Thursday, July 27, 2006

NYT Comics Page + the Military

NYT ME Gerald Marzorati answers reader mail about the comics page:
For full, please click here

Thinking Up the Funny Pages
Q. First off, let me write a big thanks. I love the magazine, best part of the Sunday paper. Regrettably, I can't get The Times over here in Iraq and reading the mag online just isn't the same. The other day I was up in Mosul. An officer I had a meeting with up there had a big stack of The Times with one of the magazines on top behind his desk, which I eyed jealously throughout the meetings. His wife must have mailed them to him.

Anyway, my question: How did you make the decision to add the story/comic book section? I read the explanation why in that edition and I kind of buy it. What I'd like to know is how you came to the decision and how did you pick those particular categories? It seems like such a break with the direction of the magazine. Thanks much and keep up the good work!
-- CDR Brendan McLane

A. Dear Commander (have I got that right?) McLane -- Your letter has already made my day, not just that you like the magazine, but -- speaking as a general-interest-magazine editor, that is, as someone who lives to reach the generally curious reader -- that you wrote me from Iraq not to pick apart our coverage of the war but to inquire about comics and stuff!

In one respect, you embody the reason I was interested in scheming up the Funny Pages. In the post-9/11 world, a lot of our pages are being devoted to Iraq and, more generally, to national security and the war on terror. I wanted there to be a place in the magazine that was escapist. I count on attracting readers who want to be informed, of course, but I also count on attracting readers who want to be entertained -- hence the crossword puzzle, the Ethicist column, and so on. We reach readers on Sunday morning, when a quiet break from the world, an escape, may be precisely what they have in mind.

The other big thing I had in mind was finding some way to evoke the funny pages of old-timey Sunday papers (though not of the Times, which never had them) in a contemporary way, and here, our popular culture presented a prefect opportunity. To me, the graphic novel -- the book-length narrative told in comics-style by artists like Chris Ware and others -- is one of the most vibrant young mediums we have. Ditto a new kind of humor writing which is neither jokey nor satirical but memoirish and oddball, a kind of writing that has popped up in recent years at reading nights in clubs and bars in New York, and on the public-radio show "This American Life." (As it happens, two of the people here involved in the Funny Pages, Paul Tough and John Hodgman, have produced things for "This American Life." Hodgman also now has the strangest moonlighting gig any writer at the magazine has ever had -- he plays the tweedy PC in the new Apple TV commercials.) The third feature of the Funny Pages is serial fiction, and, again, I happen to think we are living in a terrific era for genre fiction -- that is crime, detective, and legal-thriller fiction -- and since no other magazine was publishing it, why not us?

You are right, it's a break with the tradition of the magazine -- with The Times as a whole, for that matter. But as we seek out new readers across the country and around the globe (via the Web), I suspect we'll be doing a lot more things that haven't been done before. Now, as a lot of letter writers have made clear, the Funny Pages are not for everyone, but as a lot of other letter-writers (especially younger ones) have made clear, they love them. Me, I want readers to find something to like in the magazine each week, and then take a bike ride or play with the kids. Hey, it's Sunday.

You keep safe.

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