Elizabeth Cook: Lost between ‘Blondie’ and Snapchat

Published 12:04 am Sunday, March 26, 2017

First, I offed “Blondie.”

It was hardly a rookie mistake. Early in my years as editor, a syndicate salesman had urged me to update the comics and features used in the Salisbury Post, with one important exception.

Just don’t cancel “Blondie,” he said. Everyone loves “Blondie.”

That was in the 1990s, and a lot has changed since then. The rep — who was not from the syndicate that sells “Blondie,” by the way — retired and passed away. The internet shook up the media landscape like an earthquake, leaving little the same. Now 77 percent of adults own smartphones on which they can read news, including the Salisbury Post. The “funny pages” concept was beginning to seem obsolete.

Still, I should have known better.

In the interest of trimming expenses and saving jobs, something had to go. Once I decided to break the Blondie Rule and drop the world’s most popular strip, the rest were easy — I axed “Dennis the Menace” and “Family Circus,” too. They were the three longest-running strips in our daily lineup and among the most expensive. (The longer you run a comic strip, the higher those annual rate increases pile up.) “Blondie” was created in 1930. “Dennis the Menace” and “Family Circus” debuted in 1951 and 1960, respectively. Cha-ching!

I rationalized that the only constant is change. Other stalwarts had disappeared over the comic horizon. Prince Valiant. Rex Morgan, M.D. Mary Worth. Dick Tracy. Snuffy Smith.

Even Brenda Starr, Girl Reporter, lost her newspaper position. (She’d be impressed to see how many “girl reporters” we have today.)

The “Blondie” banishment went into effect in early November, and for the first few days people were too busy absorbing the news of Donald Trump’s election to dwell on comics.

Soon enough, though, the first letter came in demanding the comic strips’ return. Then another reader wrote in. And another. People called, too, asking for an explanation and wishing the three comic strips would return.

Readers suggested we cut other daily features instead, such as the horoscope or bridge. (Even I know better than to rile bridge players.)

The clincher was the call from a good friend’s mother, who was in the final stages of cancer. I had taken away one of the few things that could still make her smile, she said.

That was it. Clearly, I had not appreciated how close these comic strips were to longtime readers’ hearts. The  budget scalpel would have to trim elsewhere. “Blondie,” “Dennis” and “Family Circus” came back.

Lesson learned. Not everyone is pleased; we dropped other strips and realized every one of them has a following — but none as great as “Blondie.”

For good measure, one reader calls now from time to time to point out a particularly witty line from one of the restored strips.

And I’ve heard more than one person liken the editorial page to the comic page.

I’m just glad they’re reading the paper.

Speaking of humor — sort of — some enterprising TV station should bring back “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.” Today’s headlines scream out for the return of Boris and Natasha.

I can’t quite recall what the psuedo-Russian spies had to do with a flying squirrel and a moose; I just remember watching the show so faithfully that certain lines still pop into my mind. “Eenie-meanie-chili-beanie …”

We reminisced about our favorite old cartoons the other day in the newsroom — those of us over the age of 50, that is. Names popped up as the wheels of memory turned. Huckleberry Hound. Quick Draw McGraw. The Jetsons. (“Meet George Jetson, Jane his wife…”)

Smarter-than-the-average-bear Yogi Bear was a fixture of the early 1960s. Yet he became so ingrained in our culture that when baseball great Yogi Berra died in 2015, the first alert sent out by the Associated Press said Yogi Bear had died. “A sad day for Jellystone National Park,” someone said on Twitter.

As Berra once said, the future ain’t what it used to be. Our cartoon reveries drew blank looks from younger staff members. Meanwhile, I’m mystified by memes and slightly shocked by Snapchat.

I wonder, what would Dagwood do?

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.