Monday, March 21, 2011
SAN DIEGO One of my dad’s most profound memories of living through the great depression was the day his parents cancelled their subscription to the Sunday paper because they could no longer afford it. This meant he couldn’t read the funny pages. In 1945, New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia read the funnies to kids over the radio because newspaper deliverymen were on strike.
Today, newspaper funnies seem like something that remains part of the culture thanks to inertia and longer life-spans that have preserved the faculties and tastes of people who were born in the early part of the last century. That second point surely explains why comic strips, whose creators are long dead, continue to run in American newspapers. “Blondie” began in 1930 and its creator, Chic Young, died in 1973. You can still follow Blondie in the San Diego Union Tribune.
Sophisticated adults may see newspaper comics as obsolete. But children don’t always understand what they are supposed to dislike or find irrelevant. My kids, ages 6 and 10, have begun to fight over who gets to read the comics in the Sunday paper.
I would never claim my family is representative of the larger population. The very fact that I still subscribe to a newspaper, which gets dropped by my front door, makes me part of a limited and diminishing demographic. Maybe the fact that my wife’s a librarian makes the printed word seem more natural and desirable to our children. I’m only trying to understand why they spend more time with a newspaper than with video games.
We don’t run a puritanical household that bans the use or mention of video or computer games. My nephew just visited from Indiana and he spent a fair amount of time on the couch playing his Nintendo DS. My son has no interest in that. His sister is more tech-friendly and she’s learned to operate several apps on my iPhone. Yet on Sunday morning they both fight over the funnies.
Last year, Nicholas took a huge liking to Calvin and Hobbes cartoons. That’s caused us to check out all of cartoonist Bill Watterson’s C&H compilations several times. Watterson’s aversion to merchandizing his creations also forced us to order an anonymous stuffed tiger, which looked a little like Hobbes, for my son to befriend.
Bill Watterson was a genius and that’s still obvious when you look over his old comic strips. But he quit doing Calvin and Hobbes in 1995, the height of his powers, because he was worn out and felt too constrained by four cartoon panels. He really did get sick of newspaper comics.
In San Diego, the land of the Comic-Con, we know that comics are still a vibrant entertainment genre. Whether newspapers remain vibrant as a delivery method is a whole different question.