'Tundra' makes big impression
Alaskan's strip tops 'Pickles,' others for spot on S-R comics page
Ken Paulman Features editor
It was no contest. "Tundra" wins by a landslide.
Of the four comics we've been testing since July, none has been received so enthusiastically as Chad Carpenter's single-panel strip about life in Alaska. Readers of all ages and occupations (including an inmate from the Idaho Correctional Center, who listed his as "convict") praised the strip for being unique and consistently funny.
And really, how can you go wrong with jokes about snowmen, hunters and bears in the Northwest?
The daily "Tundra" strip starts tomorrow. Also, because of the overwhelming response, we've decided to run it on Sundays as well. It will replace "Sherman's Lagoon" beginning Nov. 4 (more on this later). You can read more about "Tundra" creator Chad Carpenter in Monday's paper.
"Pickles," a favorite among seniors, came in a distant second. Older readers made a strong appeal for this strip, but it didn't really resonate with anyone else. A common complaint was that we already have too many family/situational comics.
That said, "Pickles" is better than some of the family strips we're currently running. In the coming weeks, I'll put together a survey to see which, if any, readers would like us to drop in order to make room for "Pickles."
(Yes, "Pickles" fans, I know you want me to get rid of "Pearls Before Swine," "Get Fuzzy" and "Dilbert." But those strips have fans, too, and we have to have something for everyone.)
Bringing up the rear were "Stone Soup" and "Lio." "Stone Soup" was dismissed as formulaic and too similar to the other family strips already on the page. The lack of dialogue in "Lio" was confounding to a lot of readers, and many people found it too twisted and macabre.
The decision to drop "Sherman's Lagoon" wasn't an easy one. The strip does have fans (including myself and editor Steve Smith), but it didn't show a very strong constituency among the survey responses. It's also one of the few strips we run on Sundays but not weekdays. "Baldo" and "Prickly City" were candidates, too, but I decided to keep them to preserve the diversity they bring to the section (ethnic and political, respectively). "Sherman's Lagoon" is similar to "Tundra" in terms of style and tone, so it's a pretty even swap.
I've read every single one of the more than 2,700 responses submitted (which is why I asked to keep them brief – thanks for understanding) and have learned a lot about reader tastes. Here are replies to a few of the more frequent questions and comments I encountered:
Why can't you bring back "Fox Trot" or "Calvin and Hobbes"?: I'd love to, but "Fox Trot" is only available on Sundays now, and "Calvin and Hobbes" isn't syndicated in the United States anymore.
Why can't you custom-tailor the comics page to fit my specific taste? To be fair, no one asks this question in this way. But it's a request I get all the time in the form of people asking me to pick up a particular strip or drop another one. I've had requests for nearly every comic strip ever created. This input is extremely valuable, and your comments are always welcome. But please understand: Just because I don't honor your request doesn't mean that I'm not listening. We have to have something for everyone on the page, which means there inevitably will be something you don't like.
Comics are supposed to be funny. This comment comes up a lot, presumably in reaction to the "Funky Winkerbean" cancer storyline. While the word "comic" is indeed derived from "comedy," there is a long tradition of dramatic serials that don't induce a knee-slap every day, if ever: "Rex Morgan, M.D.," "Judge Parker," "Mary Worth" and so on.
That said, I empathize with people who feel the comics page gets too dramatic from time to time. A lot of the news can be downright depressing, and readers look to the comics for levity. We do our best to respect that.
Newspapers are read by older folks. This one was sometimes used by "Pickles" fans in an effort to gain leverage, but it's not true. Respondents to the online survey reported ages ranging from 7 to 99, with an average age of 50 (the mail-in entries naturally skewed older, but I didn't tally the ages).
Thanks to everyone for your feedback so far, and watch for our next comics survey, coming up soon.