In time past, there was art in the Sunday paper. No, I’m serious. There really was. It was art of a unique sort: unpretentious, ironic, and witty. It, naturally, appealed largely to children. The Sunday comics used to be an art form. I think they died, but I am not sure: I haven’t been able to find the obituary. I am uncertain if that is because they aren’t dead or just because no one cares enough to write the two-inch article. Perhaps the comics are suffering from a terminal illness and they are on life support.
I am lamenting this ignored injustice: the Sunday Funnies…aren’t. There are impostors in the paper every Sunday brazenly propping up their feet in places that used to be reserved for Calvin & Hobbes or Bloom County.
Today’s comics are not much more than badly rendered, poorly colored, thinly veiled political rants, bad attempts at teenage humor, envelope-pushing and/or cultural relevance, or just flat stupid. Many of them are crass and distasteful, and hardly the stuff children should be enjoying with their Cocoa Puffs on a Sunday morning. The only decent comics are those over thirty years old like the Peanuts reprints, Garfield, Mother Goose & Grimm, and FoxTrot. Today’s comic strip writers have a long way to go before they can be referred to as “artists.” Contrast current comics with the art of Bill Watterson and Charles Schultz, and you might want to sit down and cry. No wonder kids spend all of their time on YouTube: there’s very little creativity in the paper.
This is important because the comics used to be a child’s introduction into the adult world of the newspaper, and the newspaper was considered to be a credible resource to use to find out about the goings on in the world. The eight-year old comic reader often let their eyes wander over to the Crossword, and maybe the Sports section, or the Travel/Life section, and eventually they often made their way to the Front Page, the World News and the Editorials. This took time, but a Sunday Comics reader often became an engaged Front Page reader. The newspaper as a news source has been dying for some time, and I think it’s possible that one of the major causes of this is the self-inflicted mortal wound they suffered when they shot themselves in the foot by squashing the comics into four pages and handed over artistic control to the syndicates.
Bill Watterson, the brilliant creator of “Calvin & Hobbes”, has written extensively about the constraints of the comic writer’s medium, and how the constraints of space and syndicates make their medium a difficult, if not nearly impossible, canvas to paint on. Artists who love the comic and would use it as a medium have taken their pens and headed for parts unknown.
Few kids read the Sunday Comics anymore, largely because the comics aren’t worth reading (with the notable exception of “Pearls Before Swine.”) I hate that.