Friday, October 28, 2011

Prejudice Behind the Scenes of the Comics Page?

As a youth many years ago I used to read Broom-Hilda by Russell Meyers. The feature bowed in 1970 and still runs in the newspaper, but these days the only three strips I look in on daily are Ziggy (which I find oddly calming) and Frank and Ernest (still concocting new puns after all this time) and the brilliant Mutts (an indirect descendant of the nearly-divine Calvin and Hobbes, if only in my mind).

Though I may have outgrown Broom-Hilda, it is solidly done and it does have an audience. Apparently however that audience does not include the comics page editor of The Chicago Tribune, who has been trying to give this strip the heave-ho for a number of months.

A newspaper's comics page evolves over time for a number of reasons. Some strips (like Little Orphan Annie and Brenda Starr and, for that matter, Little Nemo in Slumberland) stop being produced by their writer and artist and thereby they leave the comics page; part of the circle of life, these self-terminations open up room for new features. Sometimes though a new strip becomes available when a newspaper has no space to run it; the editor may choose to cancel the newspaper's affiliation with a still-in-production strip in order to create room for a worthwhile new feature.

For a year or so, The Chicago Tribune has presented what they call their "Comics Carousel." A strip that is ensconced on the comics page is pitted in a head-to-head competition against a new strip that is published on a trial basis until readers weigh in regarding whether the old strip should be retained or should be discarded in favor of the challenger. All well and good. To me this has the aura of a game show or even a reality show, so maybe the Comics Carousel resonates with readers.

Presently in the Carousel, Broom-Hilda is up against some new thing called F-Minus (which, by the way, is exactly the grade I would give to it). (You can view a recent Sunday's Comics Carousel over here.) What strikes me as an irregularity is that this is at least the third consecutive time in recent memory that Broom-Hilda has been a contender in the bout. She keeps winning and the comics page editor keeps setting her up again, like tenpins.

Move on, I say. Broom-Hilda has successfully defended her crown repeatedly. This editor who appears so anxious to be rid of her should either pull the trigger once and for all or else leave poor Hilda alone.


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