On -isms: Maybe Not So Banal?

By | Thursday, May 21, 2015 Leave a Comment
Many people, myself included, have talked about the banality of newspaper comic strips. The very context of the strips almost inherently means that cartoonists can't do anything too edgy for fear of alienating readers. So nearly everything you read on the funny pages is incredibly broad in its scope, and often not very original. Rina Piccolo of Tina's Groove was commenting on this just last week. You get jokes like the ones you see in Hi and Lois or Born Loser or Garfield. They were mildly amusing the first time you read them a couple decades ago, but not even that much any more.

Editorial cartoonists, by contrast, usually have a bit more bite to them. They're designed to speak directly to current events and are expressly made for the sake of social commentary. But that's why they're not included in with all the other newspaper comics.

But then I posted a link to this strip on my Facebook page...
It's Tuesday's The Knight Life by Keith Knight. Pointed commentary on the current discussions of race in America. And it dawned on me that's not the first time I've posted one of Knight's comics on Facebook because of the social commentary. Here's some others from the past few months...
Now, he still does his share of "safe" jokes...
... he still does his "Life's Little Victories" and "Creepiest Guy in the World" bits, and he still shows his wife being terrified of spiders and the cute antics of his kids. But he continues dropping in these very pointed and poignant strips about race. It's almost as if he's getting his editorial comic, (Th)ink, mixed up with syndicated-in-the-newspapers one.

Which I'm not mad at! I'm thrilled that this kind of cartooning can get out there in what everyone thinks of as a tepid space. It can get a positive message out to those people who wouldn't ordinarily be receptive to it. Darrin Bell does that to some extent in Candorville, too, but I frankly haven't been reading it long enough to see how barbed he can get compared to Knight.

So what I'm curious about here is how these strips get past the syndicate editors and the newspaper editors onto the printed page? Aren't these precisely the types of strips that newspaper readers are likely to complain about? I can't imagine that Knight hasn't offended large swaths of newspaper readers. Are people not complaining? Or are the complains so blatantly racist that they're dismissed out of hand?

I used to wonder how Zippy the Pinhead remains syndicated. Now that I think about, I'm more baffled how Knight Life is.
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