Many of the international comic strips that appear daily in newspapers have this annoying habit of turning maudlin on “special” occasions, notably Christmas and New Year (sometimes July 4 too, or Thanksgiving or Halloween). At such times you’ll have special one-panel strips featuring the entire cast of characters beaming out at the reader, saying “Have a great 2005!” or “Trick or Treat!” or “Let’s all conserve fuel together!” or some such. The concept is annoying at the best of times - who wants to see Tom and Jerry, or Garfield and Odie, or Dennis the Menace and Mr Wilson, put aside their differences for a day and pose arm in arm? (And don’t get me started on Dennis dressed up as a firefighter, asking for a minute’s silence for the victims of 9/11.) But you know when it’s worse? When you turn to the comics section of a leading Indian daily on May 25 and find Archie and the gang (Hot Dog, Mr Lodge, the works) yelling “Happy New Year!”
Now we understand that the syndication agreements that allow comic strips to be featured in foreign newspapers are complicated, inflexible things - there isn’t much (if any) scope for the order of the strips to be tampered with, or for a newspaper to leave out a comic one day at its discretion. And naturally the dates of original publication will differ from the dates of use in the foreign newspaper. But can we pleez to be having 250 gram of common sense at least? (I know, I know, that’s a rich expectation given the editorial standards of the “leading dailies”.)
Exactly what kind of cerebral activity is at work when the sub-editor/page-in-charge picks up the comic strip for the day and fits it in the blank space on the Quark file? Or is everyone in the newspaper office so careworn that they don’t bother to actually look at the strips any more? The comic strips for heaven’s sake, the first things most of us learnt to look at in newspapers, and often still the most ennobling things in them.
It’s probably just that there’s too much else to do that’s more important - like getting all the names right in the captions on the P3 party photos.