Toon Musings: Funnies and the Paper of Record
The New York Times went slumming last Sunday, and published their first all-comics issue of the Magazine. I say ‘slumming’ because the Times, alone among American newspapers (as far as I know) does not have a comics page—has never had a comics page. There are several theories purporting to explain this grotesque shortcoming, this glaring inadequacy, this profound, decades-long, editorial faceplant. But perhaps I’m biased. The prevailing view is that the Times wished to set itself apart from other newspapers of the period, who were experimenting with such circulation-boosting experiments as including cartoon supplements, writing sensationally lurid stories, starting wars, and printing in color—chiefly yellow (that’s where the cartoon character The Yellow Kid, and the practice of ‘yellow journalism’ got their names).
They have published comics, but invariably they are unique to the Times, and are usually one-offs: a single-page story here, a cover of the magazine there. There is one recurring feature—Welcome to the New World—that appears in the Sunday Review section amidst the editorials. It is an examination of the life of a newly arrived family of Muslim immigrants. Not what anyone would call Bigfoot Humor.
Newspapers have done some journalistically dubious things to attract readers; nobody is made a better, more enlightened citizen by playing Wingo Bingo. Still, the feature articles that papers publish do serve a purpose, informing readers of the culture they’re marinating in, and also enticing them to purchase the paper and perhaps accidentally be exposed to some news in the process. The comics in the funnies section are for the most part not Great Art… but then again, some truly Great Art has been known to reside there. Consequently, I believe the funnies to be a Net Good.
Though it does include other features, The New York Times has opted out of the funnies for the most part. I think they don’t ‘get’ comics; they recently purged their graphic novels bestseller list from the book review, and the book review editor recently referred to Rep. John Lewis’ graphic novel memoir of his time in the civil rights movement as a “children’s book”. ‘Cause it’s comics, y’know.
But the June 4th edition of the The New York Times Magazine was an all-comics issue, entitled New York Stories. It was lovely. Eleven of the dozen comics (and one endpaper) was each based on a story from the metro desk and , as the map in the beginning shows, each borough is represented (except Staten Island, but they went for Trump, so…). Each comic is done by a different cartoonist, and are more long-form than you’ll see in a typical newspaper strip, but the content less… maybe fantastic is the word. They’re great to look at, and it’s interesting to see what each artist did with the assignment—how they chose to tell the story. They are done exceedingly well, but in the end these are documentaries, not flights of fancy. It’s great, but I want more. More of this, for example.
I like the fact that the The New York Times is willing to go slumming once in a while and print some comics, but I bemoan that it is such a rare event, and that the forays are so fact-based. The funnies may seem frivolous, but they have entertained and brought comfort to millions, and like any art form, sometimes great enlightenment can be derived from a seemingly humble work. I wish the Times participated in the culture more, rather than floating airily above it all, so special.
Phil Maish is a freelance cartoonist of no repute. His modest efforts may be viewed at myth-fits.com. He has worked for the Government, the Press, the Opera, and a Soulless Corporation. Self-taught and beholden only to his formidable wife and amazing son, he spends his free time gadding about in his vintage autogyro and, with his faithful manservant Nicopol, exploring untrammeled wildernesses, discovering hitherto unknown animal species, smashing spy rings, and regaling fellow members of the League of Intrepid Adventurers with tales of his intrepid adventures.