Friday, January 11, 2008

Yes, You Do Need Cartoons to Read!

Just thought I'd pass along, a very interesting blog post about the infantilization of the modern newspaper: Dr. Etzioni makes some great points and I sympathize with his view. However, I did have some thoughts in response which I posted in his comments section and have included below. But before you read my comments (or at the very least, right after) pleas check out his original post.

I'm 34 years-old, an on-again/off-again news hound, and an avid comics fan. I remember being shocked when the New York Times first printed a color photo on its page 1 and thinking "this is the beginning of The End." Likewise with the Wall Street Journal started including color on its pages. And so it was an end of sorts. The end of intransigently stodgy institutions. Even these titans would have to kowtow to the Internet Age.

I mourn that loss for nostalgia's sake - the idea I held when I was (more of) a youngster that The Times and The Journal were papers I would come to read as a "grown up". Little did I know then that I wouldn't even be reading the actual "papers" but the electronic facsimile thereof. And for that very reason I welcome the change. Most of my communication with my dad these days surrounds the NYT articles we forward to each other via email throughout the week. Thus the makeover of these dusty old juggernauts doesn't simply serve a cosmetic purpose, but a functional one, as it brings their formidable presence to bear on what was seen (and is by some still seen) as a lightweight medium. Note that the parent companies of The Times and The Journal respectively undertook infrastructure changes that were extremely costly in time and money to produce their new "looks". From that, I can only presume that the changes were to adapt to the advent of the Internet and not for appearances alone.

Finally, I submit that comics are not infantile in and of themselves, but are in fact an equal, if not higher form of written communication than print alone. The content of a lot of products within the comics medium can be and is extremely infantile, but the form itself is one that has been crafted throughout the history of written communication (literally, history itself). There, I've said it. But for an expert treatment of this premise, I refer you to Scott McCloud's seminal work, "Understanding Comics" (

Truthfully, I would insist not only that you should read it, but also the producers of the very same publications you pooh-pooh above for being too "comics"-like. I think what you'll both find is that a true understanding of the comics form could substantially increase readability and generative comprehension of news and other topics of importance. Further you'll see why the mere window-dressing of colorful pictures and stacks of bold headlines simply result in lousy newspapers and worse "comics". McCloud's follow-up to "Understanding Comics" called "Reinventing Comics" ( discusses the lessons of the comics medium, applying them to new media and information systems such as the Internet. Too much to cover here, and I've butchered what little I did. So I leave you in Mr. McCloud's capable hands.

No comments: