Sometimes the lessons you learn when you’re just a kid don’t truly resonate until you’re much older. For generations, the first time many experience a newspaper is when they discover the simple joys of the comics page somewhere around the time they’re learning to read and tie their shoes.
The charming power of those moments became clearer to me when something not very charming happened on our comics page almost exactly a year ago. A very naughty word made it into one of the most beloved modern newspaper cartoons around, “Non Sequitur.” It was the granddaddy of all cuss words.
If you accidentally said it when you were a kid in front of your mom, you’re likely still tasting the soap.
Within a matter of days, The Spokesman-Review and several hundred other newspapers canceled “Non Sequitur.” It was something that was unprecedented in newspaper history.
You see, you just don’t cancel a comic strip. Even if it runs questionable content. There are a whole lot of reasons why, but the most obvious is that readers hate it when you change the comics. The angry phone calls and emails and letters to the editor, many using equally questionable words, start to flow like bad words in a Mike Leach press conference after the Apple Cup.
Slowly, some newspapers started running “Non Sequitur” again, including The Spokesman-Review, after an outpouring from our subscribers, back in August. After “Non Sequitur” cartoonist Wiley Miller came to Spokane to meet with our readers at that time, we wondered if we shouldn’t ask our readers if they’d like to see us make some changes to our comic lineup.
We decided to do it over a couple of months.
First, we asked our readers to rate all of our current comics. Then we had our readers rate several new comics.
We were blown away. Thousands and thousands voted. And not just online. The U.S. Postal Service nearly made its 2019 budget numbers simply from the amount of entries that were mailed back to our newsroom. Then there was all of the darn counting … and none of us are great at that, which is why we all became journalists and not accountants.
Interestingly enough, counting doesn’t appear to be much of strength over there in Iowa, either.
When we finally saw all of the numbers, we took a deep breath and decided maybe we’d hold off until after Christmas. Why spoil the holidays? Especially for us.
Let’s just say there were a few surprises. Some of the votes were close. Others looked like 31-13 trouncings at the hands of a bitter in-state rival.
Well, enough waiting. Sometimes you have to move on. Today we start to roll out the changes. And we’d like to announce we are all now the new coaching staff at Mississippi State.
There are a few big changes – as in not every strip survived – and some even bigger changes.
The biggest change is that we decided more was better. Seriously, why not super size this Happy Meal? Starting today, you’ll find more comics and more puzzles in our Wednesday paper. Our Serendipity section now includes “Bizarro,” “Argyle Sweater,” “Rhymes With Orange” and “Macanudo.” It also contains four new puzzles – 7 Little Words, Wurdy Gurdy, Word Roundup and Sudoku.
The idea behind this dates back to 1954. And the Washington on the other side of the country. And really starts more than two decades before that.
In 1933, Eugene Meyer, bought the Washington Post in a public bankruptcy sale. The Post improved by nearly tripling both its circulation and advertising, but it was still losing plenty of money. In 1946, Meyer was named by President Harry S. Truman to head the World Bank, and he was succeeded as publisher by his son-in-law, Philip Graham.
Things were going better, but the Post was far from the national powerhouse it has become since Watergate. In 1954, Graham bought one of the Post’s competitors, the Washington Times-Herald and combined the two newspapers. But Graham had a funny strategy that was a powerful side product of the merger.
As in literally funny.
Involving the funny pages.
Graham kept every comic strip from the other newspaper, doubling the Post’s two pages of comics to four. And that’s when the Post really started to dominate the Washington D.C. newspaper scene.
Because you can’t have too much of a good thing … and more comics and puzzles are always a good idea. Especially in 2020 when other newspapers are cutting them. But not us. We’re adding.
All right, so there’s the good news. What’s the bad news?
To our daily and Sunday comics, we took out “Adam” and “Rose Is Rose” and added “Lola” and “Between Friends.” Those changes take place on Feb. 17. In the classifieds section, we are removing “Doonesbury,” which was all reruns, and “Mallard Fillmore.” “Mallard Fillmore,” “Adam” and “Rose is Rose” all finished at the bottom of our comics survey.
In their place, we have added two puzzles – Hocus Focus and Minute Maze. We will keep “Doonesbury” in the Sunday paper. The creator, Gary Trudeau, still makes original strips for the Sunday paper.
Please don’t be angry. If you want to know who did this, we can probably compile the list of a couple thousand names of the folks who did the voting, but we’d ask the caucus folks over in Iowa to do it, so you should plan on it taking awhile.
Or you could just go over to the Serendipity section and enjoy the new cartoons and puzzles that you all selected, including Spokane’s own Jody Zellman, the creator of “Earth to Planet.” You can see a profile of Zellman on the cover of today’s Serendipity section.
Be honest, the little kid inside you can’t wait. Thanks for the great idea, Phil Graham.
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