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Cigars and the Comics

Neil A. Grauer
From the Print Edition:
Jack Nicholson, Summer 95

(continued from page 5)

"Comics are one of the top two or three elements of any newspaper," says Lee Salem of Universal Press Syndicate. "People look at the front page, sports, the classified ads and the comics." Comic strips are known to have their fans in places high as well as humble. In 1988, Ronald Reagan's spokesman, Larry Speakes, said that the President faithfully read every strip in The Washington Post--a task that took eight minutes a day. Garry Trudeau said he was "reassured" to know that "the leader of the free world has spent a total of 14 days, 16 hours and 48 minutes of his presidency reading the comics."

The kind of controversy that Trudeau's "Doonesbury" can spark has been common since the beginning of comic strips. Early in this century, clergy and educators denounced the comics as "vulgar"; today, the story line in "Doonesbury," "For Better or Worse" or "Cathy" can prompt temporary cancellation and reader mail, pro or con.

Jeff MacNelly dismisses as premature any talk of the death of the comics. "I don't think comics are a dying art. I think it's evolving. I'm experimenting with all sorts of things, like computers. There will always be comic strips, not only in newspapers but in other formats. As long as you can create interesting characters and tell good stories, there will be a market for comics."

Perhaps the current revival in cigar-smoking will find itself reflected in today's comics, just as other trends still are turning up in the funny papers. That would suit Jeff MacNelly's Shoe just fine. Then he would have a larger audience for his column, "The Cigar Corner Sewer," to which a reader recently wrote: "Dear Mr. Shoemaker: I'd like to enjoy cigar smoking on a regular basis but I find that they burn my tongue. What can I do?"

Shoe replied: "Next time try putting the other end in your mouth."

Neil A. Grauer is a Baltimore writer and caricaturist and the author of Remember Laughter: A Life of James Thurber (University of Nebraska Press).

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