's done by a different artist, it's less special.

In other medium, Television doesn't have new versions of All In The Family, I Love Lucy, (Starring Fran Dresher!)or MASH clogging up the airwaves in primetime. the classic versions are on cable. I think it would be better if the old strips were more readily available in books or online for our consumption, which is what Peanuts does.

Some strips I don't mind, like Blondie, which has been consistent with its quality. It always had assistants from the get go. They always have a skilled artist at work, and though the jokes are rudimentary, it would be missed.

Shoe, however needs to go, it was tired before McNally died, it's horrible now. It should go the way of Pogo.

7:32 AM  

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