The conventional wisdom is that nobody ever bought a newspaper for a comic strip, or switched subscriptions to follow a strip from one newspaper to another. While that’s certainly not universally true, it’s no doubt accurate as a general statement. Yet if that’s the case, why is the competition for new strips so fierce, why do papers keep such close tabs on comics-page readership, and why do they trumpet their best strips or that rare coup when they steal a strip from a competitor? Comic strips are serious business in newspapers, but aside from reading them, nobody pays them any mind.

So we sat down while Michael Miner was away with the idea of determining which of our downtown dailies had the better comics section. After all, we don’t need to worry about offending comic-strip editors–or readers. Our focus was specific and uncompromising: what newspaper would a comic-strip fanatic choose if forced to choose one or the other? We decided subjectively but scientifically–strip for strip, mano a mano–rating each from 0 to 10 (10 being perfect, 5 average, and 0 unreadable) and averaging out each paper’s section.

Our criteria were yuks, social insight, and–often overlooked by those who take comic strips for granted–artistic ability: the depth of the drawing on the page or the distinctiveness of the style. In addition, we find no shame in granting that we graded strips with long histories liberally and today’s cookie-cutter, appease-a-demographic strips more harshly. Defenders of Sally Forth are free to complain in letters to the editor and, if we’re guessing correctly about the kind of people who read Sally Forth, they probably will.

The results are no surprise. The Tribune, with its 27 strips earning 133 points, averaged 4.93; the Sun-Times, with 35 strips at 138 points, averaged 3.94. The Trib had two 9s and four 8s, the Sun-Times one 9 and one 8. The Tribune has been amassing strips longer and, over the last ten years, with more diligence. The Sun-Times, meanwhile, has made some unfortunate relatively recent choices according to demographics–Marvin and Sally Forth foremost among them–and has stockpiled popular strips that any self-respecting comics editor would have long since jettisoned (Ziggy and Love Is . . . ). Of course, at 35 cents the Sun-Times averages 0.11 points per penny, while the Trib delivers 0.099. Newspaper readers with a large comic-book budget might want to keep that in mind.

And to anyone who says it’s a waste of time to rate comic strips and comics pages, we respond, “Banana oil!”

Strip (Author[s])/Rating/Commentary


Comics for Kids (Bob Weber Jr.)/3/Another failed attempt to lure tots to the comics page

Garfield (Jim Davis)/3/Every day is Monday

Frank & Ernest (Bob Thaves)/6/Boldly bad puns make it better than the norm

Luann (Greg Evans)/5/A decent if unamazing teen strip

Momma (Mell Lazarus)/4/One of the all-time greats resorts to shtick

Funky Winkerbean (Tom Batiuk)/4/No longer distinctive

Snafu (Bruce Beattie)/6/One of the better one-panels

Dunagin’s People (Ralph Dunagin)/5/A one-panel mainstay

Ziggy (Tom Wilson)/0/Be careful what you wish for

Bent Offerings (Don Addis)/4/Go back to Mad

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird)/1/Driving on suspended licensing

Jump Start (Robb Armstrong)/3/Comix blaxploitation

Crankshaft (Tom Batiuk and Chuck Ayers)/1/A surly spin-off of Funky Winkerbean

Wizard of Id (Brant Parker and Johnny Hart)/6/One of the all-timers carries on

Marvin (Tom Armstrong)/0/Arrested development

Crock (Don Wilder and Bill Rechin)/6/Bounces off Id

Love Is . . . (Kim Grove Casali)/0/. . . a drag

Heathcliff (George Gately)/5/The best of the cat strips

Marmaduke (Brad Anderson)/3/Ran out of gags in the 60s

Belvedere (George Crenshaw)/1/The worst of the dog panels

Nancy (Jerry Scott)/7/Better than when Bushmiller did it

Dennis the Menace (Hank Ketcham)/3/Multimedia, one joke

Family Circus (Bil Keane)/7/If only for the Sundays following Billy’s paths

B.C. (Johnny Hart)/7/An all-timer still knocking ’em out of the park now and then

Rose Is Rose (Pat Brady)/7/A potentially great strip marred by religious meddling

Curtis (Ray Billingsley)/2/Worse than Jump Start

Miss Peach (Mell Lazarus)/7/Still his claim to fame

One Big Happy (Rick Detorie)/1/Bring back Wee Pals

Willy ‘n Ethel (Joe Martin)/8/Chicago artist plays on both sides of Michigan Avenue; this remains his better strip

Overboard (Chip Dunham)/3/Unfunny pirate newcomer

Sally Forth (Greg Howard and Craig MacIntosh)/0/The worst of the feminist-demographic strips

Drabble (Kevin Fagan)/7/Former comic-strip prodigy refuses to grow up, to his everlasting benefit

Arlo and Janis (Jimmy Johnson)/9/Real, funny, real funny

Apartment 3-G (Alex Kotzky)/3/The best of a bad bunch of serials

Mary Worth (John Saunders and Joe Giella)/1/Out of respect for longevity


Peanuts (Charles M. Schulz)/9/Gets more sentimental as the drawing gets worse, yet remains one of the best

Bound & Gagged (Dana Summers)/2/Wish it were

Walnut Cove (Mark Cullum)/3/Unfunny family newcomer

Dick Tracy (Dick Locher and Mike Kilian)/2/Suggested villain: Yhtrownu Srosseccus

Brenda Starr (Mary Schmich and Ramona Fradon)/7/Sharpest media criticism in all of media

Broom-Hilda (Russell Myers)/4/What Rose Is Rose will become if it doesn’t watch out

Sylvia (Nicole Hollander)/8/The most distinctive strip in syndication

Fox Trot (Bill Amend)/5/Wish all the family strips were this funny

Fred Basset (Alex Graham)/4/Tired old dog

Gasoline Alley (Jim Scancarelli)/8/Classic strip, faithful to its origins, and with the best drawing on the comics page

The Amazing Spider-Man (Stan Lee and Larry Lieber)/1/All but unreadable

Mother Goose & Grimm (Mike Peters)/5/Funny in spite of itself

Winnie Winkle (Frank Bolle)/0/Retro look hasn’t helped

Mister Boffo (Joe Martin)/7/His second-best strip

The Buckets (Scott Stantis)/4/Walnut Cove meets Bound & Gagged

Dilbert (Scott Adams)/3/Let’s see, dog, office, computers–oops, forgot the humor

Doonesbury (Garry Trudeau)/8/Still better than its many imitators

Dave (David Miller)/4/Nice drawing; no jokes

Blondie (Dean Young and Stan Drake)/7/Still the model for the family comic strip

Shoe (Jeff MacNelly)/7/Wafting on its laurels

Calvin and Hobbes (Bill Watterson)/9/Still the best

Beetle Bailey (Mort Walker)/2/The definition of a comic strip–to a previous generation

The Phantom (Lee Falk and Sy Barry)/4/A durable serial

For Better or for Worse (Lynn Johnston)/8/A real-life Gasoline Alley; displayed hidden grit with stand on homosexual story line

Cathy (Cathy Guisewite)/4/A comics chaconne: endless variations on a single theme

Hi and Lois (Greg and Brian Walker and Chance Browne)/4/Classic strip diminished by the Walker-Browne family assembly-line humor

Hagar the Horrible (Chris Browne)/4/Ditto

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Tony Griff.