Saying so long to Doonesbury
IF you'd told me when I was 14 that one day I'd have a job where someone would come and try to sell me comic strips, I would have been pretty thrilled.
Well, I actually have that job!
So now I fret about it.
As an actual documented grown-up, I have to take things seriously. That means I have to keep a couple of things in mind:
a) Comics cost money. They're actually a fairly significant expense for a newspaper — worth it if they're a part of what readers like, but an expense nonetheless. And some are more expensive than others. Furthermore, comics syndicates tend to increase the prices annually. Newspapers try to resist because we don't want to pass on more costs to readers. So there's an economic factor that you might not realize as you chuckle (or groan) at a comics page.
b) Newspapers like to encourage people to develop a comics reading habit. That's a good thing for newspapers and for those who enjoy the comics. But there's a dark side! If you've encouraged your readers to develop a habit, you can be afraid to change. Some strips hang on too long — even past their creators — because it's hard to know if you're going to make the readers angry by switching a comic they like for a new one.
(And yeah, I realize Beetle Bailey and Shoe are a little long in the tooth, and Peanuts has lived way past Charles Schulz's death.) Well, it's that time of year — and time for another tough decision.
When we got this year's rate increase announcements, my eyes landed squarely on Doonesbury.
Before you start calling to congratulate me or to shriek in displeasure, let me tell you just a couple of things.
Doonesbury has been among our most expensive strips — 20 to 30 percent more expensive than several of the other comics on our page.
Compounding that problem is, Doonesbury hasn't been doing its job lately.
Creator Garry Trudeau hasn't been cranking out new daily strips since early June.
Trudeau put his most famous creation on hiatus over the summer while he worked on a new project — "Alpha House," a live action comedy that has been picked up by Amazon Studios.
The pause in Doonesbury panels was originally going to be from June 10 to Labor Day.
Then, in September, newspaper editors like me got an update. Trudeau wouldn't be coming back to comics pages for several more weeks. And, as I write this, the hiatus is still going on.
"I have hit the wall," Trudeau wrote in a letter sent out to newspapers last month. "This is a painful decision, but as the deadline loomed, I had to finally concede that the demands of completing the show have made it impossible for me to return to the strip on schedule. I deeply regret the inconvenience this will undoubtedly cause you, who have already shown much forbearance and patience through 'Doonesbury's' absence."
I'm sorry Doonesbury fans, but I ran out of patience.
When Trudeau does come back, I have trouble believing he'll give his strip the attention that readers deserve.
The Daily Mail is dropping Doonesbury and picking up a new strip that I hope you'll like.
This is Wumo, a one-panel strip that appears in many of Europe's largest newspapers. It's now getting a big release in the USA.
Wumo got its name from a blend of its creators, comedian Mikael Wulf and illustrator Anders Morgenthaler.
"Wumo celebrates life's absurdity and bittersweet ironies, holding up a funhouse mirror to our modern world and those who live in it."
I read it. I thought it was funny. Wumo starts in the Daily Mail on Nov. 4.
I hope you like it too.
McElhinny is the editor and publisher of the Daily Mail. He may be reached at 304-348-5124, at bradmc@
dailymail.com or @bradmcelhinny on Twitter. His newsroom blog is at http://blogs.