There’s more to ‘comics’ than the jokes they tell | Opinion

This newspaper is reviewing the contents of its cartoon pages. It is auditioning new candidates, and soon it will be asking readers for their opinions. I know something about comics. I owned and published the Comic News for a decade, folding America’s only free weekly humor magazine in 2005. Along the way, I learned a few things.

First, I consider “comics” a misnomer. Cartooning is the medium, and most cartoonists strive to be funny, but that’s only part of the story. “Prince Valiant” and “Rex Morgan” are not meant to be humorous, but they are cartoonish. They tell their stories with characters and plots that are simpler than real life.

People love stories. Stories meet a deep need. They give us meaning. Whether it’s an empathetic connection with an imperiled character or a three-panel gag, the reader’s aim is to “get it.” We’ve decoded the cipher, solved the puzzle or sorted the predicament. That provides a deep satisfaction. Once we “get it,” it’s ours.

Unlike most possessions, this act of “getting it” does not constitute hoarding. The content doesn’t stay long inside our heads. We get an immediate charge, but then we quickly forget the joke. You’ll remember it only if you pass it on — it’s a possession without possessiveness. You can’t remember later what Dagwood heard from Blondie, unless you clipped it and stuck it on your…

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