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Has News Corp Killed the Newspaper Comic Strip?

I’ve always enjoyed reading the newspaper.

When I was a little kid visiting my grandparents I’d always have a look through the paper after Nan and Grandad had finished with it. They’d always get a copy of the Sun News-Pictorial. I’d first turn to the comics and then to the TV guide, then maybe some sport.

And in 30 odd years not much has changed.

When I was in High School, Dad got a subscription to the Herald-Sun and when he’d come home from work I’d have a look. Once again turning to the comics first, then the sport, then any articles regarding issues that we were following at school.

It’s a habit that is still going strong today.

Every morning as I’m sitting down having my breakfast I fire up my Herald-Sun App, go to the comics page then to the “Today’s Paper” section and read the comics as they would appear in the day’s physical copy. Then if I have time, I’d read some sport and maybe a general article.

I remember, back in High School, a mate’s dad saying that you should always read the back of the newspaper first as it tells of humanity’s triumphs whereas the front has nothing but it's woes. However, I always start with the comics because no matter what else I have to face during the day, at least I’ve started it with a smile.

In the past the Herald-Sun has published comics such as Blondie, Robot-Man, Hagar the Horrible, Andy Capp, Snake Tales and Garfield. In more recent years Ginger Meggs has gotten a guernsey and in 2013 The Phantom returned to the comics page. This was a cause of much celebration in the Victorian Phan community!

However, even though Comic Strips have long been synonymous with newspapers, News Corp (who owns the Herald-Sun amongst others) is cancelling their comic strip page!

News Corp Statement from August 2022 reads…

Our editorial cartoonists remain as loved and valued as ever and continue to play a critical role in both our print editions and increasingly in our digital growth strategy. The decision to end comic strips reflects the changing readership habits of our audiences and this is why we are increasing our focus as a business on puzzles, games, and crosswords which is highlighted by our recent launch of Brain Gains. It also reflects a world-wide trend where the audience for comic strips has moved to movies and events rather than newspapers.

This has of course been met with harsh criticism from many any in the industry:

The Daily Cartoonist, “we condemn what seems like a short-sighted and culturally brutal decision, which will render the work of comic strip artists even more precarious, and impoverish the character and value of their mastheads.”

Sean Leahy, quoted by the ABC Sunshine Coast, states,

“If you want to hang on to young readers comics are an introduction to the paper… It’s gobsmacking to me really, it doesn’t cost the newspapers much to run them, why wouldn’t they keep them digitally?”

Jason Chatfield’s Ginger Meggs’ strip from the week beginning Monday 5th September has echoed these sentiments with the following comic strip.

(The above Ginger Meggs strips appeared in the Herald-Sun from Monday 5th September to Friday 9th September)

Returning to Leahy, he says in the aforementioned ABC article that US papers still published large supplements of comic strips with dozens of pages of cartoons. This seemed to go against what I was hearing anecdotally over the years so I decided to ask the current creators of The Phantom strip, Tony DePaul, Mike Manley and Jeff Weigel, for their thoughts on the situation.

Jeff Weigel:

Newspapers seem to carry comics only begrudgingly these days. That attitude is reflected in how small the comics are printed, and in how disrespectfully they are distorted to fit page layouts (a habit that REALLY hacks me off—I’ve never seen one of my Sundays printed in a paper where it wasn’t stretched in some bizarre way).

Tony DePaul:

No surprise, really. It’s the love of money meets the march of time. Newspapers have been selling off the furnishings and giving readers less and less for quite a few years now… I suppose News Corp has made a judgment that the readers most likely to cancel over comics are being canceled by time anyway, and at an ever-accelerating rate. That probably explains why the company’s doing away with comics altogether and not simply moving them over to its websites. If readers who get their comics from newspapers are bowing out on the obituary page, money once spent appealing to them can just as well go to shareholders.

Mike Manley:

Well for our type of strip, the adventure strip, its days started declining after the WWII. No great adventure strip has been launched since then and almost all canceled. The readers who buy papers want feature, want comics. But they are older for the most part, my parents age down to the 60’s it seems. Look at political cartoonists—they are being let go too all over.

Jeff Weigel:

Comics were a gimmick newspapers came up with more than a century ago to boost sales and customer loyalty. I’m not sure anything can do that today for an industry as antiquated as the print newspaper. Comics will survive and thrive in the future, but I doubt newspapers and their comics sections will. I expect that ten years from now you’ll be getting your Phantom fix someplace other than a daily sheet of inky newsprint. The world continues to spin. The Phantom will have to find a way to keep pace (but he’s always been pretty good at adapting to his times).

The Current "Wrack and Ruin" storyline which is running in newspapers at the moment seems to be an image of what is happening to comic strips as a whole. The Phantom has been lost to time and dies far from home with his line coming to an end.

(The Phantom, DePaul & Manley, 31/8/22)

(The Phantom, DePaul & Manley, 8/9/22)

Tony DePaul:

The grass is no greener for comics creators over here (the US). Mike and Jeff can tell you more about that than I can. But from a writing perspective on the Phantom, as just one strip among many, the 2-panel day became the standard years ago precisely because of newspaper cutbacks. They had reduced the strips to a size where you can barely see what’s going on. That’s why I think of each day’s strip as basically half a strip. Thinking of a story in two-panel increments can give it the beat of a flat tire going down the road, with a buh-BUMP-buh-BUMP-buh-BUMP…

Mike Manley:

Newspapers routinely run polls on which strips to cancel. They would really love to just run tire ads.

I also asked Dudley Hogarth from Frew, who publishes The Phantom comic book in Australia, for his thoughts on News Corp cancelling their comic strip pages.

The News Corp Decision to drop comic strip pages has no doubt been made by people who deal with numbers but have little empathy for readers or feel for content. I’m in little doubt that newspapers have been struggling with rising costs and falling readership and this is no doubt a decision made editorially in response. I am equally certain that there are readers of the newspaper who purchase it specifically so that they can follow their comic strip. I know that is the case with The Phantom, because I have met such people and spoken to them often. My personal opinion is that it may prove to be short sighted and will only lead to further loss of interest in purchasing newspapers.

When asked if he feels that the decision may impact Frew Dudley said,

“Any loss of Phantom content is going to have a long-term detrimental impact on Phantom awareness for sure, but the same audience that purchase the newspapers for comic strips are not necessarily the ones who purchase Frew for complete comic books!”

He then goes on to say…

“I will make sure that we focus more on these unpublished American stories and try to fill the void created. Does it signal a general decline in syndication of the strip? It’s a loss, of that I have no doubt! Time will tell how that pans out for Frew! I’m sure we will survive this corporate mistake… we may even prosper from it, short term. But long term is the bigger question…? Am I concerned? Yes, every Phantom day!”

Unfortunately, the news from the US seems no cheerier than what is happening here in Australia. Though comic-based media is still booming, the latest Marvel Blockbusters and tie-in shows are a testament to that, the source material is very much on a downward slope.

Mike Manley:

Comics are more popular globally than ever and while comic books like Spidey sell less and less Kid Lit has exploded! Schoolastic has a Spidey book that way outsells Marvels. So, I see comics as healthy and these old models like newspaper strips and even direct sales comic as days numbered.

As Jeff Weigel alluded to, comic strip creators are pretty good at adapting to the times. It will be a sad, hollow world if the pure fun and escapism that comics provide were to fall by the wayside, but with the internet constantly evolving, and media such as webtoons now exploding, I, for one, still hold out hope that I will still be reading comic strips with my grandchildren in some way or another.

Do you agree or do you think this optimist is living in a fantasy world?

Special thanks to Tony DePaul, Mike Manley, Jeff Weigel and Dudley Hogarth for their responses.

Edit from Editor

Comics Kingdom (KFS online comic strip website) has started advertising on social media their platform. You can see the advert here.


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