Newspapers Need to Tap ‘Comic Con’ Fervor

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By: Dave Astor

When “Spider-Man” creator Stan Lee briefly walked through a lower level of Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Center this past Saturday, the comic-book legend was treated like a rock star by hyper-excited fans.

I saw the reaction to Lee — who also writes the “Spider-Man” newspaper comic — just before I participated in a panel discussion on “Comic Strips for the 21st Century.” That discussion was one of Saturday’s 10 concurrent noon sessions at the New York Comic Con (NYCC), and one of nearly 250 total sessions at an April 18-20 event that also featured exhibits, autograph sessions, and much more.

At least 50,000 people attended NYCC, which is only in its third year. San Diego Comic Con — the best-known event of this type — drew 125,000 people to its 38th-annual gathering last year.

In short, comics have a huge fan base. But few newspapers are making much of an effort to attract these devotees.

Sure, many comic-con attendees prefer comic books, graphic novels, and animation to newspaper strips — but syndicated artists are among the draws at these events. And syndicated comics would be more appealing to cartoon fans if newspapers stopped shrinking the size of the strips they run.

Also, many papers now have fewer comics in their daily pages and fewer pages in their Sunday “funnies.” Some Sunday strips used to run a full page; today, papers often cram six or seven comics per page into smaller Sunday sections.

It would also be nice if newspapers’ online editions offered more comics — including syndicated and local strips that don’t make it into print editions. Some of these comics could be a little more “alternative” than those in print editions if newspapers really want to grab younger readers.

Many papers might feel there aren’t enough good comics out there to justify a larger print and online lineup. That’s debatable, because comics remain a popular part of newspapers despite the cavalier way these papers often treat cartoons.

And the quality of newspaper comics might improve if cartoonists knew they were more welcome in that medium. After all, some of the best artists choose animation, graphic novels, children’s books, and other outlets when they see what the newspaper world has to offer them.

Will many papers increase their comics offerings? Some — like The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C. — have done so. But most haven’t, and probably won’t. Newsprint is expensive, feature budgets have shrunk, and many managers are too busy laying off people to worry about the “funnies.”

Actually, papers could make more money off comics by creatively selling ads next to them while hoping readership of an expanded cartoon lineup helps stem circulation declines. But that would require long-term thinking rather than short-term profit obsession.

So while newspapers apathetically cram comics into their pages, cartoon fans excitedly cram into comic cons.

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