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The fate of comics after newspapers

From the comic strip "Frazz" by Jef Mallett

TEXT OF STORY

Bill Radke: One reason newspapers are in trouble is that you can so happily get your news other places. It's fun to scan the Web for stories. It's easy to, you know, check your stocks on your phone. But there's one part of newspapers that seems to go best with a cup of coffee and some crinkly newsprint, and that is the comics section. Reporter John Rabe wanted to know: What happens to comics if newspapers die?


John Rabe: Jef Mallet draws Frazz -- a sweet, smart comic strip about an elementary school janitor -- out of his home in Lansing, Mich.

Jef Mallett: You dream right from the start that it could be a living. I was able to feel confident enough to go strictly full-time with Frazz after about a year of syndication.

Mallett grew up reading standbys like Peanuts, and now he's making his living drawing a strip that runs in 150 U.S. newspapers. But these days the Detroit News, which runs Frazz, only delivers three days a week, and other papers are shutting down or going online only.

Mallett: Sometimes I worry that they're just so ingrained and associated with ink on newsprint that they're just not going to fit quite as well into wherever newspapers go next.

All comics are already online, but nobody's found a way yet to get the web to pay enough so that drawing a strip can stay a full-time job.

Cartoonists are worried. At their annual convention last month, they held a seminar on "The Future of Newspapers and Comics," where Jim Borgman, who draws the strip Zits, heard from a lot of frazzled young artists.

Jim Borgman: Yeah, you may have a syndicated strip. You certainly need to keep a Web site up. You're probably blogging. Some of these guys have like stand-up acts. They're in bands that. you know, somehow cross pollinate with their strip. One guy looked up at me today and said, "You need a staff to do this."

Cartoonist Darrin Bell has chronicled the death of newspapers in his strip, Candorville, and he actually has a tip jar on his Web site. He says the money coming in from the Web -- not just in tips -- is only a quarter of his income as a cartoonist. But he's not worried about comics.

Darrin Bell: Comics have been around basically since the first caveman found the first cave wall.

One thing we're fairly sure cave men didn't draw on cave walls is crossword puzzles. They debuted in newspapers in 1913.

Will Shortz is NPR's Puzzlemaster and editor of the New York Times crossword. He says puzzles will survive in books and online even if newspapers go away, and the economic impact on puzzle makers will be minimal.

Will Shortz: Honestly, most people are making puzzles cause they love it -- they just love the process - and they're anxious to see their names in print. They're not doing it for the money.

Shortz pays his freelancers 200-bucks for a daily puzzle and a thousand for a Sunday puzzle, but since he publishes the work of more than a hundred puzzle makers a year, nobody's making a real living at this except him.

In Los Angeles, I'm John Rabe for Marketplace.

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