Sunday, August 23, 2009

Wednesday Funnies and the Loss of Grandeur

Summer is the time for experimentation in comics, and this summer DC has been running a delightful experiment: The Wednesday Comics.

If you've ever seen a page of a Sunday Funnies section from the 1930's or earlier, you were probably astounded to see that the newspaper publishers of the past ran strips such as Hal Foster's PRINCE VALIANT, Foster's or Burne Hogarth's TARZAN, or Alex Raymond's FLASH GORDON in high-quality printing, with extensive color modeling, one strip to a page. The publishers knew that the funnies helped sell the papers, particularly when each city carried numerous papers, and immigrants who were working to learn English had an easier time following the comic strips than the papers' prose features.

Now adventure comic strips are all but dead; and while newspapers still carry Sunday Funnies in color, they shrink the strips as small as possible and run several to a page.

The Wednesday Comics, on the other hand, take several DC properties, put top creators on them, and run them one to a newspaper-sized page. That's why the buyer doesn't regret spending $3.99 an issue for just 16 pages -- each page is the equivalent of about 4-5 pages of high-quality storytelling.

Not all of the strips work. The Wonder Woman strip, for instance, is so experimental in its storytelling and coloring, and tries to stuff so much into each installment, that it's basically unreadable for me. But it's more than made up for by writer Dave Gibbons and artist Ryan Sook's gorgeous PRINCE VALIANT-like take on Jack Kirby's KAMANDI; or writer Neil Gaiman and artist Mike Allred's wacky-yet-dark take on METAMORPHO; or the SGT. ROCK strip drawn by longtime Rock artist Joe Kubert and written by his son, Adam Kubert; or the many other features, done by writers and artists who would not be free to work on the characters' regular books but are more than willing to undertake the 12 tabloid-size pages each feature will run.

I have no idea how well these comics are selling; but I have to think that if regular newspapers ran funnies like these, and packaged them on the outside of the Sunday edition, their sales would go up. Newspapers today are dying on the vine, and looking for some kind of content that free websites can't replicate. Now seems to be the wrong time to shrink the funnies into obscurity.

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