LLOYD GRAY: It’s fun to be serious about comics

In the aftermath of devastating tornadoes in Northeast Mississippi, in the immediacy of historic flooding nearby and with the wider world in a particularly unstable state of flux, we pause today to seek some comic relief.
On today’s Living section front is a survey designed to gauge reader opinions about the comic strips the Daily Journal currently runs and to provide the opportunity to suggest changes. Following the same theme, today’s 3Qs feature on Page 2A is an interview with local artist/cartoonist Chuck McIntosh in which he gives his take on comics as an art form.
Historically, comics have been serious business for newspapers. They’ve been one of the favorite features for more than a few newspaper readers and traditionally an entry point for young readers to develop the newspaper reading habit.
Lots of folks who read the comics regularly take their fun very seriously. They’re strongly committed to their favorites, and woe be unto the editor who takes one out of the paper. Changing comics, editors quickly learn, should not be done lightly.
Years ago I arrived at my new job as editor of another newspaper and the first week there my boss the publisher gave me a surprise assignment: The paper had two pages of comics. We needed to get it down to one page to save costs, he said. So go to it, he said.
On no other subject in my newspaper career was there more intense reader interest and reaction – even after we did a reader survey that ranked comics preferences.
Let me quickly add that the purpose of this Daily Journal comics survey is not to reduce the number of comics. We’re going to keep our number of strips the same. What we’re trying to see, though, is if there are different strips that would make the page more interesting and attractive to a wider variety of readers, and if there are any comics that most current readers could do without.
We’ve sensed for a while that our comics may rely too heavily on old standards, most of which no longer are produced by their original creators. That sense was reinforced recently when we assembled several focus groups of Daily Journal readers to give us feedback on the paper generally. Comics came up in a couple of the groups and a consensus emerged that ours have a “dated” feel.
We know, though, that Blondie, Beetle Bailey, Dennis the Menace and other long-standing strips have their ardent fans, many of whom are our most faithful readers. We want to tread lightly there, changing them out for more contemporary strips only if there’s a reader groundswell.
We also know that Peanuts is an American cultural institution beloved by legions, as Chuck McIntosh notes in his interview. But following Chuck’s line of thinking, we want you to tell us whether you think Peanuts should remain or be replaced by a potential future classic.
Regardless of which strips you can or can’t do without, we also want to hear about the comics we ought to find a place for on our page.
You can take the survey on paper in the form provided in the Living section and mail it in or drop it by the Journal office at 1242 South Green Street in Tupelo. Or you can go to the Journal’s website, NEMS360.com, and take it there. Deadline for submitting your survey is noon Monday, June 6, and Scott Morris – who designed the survey – will compile the results and report them in the Living section on June 12. If the survey suggests consensus on some changes, we’ll announce them shortly thereafter.
Compared with what our region, state and nation have been coping with lately, this is hardly earth-shaking stuff. But sometimes it’s when things are dreariest that we most need the lift that humor can bring. While comics at their best are incisive commentary on everyday life, as well as being good for a chuckle or two, they’re an escape valve as well. Years of reader feedback have sent us the clear message that for a substantial segment of our readers, comics are a vital part of the daily newspaper experience.
In the conflict and contentiousness and misfortune that are so much a part of the news, it’s good to have in the midst of that reporting a place to retreat for a bit of restorative humor. If you partake of the respite of the comics, please weigh in on how we can make the experience more enjoyable for you. We’re serious about making the comics as fun as we can.

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.

Lloyd Gray/NEMS Daily Journal