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Metapost: A tragic day

Well, the day I’ve been dreading has finally arrived: the Baltimore Sun has at last unveiled its new, unimproved comics pages. All I can say is: Ugh. I’m so upset that I’m turning this blog black for the week in protest. Because today the real reason behind the cull has become clear: they’ve added four new comics, but they’ve removed sixteen. It’s all part of a larger master plan to cut down the number of pages in the Today section and cram the TV listings onto the same pages as the comics. (Up until Saturday, the comics had two full pages to themselves.)

Since I know you turn to this space for comics news, I offer you the complete lowdown on the carnage. First, the new strips:

  • Fox Trot
  • Get Fuzzy
  • Pearls Before Swine
  • Zits

This is a mixed bag: I like Get Fuzzy and Fox Trot a lot; Zits is a so-so strip that manages to amuse occasionally; Pearls Before Swine looks dumb, but I’ll give it a shot. In addition, the Sun is running another new strip, Speed Bump, on an entirely different page in the Today section. They’re printing this single-panel thing at a squint-inducingly small size, which is fine with me because it looks unspeakably lame. All of these strips will make their debuts in this space eventually.

Now, the tragic victims of the purge. Here are the eliminated strips that I will genuinely miss:

  • Apartment 3-G
  • Gasoline Alley
  • The Lockhorns
  • Mark Trail
  • Mary Worth
  • The Phantom
  • Prince Valiant

That’s right — it’s almost all of the serial strips, with the odd and notable exception Rex Morgan, M.D. I have no idea how this, the serial with the most consistently bland storylines, survived the bloodbath. Meanwhile, the greater Baltimore area is apparently unequipped to deal with the cavalcade of marital savagery that is The Lockhorns.

There was of course some genuine dead wood that was pruned. These comics I will miss primarily in that they provided material for mockery:

  • Barney Google and Snuffy Smith
  • Dennis the Menace
  • Herb and Jamaal
  • Jump Start
  • Kudzu
  • Marmaduke
  • Momma
  • Willy N’ Ethel
  • Ziggy

But then there are the bland time-servers that, against all logic and reason, were retained:

  • B.C.
  • Beetle Bailey
  • Cathy
  • The Family Circus (though I admit that I get a sick fascination out of this and would secretly be sad if it were gone)
  • Hagar the Horrible
  • Hi and Lois
  • The Middletons (if you’re going to be retaining one amiable, family-oriented strip with a racially mixed cast, I can’t understand why you would jettison Jump Start and keep this)
  • Peanuts (which I like as much as the next guy, but for God’s sake, he’s dead, can we please move on)
  • Shoe
  • Zippy the Pinhead

In theory, it’s not too late: The Sun has provided both a phone number (410-783-2537) and a Website (http://baltimoresun.com/comics) for your comments. Inimitable comics aficionado Sam Wiley has already called to complain about the elimination of the serials (much to the confusion of the editor he spoke to, who said, “Most of the people complaining about Mary Worth were … older”), and was told that the current lineup is not “set in stone.” So, on the off chance that I have power and influence over vast hordes of comics readers, or even if you’re just bored at work, I urge you to give a call to vent your righteous anger (politely, of course).

Meanwhile, just to show you how addicted I’ve become to Mary Worth and the gang, I’ve broken with my longtime paper-comics-only stance and signed up for the Houston Chronicle’s excellent build-your-own-comics-page-online service. They have all the serials that the Sun cut, plus even weirder ones like Gil Thorpe and Steve Roper. Look for these guys too to make their appearance here in the coming days.

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