Every section of the newspaper has its devotees, whether it is the people who scan the letters to the editor religiously or those who argue about the sports coverage. Our readers are engaged with each section of the newspaper. I was reminded of this fact after reading complaints about cartoons.

What’s outrageous about the Daily’s cartoons? It’s not that they are offensive or full of obscenities; it’s just that apparently to some readers, they’re not funny. In particular, readers were up in arms over Feng Shui, which one letter writer called, “the worst strip ever penned” and another described as not up to the standards one expects from the Daily and lacking in “narrative wit.” Feng Shui details the exploits of two people who seem to have an affinity for Chinese food.

Is Feng Shui not funny? Well, that’s a difficult question because it’s one of subjective taste over objective fact. I believe questions of humor are better left to readers. At least at the Daily, not everyone thinks Feng Shui isn’t funny.

“I think I’m a little bit of the minority here. I think a lot of them are pretty funny. They are funny in a weird way,” said Gary Graca, the Daily’s editorial page editor.

The latest strip, which appeared Feb. 18, involved a conversation between two friends over the identity of General Tsao. The week before, the strip revealed that one friend was proficient in chopsticks and the other was not. I’ll admit it: I chuckled a little. I found the randomness of the dialogue amusing.

The thing is, cartoons are bound to vary in quality from week to week. Could Feng Shui have been funnier? It’s possible that the comic strip could tickle the funny bone of each and every person who read it. But that seems like unlikely. I’ve been waiting for Cathy to make me laugh for years to no avail. Someone out there must think that comic strip is funny, but it’s not me.

Cartoonists take time to develop a voice. Feng Shui began appearing this semester. Cartooning isn’t quite the same as the work a journalist does because an artist tends to find his or her own way – something that doesn’t always come easily or immediately.

There were also complaints about how the strip is drawn. But I think cartoons should be given leeway to be drawn the way the author intends to draw them. Cartoons, even professional ones, vary generally from cinematic quality drawings to images that are rougher around the edges.

It’s not always easy for editors trained in the news to evaluate comic strips, which are a different animal from news or opinion pieces. Besides, even if one particular strip isn’t “funny” the Daily isn’t going to withhold publication of a strip until the writer makes it “funnier.” What would cause a strip to be pulled is if that offends the standards of the Daily.

“If we get one that is not that funny, we’re in a tight spot to change it,” Graca said.

Besides, cartoons aren’t judged by the same objective standard as news in this regard. If it’s not funny this week (at least in your opinion), hopefully it’ll be funny next week.

The Daily has two regular strip cartoons, Feng Shui and Out to Pasture. Out to Pasture features two cows, who are simply drawn and usually say something catchy. Graca said that finding cartoonists willing to draw a regular strip has been a challenge for the newspaper. “Strips seem hard to do,” Graca said, because each one has to include something of a narrative arc and a punchline at the end. The Daily also has a stable of political cartoonists who appear regularly.

The Daily is always looking for more cartoonists. If anyone has an idea for what might be a funny comic strip or if you think you can do a better job, don’t hesitate to contact the Daily. This is the one fabulous thing about being a college newspaper. If you’re a student here and you don’t like how something is done at the paper, you’re welcome to walk right in, join the staff and make things better yourself. We would welcome the help. If you want to draw cartoons, feel free to contact Graca at graca@michigandaily.com.

Paul H. Johnson is the Daily’s public editor. He can be reached at publiceditor@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.