Tuesday, February 20, 2007


For more than a century, the New York Times kept its nose in the air and refused to carry comic strips the way other newspapers did. Odi Profanum Vulgus Et Arceo -- "I detest the common crowd, and I rebuff them."

As a result, the Times cordoned itself off from some of the best pen and ink work of the 20th century. Brilliant political cartoonists such as David Low, Pat Oliphant and Jeff MacNelly did not appear in the Times. Phenomenal comic strip artists such as Winsor McCay, George Herriman, Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff, Walt Kelly, Leonard Starr, Bill Watterson and others appeared in competitor newspapers, but never in the Times.

A few years ago, the Times relented and began running comics such as this.

I am amazed that, after resisting 100 years of great art, the Times finally reversed its position in order to carry such feeble work. They obviously still don't get it.

The Times seems to have been duped by the currently fashionable "I'm-so-smart-I don't-have-to-draw-well" genre. Many popular comic artists explain that the quality of their drawings is not important except to move the narrative forward. To me, such an art form is closer to typography than comic art. It shrinks from the potential of a combined words-and-pictures medium.

The funny thing is, many of these artists genuinely appreciate the accomplishments of their predecessors. They excuse themselves from striving for the same standards because they mistakenly believe that the content of their strips is clever or important enough to redeem poor visual execution.

They forgive themselves too easily, and so does the New York Times.