By Darryl Ayo
Sometimes I fantasize about newspaper comics returning to the forefront of the North American comics medium.
Reading comics stresses me out. I don’t enjoy the continual accumulation of comic book magazines or the promotion machine that produces them. Graphic novels often leave me wanting for more depth and consideration even though they take cartoonists off of the map for years at a time. Manga that makes it to North America tends to overwhelm me with volume while disappointing me with substance. Webcomics make me feel shackled to my technology. What I really desire is a good old-fashioned newspaper and a cup of coffee.
It is often said of comic book fans, graphic novel fans, “comics fans” (ie, all lovers of the medium, save for fans of newspaper strips) that we are cloistered, myopic. I agree. I am fairly uncultured and despite my efforts, I cannot tear myself away from comics. So as unfair as it sounds, the only thing I can do is ask for comics to join me as I step into broader interests and larger markets.
What really excites me the most about newspaper comics is the casual yet public nature of it all. They are quite opposite of comic book magazines in that they’re easily accessible and not at all obscure. I also find that it is important that they are a part of a stream of information ranging from local news, national sports coverage, high school sports coverage, crossword puzzles, business and technology news, gardening tips, real estate ads and of course, the important national and international news. It’s the idea that comics are a seamless aspect of the average person’s day that comforts me. With all of the anxiety that we in the comic book industry have over the acceptance and growth of the medium, it’s a moot concern because comics as an artform already are a part of people’s daily and casual lives.
The really good newspaper strips have a level of intellectual and emotional depth unmatched by even the best graphic novels. Right now, you’re all sitting there like “WHAT?” But it is true. An individual strip isn’t much, but the sum of the strip–taken slowly and patiently over days, months, years–out classes even the most impressive graphic novels. Straight up, I will fight anybody who argues that newspaper comics are not as good as comic books. Any perceived lack of quality is entirely the fault of the so-called comics enthusiasts who refused to tend the syndicated newspaper gardens for all of these years. It’s your fault (personally) that Garfield continues to exist. Don’t lay that on my doorstep, I read Cul de Sac.
I have an extremely selfish list of cartoonists from the comic book world–mainstream and obscure–who I would love to see do syndicated comic strips. For no other reason than that I love their work, but wish for it to be in a more convenient venue. That I wish that I didn’t have to read comic books at all to get my sequential art thrills. That I wish that I could just show one of their strips to my co-workers who read the papers but would never pick up a comic book magazine or a graphic novel. It would not be fair of me to publicize that list since it is purely selfish and unrealistic, but trust that it is a long list and your name is likely on it.
I want to read the best English-language comics on page 40 of The New York Daily News and then throw the paper away. I don’t want to spend money on specialty-magazines just to read Stuart Immonen’s latest drawings. I want comics to flow through my possession the way that they flow through my mind–quickly, though lovingly.
Later, I will take collected hardcover volumes of this work from the local library to read at length. And later still, I will fill a small bookcase with my absolute favorites.
This is how the comics industry in North America ought to be. This is absolutely what should happen. It should happen because it would make ME happy. It should happen because I should be able to casually mention Julie Doucet in conversation with a stranger and be understood. It should happen because my boss who doesn’t know a thing about “comics” has about five Snoopy and Woodstock dolls on her desk. But she doesn’t have any dolls of Enid and Rebecca. It should happen because comic shops would still have things to sell–beautiful limited edition prints, for example. It should happen because I have individually outgrown the desire to own another comic book or graphic novel, yet I am as in love with the medium as I’ve ever been.