Volume 94, Issue 28

Thursday, October 19, 2000


Behold! The power of the cartoonist

Letters to the Editor

Behold! The power of the cartoonist

Colin Butler
Opinions Editor

Comics are usually overlooked in journalism. They're not considered serious journalism because of their whimsical nature and surreal quality. Except what people usually don't consider is that cartoons can be the best part and are the most read section of the paper.

Consider the editorial cartoon. The editorial cartoon is probably one of the most powerful tools a newspaper has in its arsenal for getting a critical message across to its readers. Not only is there text, like an article, there is also graphic representation that dominates the piece. An editorial cartoonist can get his message across using humour, insight and rich artistry with a picture and a few captions.

An editorial cartoon can also serve as an enduring icon. It can kill political careers or at the very least paint politicians in a certain light for decades. Joe Clark is a good example of this, he has been portrayed in cartoons for years now with a pair of mittens tied to his sleeves. This image has not left him since the few days when he was prime minister – and that's just one example among thousands.

Thus, cartoons, comics and cartoonists wield a lot of power. They have the opportunity to get their message across to thousands of people on a daily basis. As an amateur cartoonist myself, I am annoyed by cartoonists and newspapers who waste readers' time and money with pointless, inferior garbage. I'm talking about the comics page of your average urban newspaper.

Every time I open a newspaper and find the "funnies" (I use this term loosely,) I'm reminded of used toilet paper.

This would be fine if I could switch newspapers and receive different comics. But, unfortunately the expression "same shit, different pile" seems to be the newspaper industry's golden rule when it comes to cartoons.

Family Circus is a prime example of the kind of crap that's published these days. It features the eerily religious adventures of an American family in suburbia and it's never funny. Here is a typical strip: The children in the pool are hounding the father to watch them. He meanwhile, is sitting in a chair and trying to read, while watching his kids all at once. That's about as funny as jabbing yourself in the eyes repeatedly with a rusty fork.

Perhaps the most notorious of all is Peanuts. Peanuts was its moniker before Charles Shultz died, now it's Classic Peanuts starring good ol' Charlie Brown. There is nothing new about this comic strip. The author is as dead as the material. Why don't they pull it and run something new? Give another cartoonist a chance! Preferably one with talent.

This is the problem with the newspaper comics industry and Peanuts is the perfect metaphor; it's been the same for 50 years. Charlie Brown and crew always do the same things and they never learn. Charlie Brown always misses the football because Lucy always pulls it away. Snoopy never shoots down the Red Baron and Schroeder always plays that same stupid song. Newspapers are the same. They always publish the same thing, which isn't funny and they never learn.

There are some exceptions, I will admit. Calvin and Hobbes and the Far Side were always quality comics. Non Sequitor and Bizarro still run and amuse the quality starved comic audiences with quality humour and social commentary. So, there is hope. All we have to do is eliminate the fluff.

Now if only newspaper editors and syndicates would catch on.

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Copyright The Gazette 2000