The value of comics, minimalism

Guest column

In 1995 Bill Watterson chose to unceremoniously end his hugely popular comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes, much to the devastation of CalvinHeads everywhere, myself included. The strip transcended boundaries of the comic strip genre, presenting red wagonloads of philosophical dilemmas, paired with ironic humor, slapstick, and intricate artwork. Calvin and Hobbes helped to establish the comic strip as a reputable art form, and its ignoble end was a true artistic tragedy.
Though Watterson would cite "quitting while you're ahead" as an explanation, true comic aficionados would have read a more detailed explanation in his anniversary editions. The artist was frustrated and overwhelmed from battling with a syndicate that wanted to exploit and commercialize the success of the strip, by creating everything from Hobbes dolls to Calvin boxer shorts. Anyone who views Calvin and Hobbes as a true art form can imagine Watterson's dismay: Would Michelangelo have wanted to see plush Adam dolls reaching for a Beanie Baby version of God's hand?
If one looks at a comic strip as a work of art, then a newspaper serves as the art gallery. As the future of newspapers remains precarious, so does the future of the traditional comics page. For many of us, relaxing in front of the Sunday comics is a nostalgic memory, although comics are certainly relevant in present day: clipped comics still adorn cubicles and bulletin boards, Web comics continue to gain cult-like followings from members of the Internet generation, and political cartoons have been responsible for violence and uproar worldwide.
The reason that such a simple and seemingly childish art form is so powerful is that the artists reduce life down to a few simplified strokes, and by using several choice words seem to get to the root of a situation. Mark Twain once said, "I didn't have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one." Minimalism is forceful and difficult to achieve, and in a world of 3-D movies, digital graphics, and overstimulation, it is often refreshing.
Many people now read online newspapers and lose the experience of the comics page. presents readers with the option of clicking through hundreds of panels of dozens of different comic strips, but this lacks the connection with characters that is formed by following the story day after day, and too many choices is overwhelming. A comics page also gives newcomers a platform, and provides the artists with income. I am waiting for the papers to come up with a MyComicsPage, which would provide a Web page in traditional comic-page format, that would let readers customize which toons they would like to see and throw in a few random ones for interest. This would be popular with nostalgic readers as well as with tech-savvy kids and adults.
If the newspaper industry ignores this time-honored comics page platform, the "art gallery," as it goes increasingly online, then we will lose access to many artists' creations. This unique art form will never die; it will mutate and spread to other venues, but the traditional comics page will be lost. The next Bill Watterson will go unnoticed, and have to keep his job at the local burger joint because his Web comic has no way to make money. Ideally, the major papers will adopt an idea like mine and the comics page will live on victoriously, but the newspaper industry does not seem to see the value in this form of minimalistic art. Or as Calvin would say, succinctly and simply, "Reality continues to ruin my life."[[In-content Ad]]