Newspaper Comics: How We Met Them and Where We’d Like to See Them Go
For many of us Millennials and older, newspaper comics were our first experience with sequential art. But that may be changing. While school and alternative newspaper comics used to be a way for cartoonists to break into making comics professionally or to having a syndicated strip, these days, budding creators are more likely to start out on webcomics.
Will webcomics entirely supplant that formative newspaper strip reading experience? What are our first newspaper comics experiences and the strips we still hold dear? Team WWAC discusses.
I would devour the entire comics page when I was a kid, but after we moved out of my grandparents’ house we stopped getting the newspaper. Occasionally when we would visit I’d get a chance to read them, but as I got older I stopped seeking out the comics page. I didn’t even know that newspaper comics were collected into books until I stumbled upon my dad’s collection of Far Side. After that, I bought some Calvin and Hobbes and Pearls Before Swine, two of my favorite strips.
Of course, it wasn’t too long after this that I discovered that comics flourished on the Internet. Not only did I discover a completely new medium, I also found some sites that enabled me to read my favorite comics without a newspaper subscription.
I love webcomics, but I don’t think they could replace newspaper comics. Like I said, they’re two different mediums. The Internet has certainly allowed for a wider variety of storytelling and seems like a much easier way to enter the industry, but that also comes with a lot of uncertainty. I also think there’s something to be said for the challenge of telling a story in a set space and limited number of panels one day at a time.
Garfield. Definitely my first. I remember checking out the collections from libraries all the time and thought they were amazing. They…they don’t really hold up for me nowadays. I remember reading Calvin and Hobbes collections with strips in particular that were thought provokers or tear jerkers—the dead bird Sunday comic, for one. I think The Far Side was the first comic I knew that my mom liked, she’d occasionally get those “comic a day” calendars, and so it was nice to know that I shared something with her.
I honestly don’t think that webcomics will supplant newspaper strips so much as co-exist. For all the doom and gloom about print dying, fewer people have actually connected to the Internet than you’d think.
On a side note, by the time I was a teenager, I was reading pretty much every strip on the comics page; I consumed as much reading material as I could get my hands on.
I used to read newspaper strip comics all the time. I looked forward to The Toronto Star on Saturdays when there was an entire comic section in full colour. There were so many that I enjoyed reading, but the ones that meant the most to me were Andy Capp, Modesty Blaise, Calvin and Hobbes, Far Side, and Asterix and Obelix. I actually never read any of these in their original newspaper strip form, but rather in their collected works. The reason why they were so memorable was because they belong to my dad and brother. I love my dad to bits, but there’s very little we have in common and could share. Andy Capp was on that short list. My brother, on the other hand, was instrumental in shaping me and my interests by sharing all of his favourite things with me. I still treasure the Asterix and Obelix, Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, and Modesty Blaise books that I stole from him.
In terms of print versus webcomics, I think there is still room for both. As Rachel mentioned above, not everyone is ingrained on the Internet, and even those who are might not be familiar with the wide variety of webcomics available, which in itself is a problem. The Internet provides such an opportunity that the vast number of choices can be very intimidating. It also requires a different kind of mindset to enjoy those kind of distractions. Reading newspaper comics only required a finite amount of time. Reading comics online can lead to the slippery slope of reading just one more…This Christmas, my friend bought me Cards Against Humanity’s “Ten Days or Whatever of Kwanzaa” gift pack. One of the first items I received was the Funny Pages—a collection of webcomics in printed form. It was a great way for me to have the best of both worlds.
The first comic I ever read was originally published in a college paper. I was too young to understand most of the jokes in Too Much Coffee Man, but I enjoyed the act of clipping out the panels my mother handed me and keeping them in a little Tupperware container.
As I grew, I found my own comics to enjoy. I was particularly a fan of Calvin and Hobbes (of course), but also some of the lesser known strips. Non Sequitor remains one of my favorites, but isn’t as readily available as more famous ones like Peanuts.
I was the editor of my high school newspaper and one of my favorite parts was laying out the monthly cartoon. Our resident cartoonist did mostly political jokes, and they were so good I’m surprised I haven’t seen his work in any major publications.
As for webcomics, I always think diversity of publishing is a good thing. Newspapers are dwindling due to low circulation, so newspaper comics are down too. People discovering love for a webcomic may only help newspaper comics by growing interest in comics themselves.
Newspaper comics were definitely my foray into comics. I loved the ritual of Sunday morning going down to the convenience store buying a newspaper and a pack of the Mrs. Baird’s powdered donuts and an orange juice. Obviously, the comics were my favorite part of the newspaper, but I knew reading the regular news was important so I would make myself read the local and world news then my reward for doing so was reading the comics. Some that stand out for me: Peanuts, Garfield, Prince Valiant, Hagar the Horrible, Mother Goose and Grimm, Zits, Beetle Bailey, Blondie, B.C., The Born Loser, Cathy, The Wizard of Id, Foxtrot, Calvin and Hobbes, For Better or for Worse, Dennis the Menace, The Family Circus, The Far Side, Non Sequitur, and Doonesbury. I would cut out my favorites and tape them to my bedroom door.
Peanuts was always a favorite. It had a sort of melancholy and existentialism that always resonated with me. It was about kids, but never seemed to talk down to kids. Non Sequitur resonated a lot with me and certainly influenced my developing political identity. I remember one where Danae encounters a man with a tattoo of a number on his bicep. She asks him what it’s about, and he reveals that it’s a Holocaust prisoner number:
That one was on my bedroom door for a long time. I remember that cartoon striking a chord in my heart. What Roland Barthes calls the punctum in his theorizing of photography—the wounding that a particular photograph (though in this case a comic) affects in the reader; it creates a relationship. The comic encapsulated my own concern and deep feeling towards injustice in the world, concerns that it seemed other people my age rarely thought about.
Some others that were important: I loved the absurdity of The Far Side and the surrealism of Zits. I rarely understood Doonesbury as its politics were often beyond my comprehension, but it still stands out to me as a significant comic. I knew it had a liberal leaning which was a big deal in the very conservative town I grew up in. I also loved Garfield and am a little devastated (though unsurprised) that they don’t hold up according to Rachel. I think I will trust her opinion on this and not revisit.
I grew up reading newspaper comics, because it was just something we did. Growing up, my family always had a subscription to the local newspaper—for us it was The Oregonian—and Sundays were for reading the newspaper as family, and my sister and I would take turns with the comics section.
There were some comics I read because I found them funny—like Garfield, or Pickles, or Calvin and Hobbes—and then there were comics I read because they featured women and teenage girls and I was a preteen and teenage girl, and in them I saw myself—or at the very least, who I was supposed to be. I’m talking about Cathy, Luann, and Foxtrot. Each of these featured a female character I identified with. Cathy was the woman I was afraid I was going to be—fat, single, and the butt of jokes. Paige and Luann were the girls I thought I was—the hopeless, dateless, unpopular girl with a crush on the hot guy. Sometimes I identified more with Paige’s little brother Jason—the nerd. I was smart. I liked nerdy things like Lord of the Rings. But that was what boys liked—or so the newspaper comics told me. It wasn’t until years later that I would question that.
Nowadays, not many people have regularly weekly or daily subscriptions to print newspapers. The first webcomic I read was Boy Meets Boy on Keenspot when I was in college in the early 2000s, and it absolutely was formative. Now that webcomics have become popular across a variety of platforms, including spaces like Tumblr, which is not a comics-exclusive or even really comics-friendly platforms, it would not surprise me at all if the younger generations will read them with the frequency that I read newspaper comics—and I don’t think this is at all a bad thing. Webcomics are more diverse and representative of comics-reading audiences. Hopefully, younger and future generations will always be able to find themselves in the comics they read.
Lying on my stomach beside my dad, my brother on his other side, dad guiding us through the difficult words. That’s one of my earliest reading memories. My parents read to us and read with us all the time. Picture books, prose, and newspaper comics. But my dad is the great lover of newspaper comics in my family, where my mom can take or leave them. The Sunday ritual of reading over each other, all the interesting stories of the week, shoving sheets of newspapers at each other—just missing cereal bowls or syrupy plates—“read this one, you have to, come on.” “No, no, this one is the funniest.” These are my first comics memories. From day one, comics mattered. Even after I picked up reading Archie comics, I kept up with my favourite newspaper cartoons. I had a paper route through most of grade and middle school and it was an excuse to linger over even more comics. Which paper had the best? The Sunday Sun? Okay, I guess. The Globe and Mail? Not even. The Toronto Star, though: it had a whole insert of comics for the family to fight over. “Dad, come on, aren’t you ever going to finish?”
I read just about all of them, except for the ones I grew to despise. Family Circus (boring), Cathy (dreadful), those weird Globe and Mail comics (what even), and Fisher. Ugh, Fisher. I think my favourites though, the ones I still remember, are Adam@Home, The Far Side, and Sherman’s Lagoon. I firmly believe that if The Far Side was brand new it could find a following on Tumblr in minutes, and Adam@Home and Sherman’s Lagoon would work as serialized webcomics. I admit: I relate to hapless Adam and Sherman, whose lives are always two steps to the left of where they should be.
The main difference between newspaper comics and webcomics, I think, is simply limits. There are plenty of webcomics that feel like newspaper comics; that maintain that gag-a-strip format and attend to the conventions of newspaper cartooning. But there are also thousands of arc-based webcomics and format-busting webcomics. A webcomic can be anything, any kind of story, take any shape, and maintain any update schedule the creator likes. As the audience for newspapers continues to shrink, we’ll see fewer and fewer cartoonists making their living at “newspaper comics,” but I don’t think the form is in danger of dying; it’s just been joined by other kinds of comics, for all sorts of tastes.