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You might have heard that a new feature length Peanuts movie will be debut later this year. To my surprise, it actually looks pretty good from the trailer. It looks like they really managed to keep the spirit of Charles Schulz's original strips AND the early TV cartoons in tact, despite the computer animation and what I'm sure would've been a mountain of beaurocracy. And for the life of me, I can't figure how the hell Baba O'Reily works so damn well in that trailer! I mean, The Who didn't even exist until a decade and a half after Peanuts started, and the song was written five years after that. Plus, the whole thrust of the song is about drug-addled teenagers, not grade school kids with curiously adult bouts of ennui.

Anyway, with the movie coming up, it should surprise no one that we'll be seeing increased promotional material surrounding it. The billboards, TV commercials, and the like will be unsurprising to most people, I expect. But we're already seeing a lot of cross-promotion going on that I find interesting.

I first noticed it two or three weeks ago in Target. They had some new signage up directing customers to their discount area up front. And while neither the signage nor any of the items on sale featured Peanuts characters, the font being used was unmistakably based on Schulz's own lettering style. I expect that as we get closer to the movie's release date, we'll see more signage using that same font and, later the characters themselves.

There's also a slew of Peanuts reprints coming out. Fantagraphics, of course, has had those nice hardcover collections. Andrews McMeel has some new collections out that center on broad themes. Titan Comics has been re-issuing the paperbacks from the 1960s. Plus there's new material like the "Great American Adventure" series by Tom Brannon and the comic book series from Boom! Studios.

And then they're also announcing things like "Franklin Day", celebrating the anniversary of when Franklin was introduced as the first Black character into the strip. (I believe this to be more a matter of taking advantage of an opportunity than anything else. The strips being rerun in newspapers currently happen to be from 1968 and they've been running all of the Peanuts strips since Schulz's death as close to the original publication date as possible, only shifting a day or two to account for Sundays. That the Franklin sequence came up on the anniversary of his debut is no different than a Great Pumpkin sequence running on Halloween.)

This is really what good marketing is. They're queueing up a lot of different ideas in a wide variety of venues that slowly build up awareness. The Target one is particularly inspired, as I don't know that most people would recognize Schulz's lettering on sight, but see it as just a comic-y, fun font. But as soon as they add the Peanuts characters to it... BAM! Instant -- and retroactive -- recognition.

Things will certainly get more obvious as we get into October. Expect to see a lot of Peanuts costumes at Halloween, and probably a host of candies branded with the characters. If they're smart, Dolly Madison will be ALL OVER this, dusting off their old ads and/or getting new CG ones made up.

Peanuts holds a nearly, if not completely, unique spot in American culture. I mean, Schulz passed away fifteen years ago and they're still running his old strips in the newspaper! I don't think that any other cartoonist shares that distinction. Everyone knows Charlie Brown and Snoopy. But what we're seeing now is an effort to make those characters more top-of-mind for the public at large, so that when the movie comes out, people will have already been primed by indulging their nostalgia and will be eager to see something NEW with their old friends.

I've kind of run out of words on -isms discussions just now, so I thought I'd just collect some comics here that speak to where my mind's been at the past week or two. Sadly, I was finding very little that even touched on the topic, and the handful that did were speaking to specific incidents instead of the broader issues.

But then I came across yesterday's editorial cartoon by Ted Rall, who absolutely nailed it for me.
This. This is exactly what's going through my head these days. I can't add anything else right now.
I've read and heard many stories over the years of people who read comics as kids, but then dropped out them for a while (usually during high school and college) and pick them up again years later. I was never like that. I've had comics for as long as I can remember and, when I did waffle a bit on whether I should remain interested beyond my 11th birthday, John Byrne's Fantastic Four hit me like a ton of bricks and I was sucked in for life.

Now, of course, when I was a kid, I didn't know much of the history of comic books. For that matter, I didn't know much of the present of comic books. My knowledge was limited mostly to Marvel books, and it was only as broad as it was because I was reading up on the Fantastic Four's history -- which is effectively the history of Marvel Comics. But my knowledge of DC was largely limited to what I saw Super Friends and everything else was beyond notice for me.

As I grew into a teenager and young adult, I naturally read and learned more. I kept expanding the scope of my interest, and was reading about other publishers and independent artists and the like. I was no expert, by any means, but more knowledgeable than I was before. My point is, though, that I've never taken a break from comics.

And yet, there was this chunk of goings-on that I completely missed in the early-to-mid-1990s while I was in college. I still kept up with my favorite books, but there was stuff going on that I was absolutely clueless about. Case in point, I was talking Jim McClain this weekend, and he mentioned that he had liked Mike Parobeck's work. I hadn't ever recalled hearing the name before and asked who he was. Apparently, he was a very talented and well-respected artist who was known primarily for his work on Batman Adventures in the early 1990s, but died from diabetes complications in 1996 at the age of 30.

Parobeck's first professional work was as an inker in Secret Origins #37 circa 1989. His entire comics career lasted a scant seven years, starting just before I left for college and ending tragically within a year of my finishing. I had evidently been so isolated in that bubble of college (where even Jack Kirby's death barely hit my radar) that I missed Parobeck's entire career, only to discover decades later how big an impact he had on people.

What strikes me, then, is what else I might've missed from that same period. I mean, I've known for decades that there was comics history worth exploring from before I was born and I've studied a fair amount of that. And the gaps in my knowledge are ones I do know about -- I'm woefully ignorant of the underground comix movement, for example. But this period in the early '90s where I was active in comics, but somehow disengaged from the industry as a whole, seems to be another hole that I didn't even realize was there.

I was aware of Image Comics founding, Jack Kirby's death, Marvel's bankruptcy... I was nominally aware of Bone starting, although I didn't actually read it until about decade later. Gimmick covers were impossible to miss. And because I recall hearing about those things while they were going on, I've long assumed I knew what went on in that time. But evidently, not as much as I would have thought.

It would be easy to dismiss the whole decade with "die-cut and foil embossed covers" but that glosses over far too much. And even after reading books like Comic Wars and Black Superheroes, Milestone Comics, and Their Fans which cover much of that period, and obtaining a large collection of Wizard Magazines which was perhaps the dominant news outlet for comics during that period, there still would appear to be much to learn.

Don't let your own personal experiences drive your assumptions about the industry. Just because you were still part of the comics scene during any particular period doesn't necessarily mean that you caught everything that was going on. Sometimes you have to study up on the history, even when it overlaps your own!
One of the bigger news items in comics last week was Tom Spurgeon launching a Patreon campaign. He's not the first comics journalist to do so -- Heidi MacDonald launched one last year. (I launched one myself around the beginning of the year, too, but I don't consider myself a journalist. I only mention it in this context as a shameless plug!) The big reason that I think Spurgeon's project is news is, well, because of who it is. Despite his often self-deprecating approach to writing, he really does have an excellent grasp on the comics industry and provides more insights than pretty much anyone else. Judging from his comments surrounding the campaign, though, he feels that there isn't enough depth and insights from him, or anyone else.

I can't say I disagree with him on that point, and I can tell you why I think that is and why his Patreon may be they key to helping to correct that.

I'm not privvy to the finances of anyone out there doing anything resembling comics reporting. But I've heard both Spurgeon and MacDonald note that their incomes from comics writing isn't nearly enough to live on. That was a few years ago, so it's possible MacDonald's Patreon has had enough of an impact to change that, but she's not exactly making life-changing money through that campaign. She's turning in a respectable amount, but I'm pretty sure that wouldn't cover her rent.

Let me reframe that a bit. Two of the biggest, most respected journalists in comics today aren't making enough money doing comics journalism to earn a living. In order to make ends meet, they have to do other work outside the industry. There's nothing wrong with that necessarily, but it means that their time and energy simply can't be focused on comics enough to do what Spurgeon seems to be saying needs to be done.

So then you get other people writing about comics to varying degrees. Myself, Brigid Alverson, Rob Salkowitz, Zainab Akhtar, Noah Berlatsky... That "to varying degrees" is because they have to worry about paying the bills. They end up writing about comics because they love the medium, but they don't earn nearly enough money to put all their focus on it. I can't speak to everyone, but I'm usually lucky if I get more than an hour per day to think/write about comics. That's because I have a day job that I need to keep a roof over my head and my fridge from going empty.

With most writers-about-comics focusing on something other than comics, combined with the broad output of actual comics, it's little wonder comics journalism is where it is today. No one can afford to devote that kind of time and headspace to following the medium as a whole, writing about it, and then doing some other activities to help pay the bills. The result is that you get lots of niche pieces that don't get to the depth that you might hope.

Is Spurgeon and his Patreon campaign going to change that? It's too early to tell, but he's alluded to actually paying additional writers to cover what he can't. Which, in itself, is not a unique concept; I believe both MacDonald and Jonah Weiland over at CBR pay their writers. But if Spurgeon is able to pay writers, who are also able to get some work from MacDonald and other comics-related outlets, maybe we'll develop a cadre of thinkers who can focus on comics all the time. And the insights that can come out of that might really change the way we think about comics and comics journalism.
One of the reasons I started an "On Strips" series here was to force myself to learn more about comic strips. I've spent literally decades focused almost exclusively on comic books and, while I certainly read comic strips growing up, it's only been the past few years that I've really tried to learn about them. A few years back, my parents gave me a birthday gift of Allan Holtz's American Newspaper Comics: An Encyclopedic Reference Guide. It's a thick book that basically just lists out every single newspaper strip, along with a short synposis. More significant strips naturally get larger entries, but many of the listings are pretty bare because the strips are so obscure. But that's still frequently more information than is available online.

I was thumbing through the book last night, and I happened to catch something I hadn't noticed before. Nearly all of the entries in the book list start and end dates, but what I only just noticed was just how short-lived many of these new comics were. Opening to a random page, here's what is listed...
Romantic Raymond, June 1919 - January 1920
Romantic Rhoda, October 1908
Romantic Rosalind, April - July 1913
Romeo, April 1905 - November 1907
Romulus of Rome, April 1961 - December 1963
Rooftop O'Toole, May 1976 - August 1980
Rookie from the 13th Squad, October 1917 - 1918
Rookie Joe, July 1939 - March 1942
The Rookie, November 1942
Room and Board, May 1928 - 1932
Room and Board (2), June 1936 - November 1958
The Roosevelt Bears Abroad, February - June 1907
The Roosevelt Bears, 1905 - July 1906
Rosalie Reduces, April - May 1933
Roscoe the Rooster, March - May 1907
Rose Is Rose, April 1984 - Present
Rosie's Beau, October 1916 - April 1918
Rosie's Beau (2), June 1926 - November 1944
Rosie; The Joy of New York Life, October 1911 - January 1912
Rosie the Roller, August 1906
Rosy Posy Mama's Girl, May 1906 - June 1909
That's 21 comics. Ten of them lasted less than a year. Only four of them lasted four years or more, and one of those only barely. And it's not like these were all just done by crappy artists or something; there are some big name creators who worked on these like George Herriman and Geoge McManus.

We often think of the comics page today as almost a snapshot of the past, with not only long-lived legacy strips like Blondie and Beetle Bailey, but also reruns of Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes, and others. And while I won't deny that much of the churning listed above (and indeed throughout the book) occurred nearly a century ago, I think that makes it that much more fascinating an aspect of the comics pages. There was a measure of figuring out what a comics page should look like, and what kind of strips readers responded to. It was that churn that led to Krazy Kat and Bringing Up Father. I wonder if that kind of churn is needed once again to breathe more life in that snapshot we see today.
When I was in my early teens, I'd hoped I could become a comic book artist. Not only was I interested in comics, but I was one of those kids who everyone always said was a "pretty good drawer." Which only meant that I was just a touch better than average. But before I even realized that I wasn't talented enough to develop a career in illustrating comic books in the first place, I decided that wasn't really a career path for me anyway.

My father was something of an artist himself. Not full-time, but he did the illustrations for a few books back in the day, not to mention illustrating many of the articles he wrote. So while I was growing up, he did provide some suggestions and guidance with my drawing.

I recall at one point talking with him about comic book art specifically. I don't know how exactly the conversation started, but I'm sure it must have been somewhat informal as I can recall the two of us just standing idly in the kitchen while we talked, and we rarely had real talks in the kitchen. I'm assuming we both happened to be getting something to drink or snack on at the same time. In any event, Dad noted that he never liked the idea of drawing comic books for a living because, he figured, if you were working on a monthly book, that effectively meant that you had to draw a complete page every day, and the vast majority of the panels would feature the same character(s). If you're working on Amazing Spider-Man, then, that's six drawings of Spider-Man every day, every month until they fire you. That's 150 finished drawings of Spider-Man every month, and how many different ways can you draw the same guy swinging from the same webline? (I know the math is a little off there, but that was his example at the time.)

The tedium of that sounded absolutely dreadful, and that's pretty much when I decided I wasn't going to be a comic book artist. (I half-wonder if his comments weren't chosen specifically to dissuade me from trying to become a comic artist. Either to spare my ego from my lack of skill, or to steer me away from freelancing as a career.)

Of course, a lot of artists do find ways to keep themselves interested and engaged in their art. But that's one of the things that surprises me about superhero comics: if you're doing a monthly book where the heroes are almost all white, and largely male, and virtually all have the same muscular body type, wouldn't you want to break up the monotony byt showcasing more minorities in the backgrounds? Just as an artist, isn't it more interesting and engaging for yourself to drawing different-looking characters? Isn't it more interesting if you weren't drawning the same basic body types over and over and over? Isn't it more interesting to draw Asian characters and Latino characters? Isn't it more interesting to draw fat people and skinny people? People with afros and people who are bald? People with dark skin and people with light skin? People with disabilities, and people who are extremely athletic?

It's not a noble motivation, but wouldn't some diversity just make the job of an artist less dull/repetitive? Even if the rationale isn't high-minded, the results for readers would be the same.