Monday, March 12, 2007

"Candorville" Creator Says S.O.S. -- "Save Our Strip"



Van Nuys native Darrin Bell, creator of the comic "Candorville," found out (without warning) last Monday that his strip had been pulled from the Los Angeles Times.

As we noted in our interview with Lalo Alcaraz, the "La Cucaracha" creator sprung into action when his comic was dumped -- and the Times immediately reversed course.

But so far, the paper hasn't extended that change of heart to "Candorville." Franklin Avenue got ahold of Bell and asked him a few questions:

FRANKLIN AVENUE: How did you find out that the Times had pulled "Candorville"?

BELL: Someone on the rec.arts.comics.strips newsgroup said "sorry to see you were cancelled today." The shock didn't wear off until yesterday. Usually a paper will inform the syndicate beforehand. The Times didn't do that.

FA: Did they give you or your syndicator a reason?

BELL: Not really. From what I'm told, they were ordered to save space, cut costs, yadda yadda yadda.

This is just one more negative effect of the past decade of huge Media mega-mergers. The LA Times' editors have been fighting a losing battle against their Chicago bosses' demands that they increase profitability by slashing costs.

The paper itself is much smaller and thinner than it used to be, and that's not because it's been running laps; it's because it's gradually been forced to cut features, columnists, coverage, etc., just as most other conglomerate-owned newspapers.

They're not alone -- it's an industry-wide problem. The comics might just be the most visible barometer of this. Candorville wasn't cut because they didn't like it or because they didn't think their readers appreciated or needed it, it was cut purely because the Times was ordered to save space.

It's a rush to the bottom, as if the conglomerates are trying to squeeze as much profit out of their papers, but don't realize they're strangling them in the process. It's no coincidence that polls consistently show comics to be the #1 reason people read the paper, papers are CUTTING comics, and their circulation numbers are plummeting at the same time.

Comics breed reader loyalty. Candorville's demographic are mainly people who get their news from the Daily Show and online sources, and don't have much reason aside from the comics to even pick up a newspaper. It doesn't make sense that they'd hold on to a bunch of strips drawn from the grave, but cut the ones created by young cartoonists who appeal to the demographic the papers need for their long-term survival. They can't see that. That's why they're dying.

FA: Why Candorville in particular?

BELL: I don't know. I was under the impression they were happy with the quality and humor. I'm told they decided what to cut based purely on demographic reasons. Apparently they had too many strips featuring social commentary from a Black perspective, considering how few Blacks live in LA.

They also had too many strips featuring social commentary by people under 40, since they have no interest in appealing to the Daily Show generation. They also had too many strips that regularly lampooned the Media, considering nobody ever associates "the Media" with "LA." Holly-what?

FA: How did you spring into action? Who did you contact? What should fans of the strip do?

BELL: I didn't do much. I posted a notice on my blog and website for LA readers and I e-mailed every LA reader who'd purchased Candorville books, original art or art prints in the past. I didn't call the NAACP or Jesse Jackson or anything (although I'd have answered if they'd called me, if you know what I'm saying).

The way I see it, I've been providing a service with Candorville, representing the underrepresented, speaking out for the downtrodden and dispossessed, speaking truth to power. When our leaders had no clothes, I pointed it out, and I always tried to make people laugh even if they disagreed with me, and tell them a few stories in the process. It's up to readers to decide if they value that service enough to send an e-mail or make a phone call.

If the Times doesn't elect to return Candorville to its pages, readers should contact the LA Daily News and the other papers that serve LA, and bug them until THEY add it.

FA: What kind of pressure do you get (if any) from papers when you tackle tough subjects?

BELL:: I get a little bit of pressure whenever I deal with the issue of Black people who gratuitously use the word "nigga." Clyde sees nothing wrong with the casual usage, Lemont's repulsed by it. It's a very sensitive and complex issue, but it's also a very real one that deserves to be debated. People deserve to hear both sides of the argument so they can make up their own minds. I don't believe in sweeping things like this under a rug.

FA: When are Lemont and Susan finally gonna hook up?

BELL: The short answer: You're talking to a guy who grew up watching "Moonlighting."

The similarly short answer: We'll never know, not if Candorville loses papers like the LA Times, so if you want to find out what happens with Lemont, Susan, and his crazy-ass Baby Momma, you'll need to pester the Times 'til they restore it.

Bell asks "Candorville" fans to send letters here:

Los Angeles Times Readers' Representative Office
E-mail: readers.rep@latimes.com (please also send a bcc to candorville@gmail.com)
Telephone message line: (877) 554-4000
Fax: (213) 237-3535
Postal mail: 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012


Previously on Franklin Avenue: Angeleno of the Week: Lalo Alcaraz.

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