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Panpa Bulletin : July 2007
PANPA Bulletin July 2007 39 history For many years The Sun-Herald was unassailable as the best selling Sunday newspaper in NSW. However, there was a slow erosion in sales and this coincided with a gradual rundown of the comic section. Late last century what remained of the comics were reduced in size and number with the then editor, Allen Revel saying it was part of an upgrade of the children's section and that no artist would object to their comic being reduced in size by 10 per cent. He was wrong on just about every- thing. The comics should not be consid- ered as part of the children's section. The comics should be in the comic section and the children's content in the chil- dren's section. Yes, children read comics. They also play sport, but you don't see the sport pages given over to children's content do you? Brian White, in his book White on the Media wrote that most people would be surprised how many readers buy the Sunday newspapers sim- ply to read such features as the comics. Most artists drawing comics can relate to that statement. They get many people telling them they never read the com- ics, and then give a detailed description about the content of the comics and a list of suggestions for stories that could be included in the coming weeks. Comics are continuality features. They are there when there is little news and they are there when the whole world seems to be consumed by some event, which soon fades, leaving the comics to continue keep- ing the readers interested in buying the paper. They are a reason to give up a few moments on a Sunday morning to have a cup of coffee and be transported into an imaginary world where politicians and business can't get at you. Part of the Sun-Herald revamp was the introduction and a mass of colour and bits and pieces in the children's section. It was the opposite to the simplicity of presen- tation in children's books and television shows. If the intention was to increase the appeal to children then either the book and television industries had it wrong or the newspaper did. Revel was also wrong when he said art- ists would not object to the reduction in size of the comics they draw. Almost every one of them did, does and always will. The reduction in size makes the writing smaller and reduced its readability. It can be related to reducing the point size of the text in a newspaper. The size reduction also reduces the impact the image makes. Size does matter. Look at the broadcast industry where viewers aren't known for buying smaller television screens. The bigger the better and the biggest you can afford is never big enough. To compensate for the lack of space given to individual comics, artists have to reduce their story and picture content, making them less attractive to the reader. It's a garneted way of killing interest in adventure comics and reduces the funnies to joke and punch line. However, the reduction in the size of comics mirrored what was happening in other countries too. In America, Bill Watterson, who drew Calvin and Hobbes between 1985 and 1995, was so incensed about his comic being reduced in size he would not sell his to a paper unless it was to be reproduced in the right size. It was easy for him; he had made millions and could afford the loss of a sale or two. After drawing Calvin and Hobbs for 10 years and with it running in over 2000 news- papers Watterson stopped fighting with editors over size and content, put his pen away and went off to do other things. The artists contributing to the Sun- Herald could not do that and continued contributing to the paper. There are those who say the reduction in size of the comics in the Sun-Herald and the follow- ing decline in sales was a coincidence. It is one of those things that can't be proved one way or another. A few years ago, the Sun-Herald reduced the comic section again and the sales decline continued. It would be silly to say the decline in sales was because of the reduction in size and number of the comics. Just as it would be silly to say the Sunday Telegraph's increase in sales was the result of the increase in the number of comics that paper ran. The cartoon content, or lack is im- portant to sales and it is not just related to newspapers. The Bulletin, Australia's oldest news magazine has suffered a circulation decline over the past two decades as it has decreased the volume of the cartoons it runs. Of course there are other factors involved, not just cartoon content, but how many times does the reduction of cartoon and comic content in publica- tions have to happen before someone comes to the conclusion that there might be a correlation? In America, many news- papers run almost two full broadsheet pages of comics every day. One news- paper had a 30 per cent increase in its circulation when it increased its comic content to six pages a day. That's not something to laugh about. On June 17, 2007 the Sunday Telegraph reduced the size and number of the comics it was running. It was in many ways a copy of what the Sun- Herald did over a decade before. Given the history of newspapers following the decline in number and quality of com- ics a reduction in circulation should not be unexpected. The paper's editor Neil Breen wrote in the paper that the change was inspired by a six year old who didn't like the paper. The bulk of the new content in the Sunday Telegraph is aimed at teenagers, while six year olds would find it as inter- esting as feature on the exchange rate of the Australian dollar. However, the biggest problem is the misunderstanding about comics; the comics are not drawn for six year olds. All successful comics are drawn for adults. The Simpsons, the most suc- cessful cartoon feature in the history of television is not a children's program, it is for adults and the jokes are for adults. Jimmy Bancks never drew Ginger Meggs for kids. Charles Schultz didn't draw Peanuts for kids, Calvin and Hobbs was also not a kid's comic. However all of these comics are about kids and kids read them, after the adults have finished with them. Lindsay Foyle has been writing on the history of Australian cartoons for approximately 25 years. He was deputy editor of The Bulletin in the 1980s and is now contributing pocket cartoons to The Australian.
August September 2007