The Future of Comics?

The sainted Matt Groening‘s long-running strip Life In Hell is being dropped from the L.A. Weekly, where it’s run for 22 years. “I feel like the floodwaters are rising. The alternative newsweeklies are really struggling,” Groening said


“Are you ready to embrace family values yet?”

Profits for all newspapers are falling, and they’re making cuts. Damn shame to cut the comics, especially the good, alternative ones. They were always (along with Dan Savage and Rob Brezny) the main reason I would pick up weeklies like the Chicago Reader, the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the Detroit Metro Times. Demi-gods like Groening and Lynda Barry got their start in these kinds of papers. And Nina Paley. AND Tom Tomorrow. AND Chris Ware. The multi-talented Dave Eggers developed his voice while working on the cartoon Smart Feller in the SF Weekly before going on to write A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and starting McSweeney’s, among other noble and notable pursuits. It bums out my heart to see this loamy garden of talent filled in… paved over to eke out a little more damn profit. Feh. Alternative weekly comics are to contemporary American humor what the Harvard Lampoon, The Second City and The Onion have been. Like Texas high school football is to the NFL. Like the Dominican Republic is to professional baseball. It’s where the talent grows.

But Jason Ankeny on posits a hopeful new way for comics: mobile. He writes:

“The digital future of comics, books, magazines and newspapers took a significant turn this week when online retail giant announced it will introduce a free Kindle e-book application for Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch devices, offering consumers full access to more than 240,000 premium titles. Amazon’s new mobile effort would seem to threaten sales of its $359 Kindle e-reader device, but the company contends mobile distribution will in fact complement the Kindle business model, offering users the opportunity to consume content in abbreviated, snack-size periods.

Few forms of creative expression are better suited to that kind of brief consumer engagement than comic strips. Life in Hell–a crudely illustrated but consistently sharp and insightful black-and-white strip–would seem like a natural on a Kindle or on an iPhone, as would any number of classic daily efforts including Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side, Krazy Kat or Doonesbury.”

Could it work? Let’s hope so. If not, we will miss out on talent yet undreamed of. Without Life In Hell, we may never have had The Simpsons. And think of what that show alone did for the viability of adult animated humor, not to mention the reinvigoration of American humor in general. Family Guy, South Park, Cartoon Network… who knows what we’d have missed out on if Groening hadn’t found a place for his fledgling talent to take root back in the 1980’s.


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