Separation Cuts Down on Anxiety

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By: Dave Astor

Some people believe comics sections, because their readership includes children, should be an oasis of uncontroversial content in newspapers. Even parents who admit they enjoy edgy strips might not want their kids to discover such content next to, say, “The Family Circus.”

Those readers are undoubtedly pleased that some papers are starting to divide their comics lineups into kid-friendly and adult-oriented pages. The Los Angeles Times started this practice last year, and The Washington Post began separating its comics in early January.

“It’s a darn good idea,” says Jennifer James, an editorial aide at the Times, where the concept was suggested by Editor John Carroll. And James believes the idea is working: “I think we’re getting fewer complaints because some people are skipping the page with the edgier and political comics.”

The Post says it’s too soon to gauge reader reaction to segmenting the newspaper’s comics. But Shirley Carswell, assistant managing editor for planning and administration, says she expects the arrangement to make it easier for parents to control what their kids read.

At the Post, comics pages aren’t labeled as kid- or adult-oriented. The Times labels only its children’s page.

Carswell and James say it wasn’t difficult to figure out which strips to run on which page. “We didn’t really agonize about it,” recalls Carswell. “We just instinctively knew.” It doesn’t hurt that the Post and the Times each have a third page to place comics that appeal almost equally to adults and children.

Comic creator Darrin Bell also likes the division approach. “Readers won’t be so outraged if they know what to expect on a certain page, and the more newspapers do this, the more artistic freedom cartoonists will have,” said Bell, who does the “Candorville” comic for the Washington Post Writers Group and collaborates, with Theron Heir, on “Rudy Park” for United Feature Syndicate.

Among the strips in the edgier and/or political area of comics sections are “The Boondocks,” “Doonesbury,” “Mallard Fillmore,” “Pearls Before Swine,” “Prickly City,” and “Zippy the Pinhead.” Comics on children-friendly pages include “Baby Blues,” “Mutts,” and “Peanuts” reruns, to name a few.

On Sundays, both the Times and the Post run their comics sections in two parts ? with one part containing more mature strips and the other geared to a younger readership.

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