The Magic 100

Posted by on April 16th, 2010 at 10:22 AM

Dustin, a new strip launched on January 4, has already run up a list of over 100 client papers. In today’s market, a triumph. Invented and perpetrated by two editorial cartoonists, Steve Kelley at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, who writes it, and Jeff Parker at Florida Today, who draws it (and also inks much of Mike Peters’ Mother Goose and Grimm), the strip’s title character is a “boomerang kid,” a college graduate who, unable to find work, returns home and lives with his parents. Kelley thinks the success of the strip so far resides with its congruence with the hard times: with a lot of people out of work and looking for employment, Dustin fits right in. Readers identify and sympathize.

I doubt that. Perverse as I am, I suspect the people who are out of work aren’t subscribing to newspapers so they aren’t likely to identify with a comic strip character because they never see the character.

The success of the strip, rather, lies with the newspaper editors who subscribe to it because they think the strip will appeal to readers that they don’t yet have—another opinion of mine in the now-familiar shape of perversity, as you can plainly tell. Editors apparently believe that if they publish a comic strip about an out-of-work wannabe-employed young college graduate, other out-of-work wannabe-employed young college graduates—all those young people who haven’t, at the moment, found a good use for newspapers—will stampede to subscribe to the newspaper, thereby enhancing the circulation figures for said newspaper. A nice, fond dream.

But signing up 100 papers is still a benchmark achievement. Once upon a time, those in the syndicate business would say that a syndicated cartoonist needs 100 newspaper clients in order to make a living at his strip. Dustin must support two cartoonists, so I suppose the benchmark should be 200 newspapers. But 100 is still worth noting in admiration.

Editor & Publisher, in reporting Dustin’s passing the 100-mark, exclaimed about how remarkable that is: “No small feat these days, considering that far more newspapers are trimming titles from their comics pages than adding them.”

Again, perverse as I am, I question that. Naturally, E&P has more ears to the pertinent ground than I do, but I still am not ready to accept that the numbers of comic strips in the nation’s newspapers are dwindling.

The paper in my home town, the Denver Post, recently dropped 22 comic strips and panel cartoons, but that’s because for the past year, the Post has been publishing, in addition to “its own roster,” all the comics from its rival paper, the Rocky Mountain News, which died last winter. And before the body was cold, the Post announced that it would take over all the Rocky’s strips, so erstwhile Rocky comics readers would have a home at the Post. (Talk about a ringing testimony to the reader appeal of the comics!)

For the last year, the Post ran about 65 strips and panel cartoons. Now it’s running only about 43, but that’s more than the Post used to run. When competing with the Rocky, the Post’s comics roster numbered only 29.

The situation is admittedly peculiar to a unique newspaper market here in Denver. But I wonder: are the number of comic strips in your hometown newspaper fewer today than, say, six months ago? Is there an attrition pronounced enough that we are in danger and in doubt and should run in circles and scream and shout? Here’s your chance to tell me.

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