The Banning of Cartoons

Newspaper comic strips can sometimes be about such important controversial issues that they are banned. In 2001, a particular segment of the comic called “The Boondocks” was banned from the New York Daily News and Newsday.

In an interview with David Wiegand, the Executive Datebook Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, I asked the following questions about banning comics:

Why would some American newspapers ban a popular political cartoon?

I can’t tell you why other papers pulled that particular strip.

Do the majority of Americans remember that Aaron McGruder was making a reference to America supporting the Afghanis in the 1980’s?

I doubt it, but have no specific knowledge, really, of what the majority of Americans remember about news events. I suspect that any time a comic strip makes reference to actual events, some people get the reference and some don’t.

Can you get another comic from the same artist that’s less controversial?

Sometimes, yes. But I can’t really remember the last time I ever objected to a comic. I mean, we put “Bad Reporter,” by our own Don Asmussen, on the back page of Datebook twice a week. That strip is now syndicated. And every single one of those strips is topical. He’s dealt with the flap over the cartoons of Mohammed, gay panic over Brokeback Mountain, and, god knows, Bush, Newsom, Arnold and every politician you can think of. We celebrate that strip and that cartoonist.

Do you ever discontinue comic features? And why?

Yes, when they prove themselves not very popular with readers, and/or because we have found an even better strip. Right now, I have two or three in my files that I would love to add to the comics pages if I had space.

On Sunday January 15th, 2006, why was “Doonesbury” put on the second page instead of the first page? Was it do the State of the Union Address? Can you elaborate on this?

No, not at all. The reason was that the comics are shuffled around according to space. And, every so often, Target buys a big half-page ad on the back of the comics pages. That means the usual arrangement has to be rearranged. That’s fine, but I asked the folks who make up the comics pages to make sure they let me know if they’re going to move “Doonesbury” from its usual space because, basically, they shouldn’t.

Who is the person who makes the decision to bump off a comic? Would someone like you be able to make this decision, and do you get complaints from the advertisers?

That’s a decision made by various editors based on a lot of factors—the biggest being reader reaction. I just added a new manga (Japanese) comic, for example, and had to get rid of another strip to make up for it. After we made the change, I had, literally, two letters of complaint that the old comic had gone, which pretty much confirms it wasn’t among the popular ones. We don’t ever get complaints from advertisers, or praise really, as far as I know. They don’t really weigh in on comics issues.

Is there any way of stopping the bumping of a popular comic, or does it have to be bumped if it’s considered too controversial?

It’s never about controversy. If a strip gets bumped off and there’s a huge outpouring of reader reaction, we’ll obviously reconsider.

This is the way that comics are moved when there are too many companies that buy the page space. What we have learned is that comics aren’t really banned if they are too controversial.

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