Doonesbury reminds me that I was wrong

I learned three rules about the comics page and readers when I was an editor:

Rule 1: Don’t mess with the comics for any reason, even if the cartoonist dies.

Rule 2: People want their comics to be funny to them. If the comic strip isn’t funny, or worse, seems inappropriate to them, then it should be pulled.

Rule 3: When faced with Rule 1 and Rule 2, you’re screwed.

Now comes the latest Doonesbury kerfuffle, this time over this week’s worth of comic strips about abortion, Texas and Virginia. Jim Romenesko explains each day’s strip.

Among North Carolina’s larger papers, the News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer are running the strip; the News & Record and the Winston-Salem Journal are not.

This is another topic I have flipped on since I left the business. As an editor, I would have substituted the strip, saying something to the effect that I don’t mind publishing something that will make people mad, but I’d just as soon it be a news story rather than a comic strip. I don’t need to spend even a minute fielding phone calls from outraged people who say they have to shield their 8-year-olds from the comics page.

Now, as a reader, I feel cheated. Doonesbury is an institution and by this time, you know what you’re going to get. Doonesbury is The Daily Show on the comics page. When people would complain that they didn’t like a particular strip, I would say, “That’s OK. We don’t expect people to like every comic we print. That’s why we publish two dozen of them with different styles and tones. You can pick and choose.”

I wish I had listened to myself and let readers pick and choose. I’d pick Doonesbury.

Here’s Garry Trudeau on why he did the sequence.