“Oh, everybody has an opinion about the comics!”
Kyrie O’Connor is senior features editor at the Houston Chronicle, and it’s her job to select the comic strips that run in the paper. The Chronicle has a larger-than-usual assortment of comics, thanks to the newspaper’s merger with the old Houston Post years ago.
“Avid readers of the paper will remember that up until a couple of years ago we had four full pages of comics and puzzles every single day. By judiciously choosing, we took out a full page of comics and puzzles and there was very little protest. I mean, we just took out stuff that was really nobody’s favorite.
It’s traditional for newspapers every few years to do a comics survey, where people get to send in a form and tell what their favorite comics are. I think that we sort of know from customer feedback and from the letters that we get, we have a pretty good idea anyway of which are the comics the people really like.”
The daily comic strips have long existed in a black-and-white world, except for on Sunday. But the Chronicle now prints some weekday strips in color.
“You can’t get color on every single page of a newspaper, but you can get color on certain pages—and we realized that we had color capacity on one page that we weren’t using. So we said ‘well, why don’t we just put all of everybody’s favorite comics, or the ones that would look best in color on that page, and it’ll sort of ease the pain of, you know, cutting out another page of comics, so we were actually highlighting some. My biggest surprise was some people actually objected! They didn’t like seeing their comics everyday in color. But I think the majority of people really kind of dug it.”
Comics come and go. “Andy Capp” came from The Daily Mirror in London, but it was dropped by the Chronicle.
“I think ‘Andy Capp’ really has fallen totally out of favor. You know, he’s just so un-PC. You know, I think when I was a kid and reading ‘Andy Capp,’ it didn’t really occur to me that, you know, hitting your wife and coming home drunk every night was a bad thing. But now, it’s considered really pretty bad.”
Ed: “And a different artist, now, too, I think.”
“Uh-hmm. I’ve seen wonderful comics go away—poof!—like, well, ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ and ‘Far Side’ and ‘The Boondocks.'”
Ed: “What about some of the old traditionals that are still around? I mean, ‘Dick Tracy’ has got a different artist now — Chester Gould’s long gone. ‘Peanuts’ I guess is a recycling.”
“That’s recycled. It’s funny because sometimes when these comic strips get a new artist or a new writer, they actually get a new lease on life. I’ve been noticing that ‘Blondie‘ which is a comic strip that dates back to the 20’s now has all kinds of very hip references in it. And it’s like it’s got, you know, it’s relevant again.”
O’Connor says one of the first things she learned when she was a young copy editor was to check the dates on the comic panels. Dates of intended publication are inked in tiny numbers on each strip. Readers get upset when stories are out of sequence!