Comic Strips Circle Around & Around

By | Friday, June 26, 2020 3 comments
Back in 2016, I called out the storyline running in Get Fuzzy at that point. The plot centered around Bucky thinking that everyone in the strip was boring so he was trying to convince them to re-use dialogue from a fictional 1930s Dust Bowl Willy comic strip. What struck me at the time was that, by 2016 when I read it, Get Fuzzy had entirely consisted of re-runs for several years, with a few years before that being a mix of old and new material. That storyline had originally run in 2008 and had already been recycled at least once before I ever saw it in 2016. And on Wednesday, Chris Hansen pointed out that it's come back around yet again and is being run as the current strip.

Get Fuzzy strip

Re-running old strips is hardly unique. Peanuts has been in re-runs since Charles Schulz's death in 2000, and other strips like Cul de Sac, For Better or For Worse, Calvin & Hobbes, and Boonbdocks all continue life in syndication despite ending a decade or more ago. But what about the rest of the comics page?

Blondie, Alley Oop, The Phantom, Wizard of Id, Barney Google, Mary Worth, Beetle Bailey... Regardless of whether they fit your particular taste, regardless of their level of quality, a good chunk of the comics on the funny pages are legacy strips of some kind or another. Even ones that seem newer have often passed into others' hands. Dan Piraro stopped doing Bizarro dailies in 2017 to let Wayne Honath take the reins, Scott Stantis turned over The Buckets to Greg Cravens in 2000, and Rina Piccolo picked up the writing duties on Rhymes with Orange a few years ago. If the strips are not out-and-out re-runs, they're strips that have been passed on to other creators. I'm reminded of a tweet from Spike Trotman from several years ago...
How many newspaper strips are original these days? There are some, certainly. Pearls Before Swine, Doonesbury, Mutts, Dilbert... (Garfield seems like that's open to some debate. The last I heard, Jim Davis still claimed to be writing them all and had others do the artwork, but I suspect he doesn't do the bulk of the writing any more and merely keeps that story alive for branding/marketing purposes.) I'd be curious, though, to see a broad analysis of newspapers across the country -- how many comics do they still run, and what percentages of them are re-runs, legacy, or new? Offhand, my gut instinct tells me the number of new comics would be in the single digits for virtually every paper.

I just find it striking that newspaper comics are increasingly less about entertainment and more about nostalgia. People aren't looking to read something funny or witty or exciting, they're looking to read something familiar. Readers take comfort in seeing the Born Loser get slighted once again, whether it's by Art Sansom or his son Chip. And later on, maybe one of Chip's kids will carry on the family business so readers can keep up their routine of seeing the ongoing failures of Brutus P. Thornapple. Readers won't care who's working on it, just so long as they can take a few moments of comfort in seeing that the character is still worse off than they are.
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Unknown said...

Thanks — I read the comics for the stories, looking forward to those with currency. Peanuts and Doonesbury (reruns on weekdays) are distinct works of art and clearly marked as transparent. . but until I read your story, I hadn’t thought there were reruns in Get Fuzzy and others, this should be noted.

Matt K said...

Aren't the majority of print dailies, themselves, mostly about nostalgia at this point?

Subscription to the Plain Dealer (which is no longer actually a print daily in fairness) seems like it has to be a mixture of retired suburban Republicans who are just attached to having a print newspaper in their homes (like their land line), and the local eliterati who recognize that it's pure trash now but still feel a sentimental attachment to the concept of the local newspaper.

Given how many of America's remaining dailies are owned by Advance or Gannett, I doubt that the PD is really unusual in this regard.

Well, you could argue that newspaper subscribers -- at least some significant percentage of them; I don't know if that would necessarily be a majority, but at least a significant percentage -- include individuals who are unable/unwilling to get their news online, but find traditional TV news broadcasts to be lacking. Whether that's local news that simply doesn't have the time for anything of depth or news stations (like CNN or MSNBC) that have as much hyperbole and whatever the TV equivalent of clickbait is as anything else.

I don't know exactly how much of newspapers' current audience falls under that, and I'm sure what part of it that does skews much older, but I would guess that it's a significant enough percentage that I wouldn't say newspapers as a whole are mostly about nostalgia. Yet.

But inertia? Definitely. LOADS of inertia there!