More Messages: Tooning Out

The People & Prime Time page of today's Rocky Mountain News features a blurb headlined "'FoxTrot' Cartoonist Ending Daily Strip." The copy references a press release revealing that Bill Amend, the creator of this popular (and actually entertaining) family comic strip, has decided to discontinue daily submissions at year's end. Come 2007, the only new FoxTrot efforts will be seen on Sundays -- although probably not here. While the Rocky runs FoxTrot Monday through Saturday, the powers-that-are at the paper stopped publishing it on Sunday when that day's comics section was reduced from ten pages to eight in 2004. As noted in this Message column, plenty of other strips were axed entirely at that time in what was clearly a cost-saving measure -- not that anyone would come right out and admit it at the time.

The FoxTrot announcement arrives a little more than a week after the disappearance from the Denver dailies of an even better strip, Aaron McGruder's Boondocks. Granted, they didn't have much choice. McGruder had been on a six-month hiatus, and the Denver Post and other papers on his subscription list ran older strips awaiting his return -- and since his work is peppered with current cultural references, a lot of the repeats felt dated. Then, in September, Universal Press Syndicate, McGruder's distributor, told subscribers that they should assume Boondocks wouldn't return, since the cartoonist refused to set a re-start date; see this Washington Post article for more details. Boondocks stopped appearing in the Post several weeks later, but kept popping up in the Post section of the Saturday Rocky until December 2. Its absence on that day was obvious; the remaining strips in its usual column were laid out with large gaps between them.

As a fan of comic strips, these developments are depressing. I only follow three strips on a daily basis: Boondocks, FoxTrot and Doonesbury. Now, just one of the three will be published in Denver by year's end -- and I've been thoroughly underwhelmed by most of the other strips printed in the Post and the Rocky. Don't know if this is a side effect of the slow decline of newspapers, but the funny pages don't seem to be attracting nearly as many smart, funny artists as they once did -- and no wonder. If you could choose between writing graphic novels, creating computer animation for film, TV or the web, or churning out a daily strip for a shrinking, aging audience, what would you do?

Of course, the biggest cartoon at the Post is sports columnist Woody Paige, who began writing for the paper again on December 3. Today, however, he did something that few observers could have predicted: He penned something really good. "Little Sis Model of Courage" was a eulogy to Paige's sister, Toni, who recently died of cancer at age 56. Cynics will say it's easy to touch listeners with such a tale, but Paige deserves credit for the way he did so -- with a well-calibrated mix of humor and sentimentality and an economical prose style that effortlessly conveyed the depth of his emotions.

Considering that I recently slagged Paige's previous two columns in a December 4 blog, it's only fair that I compliment him for his latest. The column is proof that Paige can be a fine writer when he puts his mind to it. If only he engaged his brain more often. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts