I feel like Mr. Wilson

Dennis the Menace has been a thorn in my side the past few days.
The lovable little blonde terror was cut from our newspaper’s daily comic strips this week because of a placement problem we were having. You see, “They’ll do it every time” stopped production because of the December death of its author, so we were forced to go with something else.
Dennis the MenaceWe had run an online poll last fall asking people what comics they wanted and what they wanted to see gone. One of the ones people wanted was a comic called Zits. So we obliged.
Unfortunately, Zits is a three panel strip, and TDIET was a single panel strip. So in order to make it fit, we also had to replace TDIET’s neighbor, Dennis the Menace, with another three panel strip. I chose “Get Fuzzy,” as it’s a personal favorite of mine and some on my staff.
I’ve had a few people tell me they like the new comics (I don’t actually expect people to write me to say they like something), but I’ve had more than a handful of people threaten cancellation of their newspaper if we don’t bring back Dennis.
Cancel the newspaper? Is he really all that great?
Look, I have nothing against the tyke. I loved going to Dairy Queen and having Dennis appear on my blizzards. I liked the poorly illustrated but pretty clever cartoon from the 80s. I even kind of like the strip … but it’s nothing I’d cancel a newspaper over.
So, for those of you who want Dennis back … there’s good news. We’re looking for a way to make him “fit.” It may take a couple of days, but it will happen. I know many of the people who want Dennis don’t read this blog, so if you do, please pass this on.
I personally don’t think it’s an important part of the newspaper, but like I’ve said in the past, it doesn’t matter what I think. If somebody wants to cancel because of Dennis, that’s their choice, because they’re our customer.
Look out in the Herald for the big news on when Dennis will return.

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33 thoughts on “I feel like Mr. Wilson

  1. As a friend of a gag writer for DtM (who is also a NC native), I would be very upset that you cut him out, except that, well… I prefer Get Fuzzy myself.

    I’m on a con panel with my friend this weekend, I hope he forgives me.

  2. Dennis isn’t even that menacing. The strip should be named Dennis the Annoying. Now Curtis, that’s a different story. Curtis the Menace, I like the sound of that.

  3. oh waht? Dennis?! That little guy is such a terror! I mean menace! I will so cancel my prescription if he is not in my daily paper. And the Marmaduke, as he is the canine version of Dennis. Such a menace that dog!

  4. What if people threaten to cancel if you replace Get Fuzzy with stupid old Dennis? Wouldn’t you rather have Get Fuzzy fans as readers anyway?

  5. Another editor that doesn’t understand the value and revenue that comics bring to a newspaper.

    Comics are just silly-filler. Right?

    Here’s a thought, add 2 more pages of comics. Comics with current themes, and dialog. Market and celebrate your “NEW AND IMPROVED” comics section. See if you pick up any new readers under the age of 50.

  6. Dave:

    Quite the contrary. I completely understand the importance of comics. Hence, this post and the number of responses I’ve received.

    What you don’t understand is I am budgeted for only so much. It’d be a great world if I could just say “Voila” and have two more comics pages. But then we’re spending more on paper, on ink, on the comics syndicates and we’re using two more pages with no advertising on it.

    You see, if only it were so easy.

  7. What reasons did people give for loving Dennis The Menace enough to stop subscribing?

    If the comics are so important that people will cancel their subscriptions, how come they can’t get more space?

    Just asking, I know nothing of the newspaper business.

    And I read my comics (and news!) online.

  8. …and we’re using two more pages with no advertising on it.

    Hey Billy-

    This is my general question about the business end of newspaper comics. Obviously everyone in newspapers knows that comics are one of the things that readers are most passionate about. My question is, why are they on pages with no advertising? Why not advertise the hell out of the comics, since they’re the one part of the paper that a just about everybody reads, and really notices?

    I’d love to see a paper experiment by, say, making the comics a tabloid-sized pullout section that’s half advertising, half comics pages. You could have days where the whole section is sponsored by one advertiser (“Today’s comics brought to you by Target!”). Because it’s a multi-page tabloid, you could probably boost the size of individual strips up a bit, which comics readers would love, and then sell the facing pages to advertisers, which would hopefully pay for the enterprise.

    Seriously, why do comics sit on a page with no advertising? Is it just an Ancient Newspaper Tradition, or some kind of rule the comics syndicates lay down? My own hometown paper (the Baltimore Sun) has started experimenting with advertising on the front page of the paper and the world hasn’t ended, so surely the comics could see the same treatment.

  9. Josh —

    It’s a good question, and one I thought of also while I was typing the previous comment.

    You do realize that newspapers are slow to change (hence the declining circulation numbers), and there are still a ton of chiseled-in-stone rules that nobody’s had the will to change.

    My previous newspaper had advertising on the front page, and it worked fine. One of the things our newspaper is doing is reducing the amount of national/wire stuff we get and concentrating on local, local, local. We had a ton of people get mad about this, but few canceled because of it. When it comes down to it, people want news from their area.

    As for the comics, we’ve done a lot to promote new comics, offer online readers polls (which most older people don’t participate in, hence their anger when their comics are cut) and we’ve enhanced our comics page to make it an entertainment “package” of sorts, combining the puzzle games, horoscopes and other stuff with it. And it’s been great.

    Newspapers our size typically pay $7 a week per comic, which amounts to $28 a month and about $350 a year. For a small newspaper, if you multiply that by 20-25 or however many comics run a day, it gets costly.

    Advertising would surely help defray that cost, but then you’ve got our “features” section being mostly comics and less “local news.”

    Now the question is this — which is more important to readers. By the response I’m getting from Dennis … I’m not so sure anymore.

  10. Billy:

    I’m glad you enjoy comics.

    Over the years I’ve we have all watched the comic sections shrink. Along with the SIZE of the comic. Shame. Somewhere along the lines, editors lost sight of what comics brought to their newspapers.

    I’m just wondering, if editors had spent more time celebrating, promoting and figuring out a good advertising scheme, maybe readership would be higher. Who knows?

  11. Hi – I appreciate your efforts. But I think the explanation is – most people who still read newspapers tend to read them in the morning, when they’re just waking up. In that fuzzy state of mind, you don’t really want any major changes – you want everything to be exactly where it was yesterday: the shoes you took off should be right there by the bed where you left them; the coffeepot should be on the counter, plugged in and ready to go; and the comics page should have exactly the same comics it had yesterday so you don’t have to adjust your eyes or brain any more than necessary.

    Whereas people who read comics *online* read them at varying times of the day, when they’re wide awake and ready for something new and challenging.

    You just have to figure out which group most of your readers fall into – if it’s the former, then just keep as many old strips as possible, and you’re golden!

  12. BTW, fresh, newer comics are needed IMHO. LIO is a GREAT example. It’s dark and a bit twisted.

    Newspapers and syndicates are stuck in this vicious circle of, “don’t show me anything new” or “make sure it’s G rated or lower” when considering comics.

    I’m not saying swearing and violence is needed in comics. I AM saying todays readers are more sophisticated and worldly enough to handle some newer, fresher, edgier comics.

    Maybe these types of comics could bring in some new readers. I know, you are saying, “but when I drop Nancy to add Lio, I get death threats!”

    Keep the old—add some new?

  13. Stay strong, Billy. Those Dennis readers can get thousands of Dennis strips in books that are virtually identical to the ones they offer “new” each day in the newspaper.

  14. Challenge the readers. Go with new strips. Get rid of the legacy garbage. It seems to me that fewer and fewer younger people read newspapers. If you printed newer, funnier, original strips instead of Dennis, Marmaduke, Peanuts (which stopped new stuff ten years ago when Schulz died and stopped being funny thirty years ago), Family Circle, etc., I’d guess your circulation might net higher, while skewing younger.

  15. Isn’t it worth performing the experiment of actually leaving Dennis out and seeing if the heavens fall?

    I can assure you the heavens WON’T fall, but you obviously need to discover this for yourself, grasshopper.

    To echo what TJ said, it’s time to move on and gradually attract younger readers.

  16. “The Comics” sure have changed over the decades. There was a time, really not that long ago, where many comics filled an entire page. And because there was no television, books were expensive, and “taking in a film” was a rare and special event, the comics often were the only visual medium for humor, satire, and even literature..

    During my past hobby of comic collecting, I have had several full page editions of many strips from the early 20th century we would recognize today, and many others that have disappeared. Two favorites I had hanging on my walls for years were a Prince Valiant and Dick Tracy, both full page, in vibrant and detailed color.

    Today most comics are relegated to a simple daily strip of a few frames, and even the Sunday editions are limited to just a snippet of what we used to see.

    Of course, some strips are arguably better and more effective for their brevity, taking for example many political cartoons.

    But others, like the aforementioned Prince Valiant, suffer in my opinion, where the full page could showcase the art and complex story arc.

    Comics are a special art form that serves a multitude of purposes, and as media and progress has marched on, they have unfortunately been marginalized to some degree. But maybe that’s just life, or maybe some papers are missing out on an opportunity?

    I think many papers struggle with this.

    And I agree that many of the traditional strips, although beloved by many, have probably lost some relevance, especially if new material is not being produced.

    And that is one of the aspects of the comic that is so attractive, its ability to be relevant to everyday life.

    As the recent uptick in graphic novel inspired film adaptations has shown, there are many new and aspiring writers and artists of recent generations ready to take the reins.

    And as older strips run their course, new artists can fill the void.

    I encourage papers to expand their comics, especially taking risks with new strips. I don’t think it has to be just for a guffaw or two, but can also be an opportunity for daily dose of history, literature, and satire.

    Here are two stories on the topic of managing the comics that some might find interesting:

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9501E7D9173EF931A1575BC0A9629C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=1

    http://ignatz.brinkster.net/clastgreat.html

    Al

  17. This is yet ANOTHER example of a newspaper editor who just does not know what he’s talking about!

    “Zits” is not ALWAYS a three panel comic strip. If you’d actually take the time to read it, you’d see that.

    You ran a “poll” to get readers to suggest comics they like, but you’ll add “Get Fuzzy” on your own because it’s something you and your buddies in the newsroom get a chuckle out of. What not just add and subtract comics at your own will? Having online polls do nothing. You can’t even call it a “poll” because polls are supposed to be scientific. Why hold it online? How many of those people online actually spend $$$ for content they can get online for free?

    You said you don’t think COMICS are an important part of the newspaper? Get a clue, 31-year-old inexperienced editor dude! You’ve just found out hundreds of people read ‘Dennis the Menace’ enough to threaten to cancel their subscriptions.
    People care about comics. But you wouldn’t know that, your head is so far buried in the dirt, you don’t know what your subscribers care about.

    You really need an education in comics and their role in newspapers.

  18. “your head is so far buried in the dirt, you don’t know what your subscribers care about.”

    I have to wonder if “Dennis Fan” lives in this area and if he knows anything about our community and our paper. We are very fortunate to have Billy as our editor and I find it appalling that people are trashing him in this way. In the year that he has been in Sanford, Billy has done an exceptional job of responding to the needs and desires of our community. Since Billy has been editor, this community has enjoyed seeing the increased coverage of local news, events, and sports. Billy has done an exceptional job of seeking public comment and has even started this blog so that people are free to speak their mind. Unlike the newspaper, people on this blog do not have to identify themselves…yet Billy still allows the comments to be posted regardless of whether or not the poster agrees with the decisions Billy has made or the opinions he has expressed.

    Billy did not say he did not think comics were an important part of the newspaper, he said he did not think Dennis was an important part of the newspaper. I happen to agree since it is a NEWSpaper. But, like he said, what he thinks doesn’t matter if the subscribers don’t agree so he is working to get the very, very tired Dennis the Menace comic strip back into the newspaper.

  19. Wow. The buxom young woman hits the nail on the head.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been reading ‘Get Fuzzy’ in my parents’ N&O for about 8 months now, and it is the first thing I turn to. It’s hilarious (if you have at least a high school reading level).

  20. Billy, thank you for the thought you’ve put into these decisions. You aren’t going to be able to please everybody, as “Dennis Fan” has amply demonstrated, but as an eager comics reader I’m glad to know that the selection process isn’t as arbitrary as it can sometimes seem from my end.

    I read the comics in my local paper over breakfast every morning, and I also read comics online (for free from Chron.com AND by subscription from MyComicsPage.com). I am, in fact, willing to pay money for comics content. I would also be willing to look at advertising in exchange for more comics content. And, no, I don’t like DtM but I think my grandmother does; she is as important a reader as I am.

  21. Whether the Zits story on any given day is depicted in two or three panels, it takes up the same amount of horizontal space. Duh.

  22. Pingback: Worthwhile Comics » Blog Archive » Dennnniiiiissssssss!

  23. All I want to know is why would we take out Dennis but leave in Mary Worth and For Better or For Worse? Mary Worth isn’t even funny. At least Dennis is at times hokie when he is menacing mean old Mr. Wilson.

    I could care less actually.

  24. C’mon folks!!!! You’d think they just removed the last possible place to view Dennis in the whole wide world!!! Has anyone ever heard of the Information Super Highway? It’s this neat new place where you can access almost anything you want through a cool thing called “googling” – you can just type in a key word for what you want and BAM! – you have a list longer than your arm of ways to access the info!!! I’ll just bet you can find your daily Dennis-fix there!

    Billy has done a fantastic job of improving our newspaper – I don’t always agree with his editorials, movie reviews, or even some of his posts (1st, he’s an editor, it’s in his nature to spark controversy; 2nd, if we all agreed with everything, it would be a pretty boring world) – but, that’s not the point – he has come to love our community and gives a lot to it through the paper and other ways. Just the fact that he is willing to work out a way to keep Dennis tells you something about him!

    Now – if it had been Bazaaro that he cut, I’d be contributing a different slant on the conversation here!!!! ha-ha

  25. The problem, Kim, is that the reader who enjoys DtM enough to complain about it or threaten to cancel his circulation probably doesn’t own a computer and never will.

    Sometimes editors have to do what they think best despite complaints or threats from a handful (or even more than a handful) of readers. Most won’t follow through; they’re only using threats to get what they want.

  26. Great choice with Get Fuzzy. Even though I’m not in the N.C. area. Get Fuzzy is one of my favorites at the moment. I like Darby’s style. I am also glad to see newspapers making new choices for comics. There is way too much funny material being produced today that should be running in the dead tress over some of the ancients that are locked into publication.

  27. If it were up to me, I’d go further than even Jon mentioned. I’d also drop Beetle Bailey, Hi and Lois and even Garfield. There are a lot of new comics out there that are hilarious and relevant and whose authors put a lot of time and effort into making their strips cool.

    The ones I mentioned are, for the most part, just vehicles for bad jokes that don’t take a lot of thought — in fact, I’ve heard that Jim Davis isn’t even directly involved in Garfield on a day to day basis. It’s mostly made by a staff of subordinates. The Los Angeles Times dropped the strip a few years ago, and I think that was a bold move toward restoring some relevance to this part of the paper.

    As much as I dislike strips like Mary Worth and For Better or For Worse, I can at least see that their content is thought out (if confusing and a little bit dumb to me) and not just the product of some kind of lever-pulling.

    Eh, whatever.

  28. The only thing menacing about Dennis is that comic’s perpetuation of tired gender stereotypes and daily “you’re old jokes” that make Garfield look positively witty with it’s 3 joke repetoire (fat/dieting/lasagna & Jon’s a loser).

    Get Fuzzy and Pearls Before Swine are fresh and funny.
    They’re the main reasons I open up my comics each morning (certainly not for Blondie, B.C., Beetle Bailey, Hagar or anything else that has run since before I was born)

    Let’s not hold on to comics for pure nostalgia sake.

    Even though they’re the best comics ever written (IMO) reruns of old strips like Boondocks or Calvin & Hobbes strip are also not the way to go.

    We’ve read them. We own the books. Move on to something new for me to read!

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