Wednesday, April 22, 2009
  Death of Newspapers
Control-click heading to hear Paul Whiteman playing a "Joe Palooka Medley" on the Kraft Music Hall (December 28, 1933).
Maureen Dowd: "Slouching Towards Oblivion": "Maybe it’s because I’m staying at the Sunset Tower on Sunset Boulevard, but I keep thinking of newspapers as Norma Desmond. Papers are still big. It’s the screens that got small."
April 8, 1906
October 23, 1921

September 26, 1926.

June 11, 1933
Roy Crane's first Captain Easy Sunday page

This is an excerpt from an article by Virginia Combs that ran December 31, 2007, in The Kentucky Post. It provides a portrait of rural households minus radios during the 1930s when kids opened newspapers to the comics pages for entertainment. To read the entire article, go here.

The Post Was Part Of Her Life

It was with much regret and sadness that I learned The Cincinnati Post would be closing December 31. For more years than I like to admit, The Post has been part of my life six days each week.

I grew up on a small farm during the Depression in the foothills of Kentucky. We were poor and each penny (literally) was spent only for necessities - that is except for one item. At Dad's insistence our one luxury was a subscription to The Cincinnati Post.

We received The Post one day after it was printed (we didn't have a radio until 1939) and this was our connection to the outside world. Six days each week someone in the family would walk the half mile or maybe ride a horse to our one-room rural post office.

My dad would end each day - if in the summer in his rocking chair on the front porch or if in the winter with his long legs stretched out toward the fireplace - with The Post spread open and reading it intently. The Post kept him informed of state, national and world affairs and whomever he met he could discuss any of this with up-to-date knowledge.

I first took interest in The Post around seven or eight years of age when I heard my older brother mention that a new comic strip was coming to the "funny page" - Li'l Abner by Al Capp. I had to see what this was about so I made sure I read Li'l Abner the first time it was printed in the paper. Of course, this led to reading the other comic strips. So through the years I enjoyed reading Major Hoople, Out Our Way, Abbie and Slats, Captain Easy and Wash Tubbs, Alley Oop, Boots and Her Buddies, Tarzan of the Jungle, Nancy and many others I cannot recall now.
January 5, 1936

September 6, 1936
November 3, 1940

May 17, 1942
October 10, 1943

December 21, 1947

June 4, 1950

June 9, 1956
December 18, 1964

November 27, 2006
Chris Ware

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I've read a lot of how newspapers are declining, but this is the first I've seen that focused on newspaper comics. Actually, newspaper comics have been slowly dying for years, not because they're unpopular, but because the papers have been squeezing them into tinier and tinier spaces.

For instance, the Chicago Tribune now crowds about two dozen comic features into a four-page Sunday comic section. Even when printed at maximum size, these features have less room to work with than Sundays strips did 50 or 75 years ago. Take, for instance, the two Sunday adventure strips you reprinted. That same material run today would have to be spread out over two Sundays --- and even then I think it would have to be condensed.

There are, of course, other ways to read comics today that didn't exist 50 or 75 years ago --- but the Sunday comics page had charms that I will miss.
Yes, looking at comics on a computer monitor lacks the charm of opening a giant Sunday comics section on a hardwood floor and then lying on top of it to read the topmost row of panels. One actually merged with the ink and paper.
The Cincinnati Post was also MY first childhood exposure to "the Funnies." POGO, ALLEY OOP,PEANUTS, DONDI, FRECKLES, THE RYATTS, OUT OUR WAY...Ahhh...the memories.
Y'know, I didn't notice that "Polly and her Pals" Sunday page when I first looked at this posting a few days ago. This is great! Plus, I'm pretty sure I've seen this same gag done by other cartoonists in recent years. However, they didn't have the space to develop the gag the way that Cliff Sterret did back in the 1920s (which I think is the decade for this page, if I read the small print correctly).
You "didn't notice" because it wasn't there. I often make changes, corrections and additions after I initially post.

In retrospect, one has to ask: Why didn't newspapers make comics bigger and bigger instead of smaller and smaller?
Everything started going to hell when they stopped synidcating Jimmy Hatlo.
Bhob, that's a good question. It seems newspapers have kept the number of comics features high, but have not been ready to give them more space. I've wondered myself why there's no effort made on giving extra space to at least a few certain strips. Perhaps part of the reason is that it would take a special effort by a newspaper syndicate or newspaper chain to design and market a feature specially drawn for that larger size. And no one seems ready to make the special effort. The gradual shrinking in the size, but not the number of comics features seems to have happened with no special planning.

One option for Sunday papers might be the publication of comic book supplements, like Will Eisner's Spirit from years ago. I don't know how well the Spirit did on a commercial basis --- one sign of success would have been imitators, and I haven't heard of any. A couple of years ago, I saw comic book supplements featuring classic reprints of Spiderman in one of the Chicago papers (I assume this was syndicated). But it only lasted a few months, and I don't know if it was considered a success.
Two things - firstly, the Sunday comics dwindling is tragic indeed, but there's small solace in that it seems as if a few independent comic papers (one or more sheets) have started up over the past couple years here in NY. Most of the comics don't interest me, but the medium is great and will hopefully be abused by some intelligent artists in the near future.

And secondly, I suppose my view of the Sunday Funnies dying is different than some of yours; I'm 27 and, in a way, I feel as if I already saw them die. The first thing I thought when I saw your post Bhob, is "Oh my GOD look at that composition!!!" Those large layouts allowed for some serious works of art when in the hands of those masters. All of this makes Bill Watterson come to mind, and even Bernard Krigstein. Sometimes it's as if there's no reward for integrity; and knowing you were right comes too late. Hopefully it won't go any further than it already has.
Just added SMOKEY STOVER. Love those puns!

Re supplements like THE SPIRIT: I think Jerry Robinson did attempt this around 1989. Not sure what happened with that.
I think that Chris Ware NEW YORKER cover is one of the greatest things he's ever done. It has remarkable details on both past and present, and it communicates a great sadness for what has been lost.
I think that Chris Ware NEW YORKER cover is one of the greatest things he's ever done. It has remarkable details on both past and present, and it communicates a great sadness for what has been lost.
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