Fiorella LaGuardio, the consummate New York City politician, knew what was important to his constituents. When a newspaper went on strike in 1945 the colorful mayor took to the radio airwaves and read the funny papers.
People can get by without reading about Congress or their city council each day but take away their favorite comic strip and you've got a fight on your hands. More than one Dispatch reader reads the comics before the front page. There's a 24-year-old Brainerd native who still celebrates his birthday with "Garfield" decorations on his cake.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
Luann Rice of Baxter is one of several Brainerd Dispatch readers who were upset with the newspaper's recent decision to discontinue running Lynn Johnston's "For Better or for Worse" during the week and only run it on Sundays.
"Lynn Johnston has written a family cartoon with great warmth and humor," she wrote in Wednesday's Open Forum. " Unlike "Dilbert," which is mostly written for the male corporate scene, 'For Better or Worse' depicts a mother, father, children and a big, lovable dog in real life situations, which always brings a smile to my face."
Rice said in an interview Thursday a close-knit bond was formed between readers and the Pattersons, the family created for the strip by Johnston. The cartoonist, she said, knows "what it's like to be a mother and having children and pets in a family"
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
The fact that the "For Better or for Worse" panels were ones that had been published earlier didn't diminish her enthusiasm for the strip. She contended the cartoons had been gone so long that most people forgot what happened.
"That didn't bother me at all," she said. "Enough time has passed."
Rice, 71, has written Johnston four times and has received a response (with the cartoonist's creative signature) each time. She theorized that her affinity for the comic strip was because she was a mother and a retired elementary school teacher. She taught school in the Mound, Robbinsdale, Park Rapids and Pequot Lakes districts.
"I can spot a fourth-grader a mile away because I taught fourth-graders for 36 years," she said.
Rice is the mother of two grown boys and, like the Pattersons of the comic strip, her family had dogs.
Every morning, Rice said, her neighbor, Doris Anderson, finishes the crossword puzzle and passes the newspaper on to her so she can read her favorite comics along with the rest of the paper.
Dispatch publisher Terry McCollough is no stranger to the furor caused by tweaking the newspaper's comics section. His grandfather, former Dispatch publisher H.F. McCollough, advised extreme caution and making sure both comics readers and bridge fans were able to read their favorite features. There weren't a lot of bridge column readers, his grandfather would tell him, but those that read it were avid bridge players.
"They are the ones who will pick up the phone ... will call you" his grandfather would say. "They'll make your life miserable."
And is it typical for a strong reaction to be provoked when the Dispatch adds or deletes a comic?
"How about just about every time," McCollough said with a laugh. "People don't like change."
The Dispatch made three changes to its comics recently. In addition to discontinuing "For Better or for Worse" during the week, but leaving it in the Sunday comics, the paper eliminated the Sunday "Peanuts" and added a popular new strip, "Dustin" to the weekday lineup. The revision meant that neither "For Better or for Worse" or "Peanuts" would be completely eliminated from the Dispatch.
The primary motivation for reducing but not eliminating "Peanuts" and "For "Better or for Worse" was that both strips were no longer running new panels.
"We had two in re-runs," McCollough said. "It's a bit like a television show. The audience tends to drop a bit. There was nothing new being presented."
Also, the publisher pointed out, compilations of those comic strips are available in book form for loyal fans of "Peanuts" and "For Better or for Worse." He said "Dilbert" has been described by some critics of the Dispatch as a male-oriented comic strip, but he felt "Dilbert" had an appeal to anyone familiar with the office environment.
"That really crosses all gender lines," McCollough said.
"'For Better or for Worse' and "Peanuts" are good strips and are personal favorites, McCollough said, but the audience for comics in the repeat mode goes "absolutely off the cliff."
McCollough sees it as a positive sign that readers feel so strongly about their favorite comic strips.
"We're absolutely pleased they're so passionate about it," he said.
MIKE O'ROURKE, associate editor, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5860.
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