Changing times call for shift in comics

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I used to wonder what would possess an editor to wade deeply into the treacherous waters of syndicated comic strips. Why would anyone voluntarily risk the possible ire of readers who have become accustomed to reading certain comics day after day and year after year?

When times are good and revenue streams are flowing it would be foolhardy to rock the boat. But the economic storms that have pummeled the nation didn't leave the Union-Bulletin unscathed.

While the Union-Bulletin has weathered the situations better than just about any newspaper I know of, it has not been without its challenges. As readers crave more and more local material, more and more of our resources need to be targeted in that area. For example, although Jim Buchan and Don Davis have retired from full-time work in the sports department, we have retained them in part-time roles to produce local sports and outdoors columns. We also recently filled the full-time vacancy in the sports department so we are back to full strength with three full-timers to keep up with the burgeoning world of local sports.

To assure we can continue to provide the local news and sports our readers deserve we must reduce our costs and redistribute how we spend our revenues. Our daily lineup of comic strips has been in place for a long time. Unfortunately, that means the charges for each of the strips has continued to rise. Many are now at the point where they cost too much to continue. Some of these strips are supplying reruns, while still charging prices for original material. Others have changed writers or artists or have become stuck in a one-joke rut.

The time has come to shake up the lineup and bring some fresh talent to the page.

We will say goodbye to such familiar daily strips as Garfield, For Better or Worse, Hagar the Horrible, the Wizard of Id, Frank & Ernest and the Born Loser.

There is a consolation for those who count these strips as among their favorites. While we are changing the mix in the daily newspaper, our Sunday color comics will remain unchanged.

Starting Monday, we will add: Over the Hedge, Home and Away, Fort Knox, Jump Start, Barney & Clyde and Grand Avenue.

Over the Hedge "takes a freshly skewed look at suburban living from the perspective of the animals (a raccoon, turtle and squirrel) who lived there first." In 2006 the strip became a movie that brought in $335 million at the box office.

Home and Away deals with the modern family in which dad telecommutes and handles most of the household chores and supervision of the kids. Mom's high-paying job has her logging lots of frequent-flyer miles and craving "quality time" when she is home.

Fort Knox chronicles the life of a military family. It draws heavily on the experiences of its creator who grew up a "military brat."

Jump Start focuses on a middle-class African-American couple "trying to balance their careers -- he's a police officer, she's a nurse -- with a loving marriage and warm family life."

Barney & Clyde is about "the unlikely friendship between a billionaire and homeless man. It's about a society of haves and have-nots, and it re-examines traditional measures of success and failure and fulfillment."

Grand Avenue "follows the antics of an energetic pair of fraternal twins being raised by their grandmother... (who is) not your typical cookie-baking granny."

While these comics are new to the Union-Bulletin, many of them have been around for years in hundreds of newspapers across the country. We hope you enjoy them.

Rick Doyle can be reached at rickdoyle@wwub.com or 526-8306.

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