July 17, 2011 in Features

‘Sherman’s Lagoon,’ ‘Off the Mark,’ ‘Pickles’ win comics poll

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Call it the last laugh.

Our grand experiment with testing new comics is over – for now, anyway – and as a result, you’ll see some changes on our comics pages today and Monday.

We’re adding one strip to our Sunday comics: “Sherman’s Lagoon.” It previously ran on Sundays until 2007, when it was removed to make room for “Tundra.”

Enough readers told us they missed the not-so-Great White Shark and his pals that we decided to bring them back once a week.

“Sherman’s Lagoon” replaces “Prickly City,” which scored the worst of any Sunday strip in the initial reader survey we conducted back in January.

“Prickly City” was intended as the right-wing counterpart to “Doonesbury” on Sundays, but most of its political statements are reserved for its weekday strips (which we don’t run). In any event, it didn’t resonate with most readers.

While those are the only actual changes on Sunday, you’ll notice that a few other strips have moved around.

Partly in response to the removal of “Prickly City” – and partly because of its own low readership scores – “Doonesbury” is moving off the cover of the section to the back page, in place of “Blondie.”

“Blondie” moves to page 3 in place of “Garfield,” which in turn comes to the cover to replace “Doonesbury.” The strip starring the lazy, lasagna-loving cat is one of three Sunday comics to rank in the top 10 in readership across all age and gender groups, along with “Zits” and “Tundra.”

And since we’re heavy on family-themed strips on the rest of the cover, we’re making one other switch: “Pearls Before Swine,” a particular favorite among younger readers, moves out front from page 3, trading places with “Baby Blues.”

That might all seem like a lot of tinkering, but we think it balances our Sunday comics pages a little better. You’ll get used to it in no time.

Beginning Monday, one more change is coming to our weekday comics page, where we’ve been testing single-panel comics.

When all the votes were counted, it was virtually a dead heat between “Off the Mark” and “Bizarro.” We’ve decided to go with “Off the Mark,” for three main reasons:

• It received more total votes than “Bizarro,” 1,500 to 1,100 (though that’s probably in part because it was the first panel we tested).

• It’s a brand-new comic for us; “Bizarro,” like both “Sherman’s Lagoon” and “Pickles” – which we previously picked to replace “Get Fuzzy” in the weekday pages – has run in the paper before.

• And “Bizarro” is available to read online, for free, through our website. Just go to www.spokesman.com, move your cursor up to “Comics & Puzzles” in the upper right-hand corner, then click on “Spokane.net Comics” at the bottom of the list.

There, at “Cartoon Corner,” you’ll find not only “Bizarro” but a few of the other single-panel comics we considered testing, but didn’t make the cut – including “Speed Bump,” “Rubes” and “Ballard Street” – as well as some old favorites like “B.C.” and “The Wizard of Id,” among assorted others.

(And while you’re at spokesman.com, take the time to check out some of the news and other features available there, including links to our blogs, photo slideshows, special sports reports and lots more.)

So let’s give “Off the Mark” a shot, and touch base again in … maybe, say, six months or so.

Frankly, we need a little time to recover. Thanks to you, our comics poll and subsequent testing of new comics was more popular than we expected; all told, we received close to 15,000 votes.

Having that many people participate in our little scheme was rewarding, and humbling, and more than a bit overwhelming when it came to counting all those votes. But it helped us make better decisions.

Is everyone happy with the results? Of course not.

Could we have tested more comics? Of course – there are literally dozens and dozens to choose from. But like we’ve said, the process is extremely time-consuming, and we do have a newspaper to get out in our spare time.

Are the comics pages better now? We think so.

“Prickly City” probably should have been a goner in 2007, instead of “Sherman’s Lagoon.” Adding “Pickles,” extremely popular with longtime readers, to the daily page fulfills a promise our predecessor made back then, when it finished a strong second to “Tundra” in reader voting.

And on its best days, we think “Off the Mark” will reflect some of the offbeat, irreverent humor that “Get Fuzzy” fans enjoyed.

We were disappointed we didn’t hear from more of our younger readers, who we know are more numerous than our voting indicated. But we appreciated those who did take the time to let us know what they thought, and gave their opinions strong consideration.

Even so, we heard from everyone from a rather self-possessed 7-year-old boy to a 91-year-old woman who assured us she still played tennis, from what we’ll call the “funnies family” (Dad, 52; Mom, 41; daughter, 15; son, 14) to our new friend the “ageless 74-year-old man.”

Indeed, we’ll sort of miss those little conversations; anonymous as most of them were, we really felt like we got to know some of our regular respondents.

We also realize there are those who asked questions about various aspects of our comics along the way, and didn’t always get answers; individual replies became difficult given the volume of people we were dealing with.

So if there is still something you’d like to know, shoot us an email at comics@spokesman.com or leave a message on our comics hotline, (509) 459-3814, and we’ll do our best to get back to you as soon as possible.

One point that bears repeating: Yes, you can find “Calvin and Hobbes” reruns on the Internet. But those aren’t available to reprint in newspapers in North America, for some mysterious reason.

And at the risk of sounding ungracious, please don’t ask for further insights into why we chose the new comics that we did; we’ve already explained that here, and in previous stories, as best we can.

Above all, thanks again for all of your help. The voting may be over, but our journey continues. See you along the way.

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