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Denver Post yanks Doonesbury, Peanuts and few readers complain -- so far

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Once upon a time, a newspaper cut comic strips knowing it could be unleashing the hounds by way of calls and letters from readers angered by a disruption of cherished routines. But this far, the Post hasn't been deluged after cutting a baker's dozen of strips, including iconic favorites like Doonesbury and Peanuts, while keeping dead wood like Beetle Bailey and Blondie. Is it an indication that most comics fans get their fix online these days?

"Not necessarily," says Jeanette Chavez, the Post's managing editor/administration -- but she does point out that the trimmed strips will continue to be available online. In addition to Peanuts, which will be seen in print on Sundays only, they are Bizarro, Brevity, Doonesbury, Dustin, F-Minus, Frazz, Heart of the City, The Knight Life, Non Sequitur, Overboard, Rhymes with Orange, and Scary Gary.

There's no mystery why the strips are bidding farewell, print-wise. Last week, Post editor Greg Moore confirmed a 4 percent budget cut and shrinkage to the feature section, where the comics appear, as well as the sports section. Via e-mail today, he characterizes the response to him personally thus far as "zip" and notes that overall e-mail traffic doesn't imply that others are getting buried.

Oh, how times have changed. In the 2007 column "The Funnies Aren't Funny Anymore," then-Rocky Mountain News editor John Temple noted that nothing fires up readers like the disappearance of favorite comics -- an observation reinforced the next year after the News eliminated Garfield. Mere weeks later, the Rocky rescinded the decision after thousands of people still amused by lasagna jokes made their unhappiness crystal clear.

However, in March 2010, the Post, which had used its massive comics section as a selling point to Rocky readers in the wake of the tabloid's shutdown, slashed 21 strips without being pilloried.

Granted, few of the strips that vanished last year were among those with the most impassioned fans, with the exception of Zippy the Pinhead. Not so Doonesbury, which continues to be a creatively vital must-read for current-events followers and comics fans alike. And while the Peanuts strips have all been reruns since the death of Charles M. Schulz, the strip was arguably the most popular in the 20th century. In contrast, Post survivors such as Marmaduke, The Family Circus, Dennis the Menace and, yes, Garfield -- plus the aforementioned Beetle Bailey and Blondie -- are about as relevant to today's world as a horse and buggy or an eight-track player.

Will Doonesbury and Peanuts aficionados force the Post to reconsider its death penalty? Chavez, who says she has only heard one complaint about Doonesbury's axing, doesn't reject that possibility.

"We will assess the reaction over the next few days and see what people say," she notes. "We've tried to do this based on information we have about what's most popular, but sometimes you run into one where it reaches a certain level, and you need to figure out how to do something about it."

Should the protests be negligible, the lack of response will speak loudly about the changing ways people access newspapers.

More from our Media archive: "Gil Spencer, R.I.P.: Neil Westergaard remembers legendary Denver Post editor."

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