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It’s no laughing matter. Austerity, consolidation, and platform disparity undermine cartoons and comics
Preview of article by Rob Tornoe | for Editor & Publisher October 26, 2023
26th October, 2023
Preview of article by Rob Tornoe | for Editor & Publisher
While no major newspaper chains in the U.S. have pulled the plug entirely on comics sections, publishers have been willing to make wholesale moves involving comics and puzzles they wouldn't have dreamt of doing in previous years for fear of alienating more of their declining print subscribers.”
But that relationship between generations of Australians and the newspapers that have long published the comic strip was instantly severed when the two major chains down under — Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp Australia and Nine Entertainment — decided to eliminate all comic strips.
News Corp. was first to the party, ending the funny pages in over 100 Australian newspapers in September 2022 to focus on games and puzzles, citing “changing readership habits of our audiences.” Nine Entertainment, whose chain of 100 newspapers includes the country’s most-read broadsheet, the Sydney Morning Herald, did the same thing in August.
It wasn’t just “Ginger Meggs” that was impacted. Other long-running Australian comic strips —“Swamp” by Gary Clark, “Snake” by Sols (real name Allan Salisbury), “Insanity Streak” by Tony Lopes, and “Beyond the Black Stump ” by Sean Leahy — all came suddenly face-to-face with a future where not a single newspaper in the entire country published comics.
“We all in one day got laid off, along with the entire comic strip industry,” said Jason Chatfield, who has been writing and drawing “Ginger Meggs" since 2007. Even Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese weighed in, calling it “just another step in the decline of modern media.”
Apart from it being a short-sighted decision to cut costs, Chatfield said the most frustrating aspect of the ordeal was the refusal of editors over the years to bring “Ginger Meggs" and other Australian comic strips onto the web along with other content from the newspapers, as readers transition from print to digital.
Ginger Meggs, a comic strip that had run in Australian papers for over 100 years, was recently eliminated, along with all other comic strips, from the two major Australian newspaper chains, News Corp Australia and Nine Entertainment.
“We begged from day one that News Corp and Nine Entertainment bring the strips online with the Sudoku, the horoscopes, and the crosswords and puzzles they had ported to the app,” Chatfield said. “They just didn’t. There was this stubborn reluctance that absolutely wasn’t grounded in any logic whatsoever… I was just summarily ignored.”
Cartoonists and syndication companies in the United States are keenly aware of what happened in Australia and what it could portend for comic strips here. While no major newspaper chains in the U.S. have pulled the plug entirely on comics sections, publishers have been willing to make wholesale moves involving comics and puzzles they wouldn't have dreamt of doing in previous years for fear of alienating more of their declining print subscribers.
In March 2021, McClatchy Group consolidated their comics and puzzles into one standardized page that appears across all their properties.
Lee Enterprises followed suit in September 2022, unifying their comics and puzzle offerings across their 77 daily newspapers and reducing the number of comics in their dailies. The Omaha World-Hearld reported that “a number of comic strips that we've been providing readers for years are no longer published in the paper.”