Recently Doonesbury featured a series of strips that addressed a Texas abortion law. Our local newspaper, the Columbus Dispatch, decided not to carry the strips. That decision caused some controversy, and the Dispatch‘s editor wrote a column explaining the reasoning for his decision. In essence, his argument was that the Doonesbury strips in question really didn’t fit on the funny pages.
Of course, the Dispatch has every right to control its content and to decide whether, and if so where, to carry Doonesbury. As the Dispatch‘s editor points out, some newspapers carry Doonesbury on the op-ed page precisely because it frequently includes political content; the Dispatch has chosen not to do so. But Doonesbury is not the only comic strip that is addressing more adult themes. Bloom County did so, Funky Winkerbean has done so, and so has For Better or For Worse — among many others. The daily comics, like so many other aspects of our American culture, have become a lot more diverse, and a lot less predictable, over the past few decades. That change has occurred because many comics artists chafed at the artificial constraints that tradition imposed on comics strips, and wanted to write and draw about topics that were more relevant to their lives.
The reality is that the comics pages found in most American newspapers are no longer just the home for the hilarious hijinks of Nancy and Sluggo and the Peanuts gang, or the soap opera stories of Mary Worth or Rex Morgan, M.D. If you read the comics, you’ll find strips addressing American life from many different perspectives — sometimes humorous, sometimes pointed, sometime poignant — and often with a message. I think that change has made the comics pages a much more interesting read than they used to be.