News of Yore: More 1950s Paranoia

Caniff Answers Editorial On Opinions in Strips

To get on with the pro and con as to political comment in comic strips (E&P, June 10, p. 38) Milt “Steve Canyon” Caniff also replied to a recent Denver (Colo.) Post editorial. The Post was against political expression by cartoonists and suggested the Steve Canyon comic strip “seems to have fallen into the hands of the Nationalist China lobby.”

“Asia in general (and China in particular) has long been the scene of operations of Canyon and company,” responded Mr. Caniff. “The area was chosen be­cause it has always spawned ad­venture and intrigue. To shift from that portion of the globe because a war has taken place between exponents of opposing political faiths there would be an act of dissolution on the part of a writer of fiction, since conflict as a background, is the salt and essence of all escapist adventure.”

Next to love, in reader appeal. said the cartoonist, are: “(a) In peacetime, the desire to escape from the humdrum cares of whatever commitment holds one in bondage, (b) In time of war— be it cold or hot—the destruction of the known enemy is far for­ward in the reader’s conscious­ness …

“In the light of the foregoing, the present situation in Steve Canyon is allowable as entertain­ment . . .

“Facing the physical facts of the Communist government now incumbent in China, would you have me align my characters on that side? Opposition to Red Chinese rule does not make me the creature of the Nationalist lobby; it arrays my thinking with that of quite a few Americans who feel that the place to stop the intruder is at the post of the watchdog in the yard, not inside the house.”

The Post had also objected to “Little Orphan Annie” by Harold Gray for “its expression of rugged individualism and the ‘devil take the hindmost attitude’.” “Gaso­line Alley and Mary Worth have been guilty, too,” said the Post. “Skeezix has been caught utter­ing words of anguish about social­ism, and even Terry (of Pirates fame) has tried to sell us a bill of goods about far eastern poli­tics from time to time.”

Capp’s Position on Strip Opinion Draws Dissent
By Jane McMaster

Managing editor James S. Pope of the Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal, and Editor-Gen­eral Manager H. R. Wishengrad of Press Features disagree with cartoonist Al Capp’s recent state­ment that opinions belong on com­ic pages. Mr. Capp recently re­sponded to a Denver (Colo.) Post editorial which had objected to philosophizing in strips. (E&P, June 10, p. 38.)

“I want to warn you in all friendliness that the editors of the country are getting aroused about the use of comic characters to speak the social and economic and political philosophy of the artist,” Mr. Pope wrote to the United Features cartoonist. “It could easily be whipped into a real battle now, and I would sor­rowfully be arrayed against you and my favorite people, the Yokums.”

Mr. Wishengrad wrote: “I think the Post is right and Al Capp, whose tongue and wit are as razor-sharp as his art, is dead wrong.”

“For example,” continued Mr. Wishengrad, “if Al insists on the right of political comment for himself in cartoons, why shouldn’t every reporter covering a fire or City Hall have the same right in every story he knocks out? And why shouldn’t someone hired to write a column on how to get jobs, or how to fix things around the house, or how to take care of your health, inject his political views into his column?

“Injecting those views into a comic strip is taking unfair ad­vantage of newspapers which cer­tainly never would have hired the strip if it started out that way,” Mr. Wishengrad concluded.

Mr. Pope wrote the creator of “Li’l Abner”:
“You speak of comic artists being ‘thinking Americans’ and you refer a good deal to Mark Twain; but neither idea is very relevant. The artists should be thinking Americans indeed. They should think constantly how they can entertain their public through the enormous forum given them by the newspapers. They should think about human nature, about social foibles, about romance and adventure and laughter. These are their proper materials. Their field is as wide as the earth, and I’m hanged if I see why any of them want to bother with the con­tentious artificial area of political and economic ideas, or any con­troversial issues whatever.

“The first responsibility of a good editor is to label his propa­ganda,” continued Mr. Pope. “The editorial page is recognized as a place where the editor expresses private opinions. People read them as such and are not indoc­trinated unawares. Political col­umnists likewise are easy to identify and guard against. But all the rest of the paper should be free from propaganda. No­where is the reader’s guard down, mentally, as on the comic page. . . . Popular characters such as Li’l Abner and his family have wide appeal, and this cannot be prostituted to the selling of your ideas or mine. If we haven’t the power to express and sell them straight we have no right to sell them as Yokum-hokum.”

“Li’l Abner” was not singled out for objection in the Post edi­torial. Mr. Capp said he wrote the Post merely to defend a car­toonist’s right to be a thinking human being.

[ And so we get to the heart of the matter. All the comic strip bashing really has little to do with the Red Scare or character merchandising or the safety of our precious youth. No, it’s newspaper editors having hissy fits over cartoonists having the ability to voice an opinion – any opinion – in their strips. It just irks these tin-plated dictators that a mere comic strip has more power than their precious editorials to interest, and perhaps even sway, the newspaper-reading public.

How dare Al Capp or Walt Kelly or Garry Trudeau intrude on their little feifdoms and, without their express permission, say something, even couched under the guise of satire, that doesn’t fit the editor’s own philosophy. And those self-righteous editors know darn well that if they do what they really want — cancel the features — the outcry among readers would be a tidal wave compared to the ripple in the bathtub that would ensue were they to shut off the spigot of their own editorial pronouncements. — Allan]

One comment on “News of Yore: More 1950s Paranoia

  1. This is why Al Capp is one of my heroes…he was never afraid to say what was on his mind, and the people, for the most part, loved him for it. The cowardliness of these editors is indicative of a bigger problem, i.e. people afraid of losing their jobs because they’re afraid of rocking the boat. (And they wonder why readership is down…)

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