Archive for the ‘comic strips’ Category

Introducing: ‘Phoebe and Her Unicorn’

Sunday, March 29, 2015

We’re making another change on the Charleston Daily Mail’s comics page. (Sorry, online readers, you’ll have to get a paper or check out our e-edition.) The new strip is “Phoebe and Her Unicorn,” and we’re getting in on the ground floor. The strip is debuting in about a hundred newspapers around the country, including ours.

phoebeThis is the story of a precocious little girl, Phoebe, and her best friend, a unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils. The author is Dana Simpson, who was interviewed by the Daily Mail’s Billy Wolfe last week.

I was feeling reluctant about adding a new strip because readers are resistant to change, and we’ve added several new features over the past few years. But we liked what we saw from “Phoebe” — a gently-humored strip with recurring characters. Our comics survey from last year showed a hunger for more comic strips like this.

It didn’t hurt that the main character is a girl, which sets the strip apart from much of what we have on our current page. My own little girl sat down with the sample packet and read everything in it.

Now for the bad news: For something new to be added, something needs to go. In this case, that’s “Shoe.” That strip still has many fans, but we’ve been carrying it long past its creator, Jeff MacNelly, passed away in 2000. Sorry, “Shoe” fans.

Give “Phoebe and Her Unicorn” a chance. We hope you like it.

Daily Mail readers share comics and puzzles preferences

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

You love the gentle humor of “Family Circus.”

You’re OK with “Frank and Ernest” and “Ziggy.”

You hate (really dislike) “Pearls Before Swine.”

And you really, really don’t care about the longstanding printed game of Bridge.

That’s what we found out by asking Charleston Daily Mail readers about their favorite, least favorite and “don’t care” comics and puzzles over the past few months.

Readers who sent in ballots printed in the newspaper showed an affinity for gentle humor and established strips and less enthusiasm for newer, edgier strips.

We don’t necessarily have any upcoming changes to our comics and puzzles lineup, but we wanted to know what our readers really like, really dislike and aren’t very interested in at all for any decisions we might make in the future.

“Thank goodness you published a comic survey! I was about to call the paper and complain about all the ‘hate it’ ones. Please change them for something that makes sense,” wrote a respondent who described himself or herself as a faithful comics and Daily Mail reader.

Lots of readers seemed enthusiastic about the survey.

There were 362 submissions overall — although not every category adds up to 362 votes.

That’s to say that some people marked two options for some features — for example, they think “Mutts” is OK and they also wouldn’t notice if it were gone.

Some people left some categories blank or just voted for features that they feel strongly about.

It took longer than anticipated to add everything up. In other words, it was 362 votes for 19 comics and puzzles with four voting options, which meant a grand total of 27,512 possible tiny boxes to check and read. Also: two crossed eyes for the editor who read them all.


“Family Circus” got the most “like” votes of any of our syndicated features with 285 votes in that category. “Peanuts” got 270 “like” votes, “Grand Avenue” got 239 and “Shoe” got 210.

“Please keep the ‘Family Circus,’” one fan of that strip wrote. “I look for it daily, and it’s the only comic that I enjoy. I have clipped many of the comics through the last few years and often look at them for a laugh or heartwarming moment. Right now I have three of them hanging on my refrigerator so my 11-year-old grandson can see them. When my dad was living, I would often pass him the paper so he could read the ‘Family Circus’ cartoon. I’ll really miss it if it’s gone.”

Another reader: “Comics aren’t FUNNY any more, except ‘Family Circus.’”

OK: It’s hard to describe what was OK-est with readers, but we wanted to know. This category was headed up by “Frank and Ernest” with 119 “OK” votes and “Ziggy” with 115, followed by “Real Life Adventures” with 109, “Close to Home” with 105 and “Mutts” with 100.

Those comics are apparently the most “just OK” of all.

Lots of people have mid-range, oatmeal-like feelings about them.

“Mutts” was singled out favorably by a few commenters:

“Love comedy, animals, kids. ‘Mutts’ is my favorite,” a Scott Depot resident wrote.

Another comment said, “‘Mutts’ is our favorite!! Please keep ‘Mutts!’”


“Pearls Before Swine” stirred up the most hate (although some readers mildly objected to the use of that word) with 115 “hate” votes. It was followed by “WuMo” with 91 “hates” and “Tundra” with 63.

What do those comics have in common? They’re all new to our paper within the past couple of years.

Many comments reflected a distaste for newer strips.

“Have tried to like new comics but not funny — ‘Tundra,’ ‘WuMo,’ ‘Pearls’ — hate them,” wrote Mary, a retired teacher from Charleston.

Other readers commented:

“Funnies are supposed to be funny — not stupid.”

“No like weird strips. No more WEIRD strips.”

“Pearls” was especially divisive, grating on many voters but delighting a vocal minority.

“I have tried daily reading of ‘Pearls Before Swine’ and ‘Mutts,’ but they are both terrible,” one reader commented.

Some rushed to defend “Pearls.”

“Please keep ‘Pearls Before Swine’ and ‘Mark Trail,’ wrote a husband and wife who submitted their tally together.

A Fraziers Bottom resident commented, “‘Pearls’ is the best strip you run. Don’t listen to those who complain about it. I have three grown children who love ‘Pearls’ and we would hate to have you stop running it.”

Some of the new strips have grown on regular readers. Kind of.

“I’ve gotten less hostile to ‘WuMo’ and ‘Tundra,’” wrote 79-year-old Lawton Posey of Charleston.


The final category asked readers what they wouldn’t miss at all if it disappeared from the paper. That doesn’t mean we’re cutting what got the vote here — it just means we want to know.

Bridge got the highest number of votes here with 252 people saying they wouldn’t care if it stayed in the paper or left.

I did receive an impassioned phone call from a Bridge enthusiast who said we’d played up the comics in our survey and downplayed the puzzles — possibly creating a bias against puzzle enthusiasts.

Related: Jumble had 130 people say they wouldn’t miss it (but also had a lot of fans with 151 “likes”), while the crossword puzzle had 110 “don’t care” votes (compared to 155 crossword “likes”).

One commenter regarded Bridge as wasted space.

“The space for Bridge could be much better utilized. So few people play the game.”

Others expressed appreciation for the challenges of crossword and Jumble.

“Retired, enjoy reading paper with my coffee and look forward to Jumble.”

“Crossword and Jumble help me stay mentally active,” wrote a 77-year-old Campbell’s Creek resident.

Some said our puzzles could improve, even if they’re appreciated.

“I would like more challenging crosswords.”

Of the comics, “WuMo” got the highest number of “don’t cares” of any comic with 162.

“I expect ‘comics’ to be funny by people who can draw,” one reader commented.


A lot of readers yearned for older comics.

Among the older strips that got write-in votes to return to print were “Beetle Bailey,” “Phantom,” “B.C.,” “Broomhilda,” “Prince Valiant,” “For Better or Worse,” “Dick Tracy,” “Alley Oop,” “Li’l Abner,” “Marmaduke,” “Herman,” “Snuffy Smith,” “Nancy” and “Pogo.”

“Some you took out should be put back!! We are retired and we like ‘Dagwood,’ ‘Beetle Bailey’ and about all the old comics,” one reader commented.

An 83-year-old reader wrote, “How about some classic ‘Li’l Abner,’ or other old comics for your older adult readers instead of this childish gibberish?”

“Beetle Bailey,” which was removed from our lineup last year because of its advancing age and increasing price, was singled out frequently.

“Bring back ‘Beetle Bailey,’” said a 69-year-old retired man.

“What happened to ‘Beetle Bailey’??”

“I agree — bring back ‘Beetle Bailey.’”

“‘Beetle Bailey’ was an ‘always read.’”

Many readers expressed a general distaste for some of the newer offerings. Much of the criticism referenced age.

“I am 75 and the new comics do not make sense to me.”

“I am of the ‘press’ (print media) generation. Comics are mostly not amusing any more.”

“I’m one of the ‘old people’ who find little to like in the new comics.”

“I’m 85 years old. I need a good laugh every day. Get better funnies, please.”

“Young people text and tweet but don’t read comics! Where are ‘Herman,’ ‘The Born Loser’ and ‘Dennis the Menace’? Please give us old people our funnies!”

In any case, thank you for participating in our comics survey. It was interesting to see on paper what people like, dislike and don’t care two hoots about.

And I’ll always remember the guy who circled my name in my email and drew an arrow from his comment.

“You, sir, have screwed up our comics,” the 65-year-old retiree wrote.


Weigh in on our comics and puzzles

Friday, July 18, 2014

Do you put ‘Family Circus’ on your fridge? Do you love or hate ‘Pearls Before Swine’? Don’t feel complete without the Jumble?

Our comics and puzzles survey has generated response.

Our comics and puzzles survey has generated response.

About once a year we take a look at our newspaper syndicated features lineup. Usually that’s prompted by proposed rate increases by the syndicates so we’re assessing what still seems worth the price.

Often, though, we’re just guessing at what’s resonating with readers.

And before I go any farther, here’s a universal truth: different people like different things. In other words, you’re never gonna please everyone.

Still, we’d like to know more about what our readers like, so we invited them to tell us.

In print editions, which is where the comics and puzzles run (sorry Internet readers), we’ve been printing a survey: “Like it a lot,” “It’s OK,” “Hate it” and “Would not notice if it were gone” for each of our current syndicated offerings.

This is not exactly a popular vote. It’s not a “vote one off the island” kind of thing. But I’m interested in seeing any trends. I’m probably most interested in how people reply to “It’s OK” and “Would not notice if it were gone” — those features that just don’t move the needle either way.

It’s just been a few days, but responses have been flowing in steadily.

One thing I’ve learned is that people aren’t shy about saying they miss Beetle Bailey, which was cut late last year because of its high price and advancing age. “Miss Beetle Bailey comic,” commented a retiree from Charleston. Another 69-year-old retiree also pleaded, “Bring back Beetle Bailey.” “What happened to Beetle Bailey??” another asked.

Age has been one factor in written responses, with some older readers saying they are not fans of some of the newer offerings.

“How about some classic Lil Abner or other old comics for your older adult readers instead of this childish jibberish?” suggested an 83-year-old respondent.

“Comics aren’t funny any more except Family Circus,” commented a 63-year-old.

“I am 75 and the new comics do not make sense to me,” a reader commented.

Another reader expressed appreciation for puzzles.

“Crossword and Jumble help me to stay mentally active,” wrote a 77-year-old Campbell’s Creek resident.

Keep ’em coming and we’ll let you know what more people have to say.

Doonesbury revisited and revisited and revisited and revisited

Monday, February 17, 2014

We took a bit of criticism (and also got some praise) for dropping ‘Doonesbury’ from our comics lineup last fall.

doonesburyThere were a couple of reasons: Doonesbury was among our most expensive comics, and it had been on a lengthy hiatus as Garry Trudeau focused on a new comedy for Amazon’s digital offerings. The cost-benefit just wasn’t adding up any more.

Now comes word that ‘Doonesbury’ is going on long-term hiatus.

It seems the strip will still be available — but as reruns. Here’s the notification that editors like me got from the syndicate that distributes the strip:

As the anticipation builds leading up to Garry Trudeau’s return to the origins of “Doonesbury,” we’ve had many requests for a statement from Trudeau to help editors introduce the “Classic Doonesbury” comics to their readers, who will begin seeing these strips on March 3. Here’s what he had to say:

“Welcome to ‘Classic Doonesbury.’ In selecting the strips for this retrospective journey, we’re going deep, literally back to Day One. Revisiting four weeks of strips from every year of syndication, I hope to hit many ‘Doonesbury’ high points, focusing on how the characters (over 75 of them) got involved with one another. Since their lives have always been bound up in the events of the day, it should be a kind of déjà vu for my peers, and maybe a ‘What were you people thinking?’ for newer readers. I hope all of them will enjoy the trip.”

I know all of us here at Universal Uclick are looking forward to winding back the clock and returning to the big house by Walden Puddle where we first met Mike, Mark, B.D., Zonker, Joanie and the whole gang.



Comics controversy, with Dogbert

Friday, February 7, 2014

My feeling about controversial content on the comics page is you might as well steer clear.

Two reasons spring to mind:

a) The comics page is an entry point for kids to reading the newspaper. It’s the most likely page to be read by children. That’s not to say some jokes won’t be above their heads but usually there’s no reason to shock and horrify.

b) There are plenty of other pages in the newspaper to wander into controversy — intentionally or unintentionally. Might as well save your chips for something that really matters to you.

Naturally, some content on the comics page sometimes becomes questionable. That’s the case this week — and ‘Dilbert’ is the culprit.

dilbertLast week, editors like me got a note from the comics syndicate that supplies that strip: “Please take a moment to review the ‘Dilbert’ daily comic strips for release Feb. 7 and Feb. 8, 2014, which are now available in your account… They contain dialogue that some readers may find objectionable.”

Alarm bells!

So we took a look at Dilbert and couldn’t quite figure out what was going on.

Looking back, and having read about the controversial strips, it seems writer Scott Adams was trying to impart a gay rights message. (Here’s his blog about it.) But without much context, it was hard to tell what was going on.

Dogbert, Dilbert’s sassy sidekick, issues a commentary on the illegality of homosexuality in India and then pronounces Asok the intern to be gay. Meeting over. “Good, because I have a lot of gay stuff to do,” Asok says.

Strip over. Shoulders shrug.

Was this a pro- or anti-gay message? We had no idea.

Was the cartoon strip character Asok willingly or unwillingly pronounced gay by Dogbert?

What is “gay stuff”?

Was it funny?

What was going on here?

Those of us who looked at it were genuinely puzzled. Scott Adams had not yet blogged about his message. There were few clues to discern how readers were supposed to react.

Without much to go on, we decided to pass on it and take the substitutes. Other newspapers decided differently.

I got a message Friday night from a reader, Donald Griffith: “Please don’t censor Dilbert.”

I’m not sure what we did was censorship.

You can still see Dilbert elsewhere if you choose.

But in this case we steered clear.

UPDATE: The second panel of this Dilbert arc actually wound up running Saturday in the combined Gazette-Mail — by accident, I guess. So it goes. I still don’t get it.

Reader reaction to dropping Doonesbury

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

We announced over the weekend that we’ll be discontinuing Doonesbury in the Charleston Daily Mail starting Nov. 4.

dbTo recap the main points: We try to keep costs low for readers, Doonesbury is one of our more expensive comics, and creator Gary Trudeau has been on hiatus since early summer, trying to wrap up a live action comedy project for Amazon. The product just didn’t seem worth the price any more.

On my end: Deliver message and brace for reaction.

To my relief, there were some questions and a little criticism but mostly acceptance of the decision.

There were a couple of congratulatory emails:

  1. Thank you if Doonesbury is truly leaving the Dailymail. For years this strip has been dedicated to serve a political agenda.  The humor left years ago.
  2. Count me among those calling (emailing) to congratulate you for dropping Doonesbury.  That strip never belonged on the comic page in the first place.

There was a reflective email, mourning the loss of the long-loved comic:

I expect dear sir that you will hear from others of those who have enjoyed Doonesbury over the years.

Trudeau may have slackened off in recent years, and I do not blame him. Just keeping up with the lives of his many characters in the strip might be exhausting. In fact I, who read the strip as one of the reasons I take the Mail can be confused as to what time period he is writing of. And to keep up with the characters is tough.

The current strip with reference to the terror of war  has real relevance.  Leo, with the traumatic head injury and his life with his PhD wife touches me.  Ray’s injury and his desire to return to battle after 17 esplosions now and then opens the gates of rage.  People gain jobs, age, and are demoted to blog for no money.  Everything about the strip moves me in some way.  Just one strip on one day can affect my thinking for hours.

I am so sorry that the expense of running the strip is too high.  I have seen fond memories of long ago strips that have been forgotten. My dad would read me Joe Palooka  (Wham, bang!!) and Dick Tracy.  L’il Abner always charmed.  Early on I knew that “Annie” was part of the editorial output of the Tribune in Chi town.  Oh, the glory.  I never miss a day reading the funnies, and I am 78 years old.  In fact, once or twice I used strips to illustrate lectures I gave to graduate students.  Remember when Rex Morgan had a woman Doc working in the ER who had AIDS?

You are so young.  You have no memory of Casper Milquetoast by Clair Briggs.  Maggie and Jiggs.  The Katzenjammer Kids and many more.

Now it is Doonesbury and companions.  Biting the dust.  Smothered by today’s harsh economy.  I should declare DOONESBURY WEEK sometime in the future.

Think!  Zonker will never gain the fruits of his royalty wig.

And an email upset with me:

Please cancel my 30+ year subscription to the Charleston Daily Mail effective after Nov. 1.  Any unused prepayment should be applied to my continuing subscription to The Charleston Gazette. The reason for the cancellation is your politically-motivated decision to cancel Doonesbury.  Hopefully, the Gazette will see fit to fill the void created by your decision.


And a bunch of tweets of reaction:








More thoughts? Share below!

Would you like ‘Baby Blues’ or ‘DeFlocked’ for your comics page?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

If you’d told me when I was 14 that one day I would have a job where someone would come and try to sell me comic strips, I would have been pretty thrilled.

Well, I actually have that job!

So now I fret about it.

comixAs an actual documented grownup, I have to take things seriously. That means I have to keep a couple of things in mind:

a) Comics cost money. They’re actually a fairly significant expense for a newspaper — worth it if they’re a part of what readers like, but an expense nonetheless. And some are more expensive than others. Furthermore, comics syndicates tend to increase the prices annually. Newspapers try to resist because we don’t want to pass on more costs to readers. Anyway, there’s an economic factor that you might not realize as you chuckle (or groan) at a comics page.

b) Newspapers like to encourage people to develop a comics reading habit. That’s a good thing for newspapers and for those who enjoy the comics. But there’s a dark side! If you’ve encouraged your readers to develop a habit, you can be afraid to change. Some strips hang on too long — even past their creators — because it’s hard to know if you’re going to make the readers angry by switching a comic they like for a new one.

That said, we have made changes on the Charleston Daily Mail’s comics pages the past couple of years. Two years ago, we swapped out “For Better or Worse,” which was in reruns, for “Pearls Before Swine.” A little less than a year ago, we switched “Herman,” whose creator had died, for “The Flying McCoys.”

Well, it’s comics strip sales season again.

This week I had a representative come to my office. He urged me to take a look at a couple of strips:

“Baby Blues”

Hilarious and heartfelt, Baby Blues is about parenting, pure and simple. Except that it’s not simple. Or all that pure, for that matter. It’s about life with kids, and nearly 55 million readers daily enjoy and relate to this married couple’s wing-and-a-prayer approach to parenting.

From temper tantrums to toilet training, everyday experiences that all parents agonize over and laugh about serve as fertile comedic ground for award-winning creators Jerry Scott and Rick Kirkman.

* Important note: My mother-in-law likes “Baby Blues.”










What happens when strangers become family? DeFlocked is about four outcasts who are suddenly forced to coexist and face their deepest flaws, prejudices, fears and desires. It all plays out deep in the folds of American suburbia on a centuries-old working farm called Lubberland Farms. Behind the hay bales and fertilizer lies a secret animal preserve for the displaced, the disenchanged and highly disoriented. Hence, the name of the strip.









What would you like to see on the Charleston Daily Mail comics page?

Here’s what we run right now:

Real Life Adventures


Close to Home

The Flying McCoys



Pearls Before Swine

Beetle Bailey


Mark Trail 

Frank and Ernest 

Grand Avenue



Family Circus

Delays and Doonesbury

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Noticed any “Doonesbury” strips that seem familiar lately?

doonesburyIf so, that’s probably because creator Garry Trudeau hasn’t been cranking out new ones lately. Trudeau put his most famous creation on hiatus over the summer while he worked on a new creation — “Alpha House,” a live action comedy that has been picked up by Amazon Studios.

The pause in Doonesbury panels was originally going to be from June 10 to Labor Day.

Yesterday, newspaper editors like me got an update. Trudeau still isn’t coming back to daily comic strip pages like ours at the Charleston Daily Mail.

Here’s the email I got from Universal  Press:

Garry Trudeau has informed us that following “Doonesbury’s” return to Sunday comic pages, and as he continues to write and produce “Alpha House” for Amazon Prime, he has been forced to acknowledge a cruel reality: He’s human.

Garry writes: “I have hit the wall. This is a painful decision, but as the deadline loomed, I had to finally concede that the demands of completing the show have made it impossible for me to return to the strip on schedule. I deeply regret the inconvenience this will undoubtedly cause you, who have already shown much forbearance and patience through ‘Doonesbury’s’ absence. I greatly value your past loyalty, and look forward to returning to your pages in November.”

The bottom line is that the return of “Doonesbury” daily comics will be delayed for 10 more weeks, to the week of Nov. 18; Sundays will continue to be new and fresh. “Doonesbury Flashbacks” will give readers their daily dose of adventure from the Walden gang as we look forward to the next chapter in “Doonesbury’s” story.

So that’s the latest, comics page readers. What do you think? Are you happy to wait a few more weeks for fresh Doonesbury? Or is it time for comics pages like ours to move on? Some newspapers are using the time to sub in new comic strips to let readers sample alternatives.

I’m not a huge fan of Doonesbury. I think it’s a generational thing. I’m more of a “Bloom County,” “Calvin & Hobbes” or “Far Side” kind of guy, but alas those options are no longer available.

Anyway, I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts.