As a newspaper editor and a cartoon lover, it saddens me to see someone in my profession who still thinks newspaper comics shouldn't be any more challenging than "Family Circus" or "Cathy." Doug Clifton, editor of the Cleveland Ohio Plain Dealer, writes in his web blog this week about his distaste for recent controversial "Doonesbury" strips. Trudeau has been firing hard at the war lately, with his excellent series about longtime character B.D.'s war injury and his upcoming plans to list all the U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, "Nightline"-style. He's riled some editors while others are backing him. He's screwed up some -- his strip for this Sunday, done weeks ago and already printed for many papers due to production schedules, has the bad timing of featuring a severed head as a punchline. But while an editor has to acknowledge a strip may raise hackles, I was disturbed to see Clifton back down so much from an editor's duty of supporting all non-libelous viewpoints in his paper, and his insistence to stick comic strips in a ghetto they don't need to be in.
At one point he writes: "We inflict enough pain just by covering the ugly realities of today's world. The funnies ought to be the one refuge from those realities. If Trudeau insists on competing with the front page, he may find himself missing from The PD's comics page." See, to me, the comics can reflect all of reality, the good, the bad, the ugly, and a talent like Trudeau can sometimes even manage to write about something as horrible as war with humor and insight. Cleveland will be the poorer if their paper's editor decides to dump "Doonesbury" because he can't handle a strip that pushes a few buttons.