Thursday, February 25, 2016

Comical nostalgia: force for progress or stagnation?

Perhaps you might find yourself in the comics section
Nostalgia can be a powerful force, for good or for ill. Sometimes it can boost a new project, while other times it sucks up all the oxygen and stifles innovation. In today’s comics we see examples of both situations.
Turn to the comics page in this paper and you’ll find 4 daily strips. Three are fresh and new, while the fourth, For Better or for Worse, is a re-run. Created by Collingwood native Lynn Johnston, this strip was a ground-breaking pioneer in many ways during its original 30-year run. Drawing humourous insight from realistic situations of everyday life, it was and remains one of few strips whose characters aged in real time, going from toddler to adult before our eyes. While most days brought a smile or a giggle, the strip didn’t shy away from handling some very serious topics like divorce, youth coming out, or the heroic death of a beloved family pet. I would never want to diminish the amazing things accomplished by Johnston’s true-to-life characters and their family-next-door storylines.
However, this strip had its day and should have retired when Johnston stopped creating it. Instead, it plods on in repeat. The storylines, fresh when first penned, are now as hopelessly dated as the plotlines of Three’s Company or Family Ties. Stories of a mother and housewife working outside the home, people living together out of wedlock, or a woman getting impatient with her beau and considering popping the question he never gets around to, just aren’t cutting edge anymore, and to have them re-played today only diminishes the power they had in their original context. What’s more, by taking up 25% of the real estate on the comics page, FBoFW crowds out the opportunity for newer, younger artists make a living expressing their own ideas in a tough business. It’s time for this strip to retire before its glory is forever tarnished, and let a new cartoonist take her place on the printed page, before the medium itself implodes.
Contrast that with the case of Captain Canuck. This Maple Leaf-draped superhero who had his original 15-issue run from 1975 – 1981, with a few short re-appearances or re-interpretations over ensuing decades, is now back full force with three ongoing comic book series. One is a completely new modern day re-envisioning of the character, another continues the original storyline, while the third is a reprint of the original 15 issues. But even the reprints are updated, with new covers by current artists and all-new stories occupying the back 5 pages where the originals featured other, less memorable characters. Published by Chapterhouse, it’s the flagship for a stable of totally new titles and characters, providing great opportunities for talented up-and-coming writers and artists. In this way, nostalgia can propel new creativity.
Whether your tastes tend to old stalwarts or new styles, if you have kids, report card time is a great opportunity to encourage reading through the Free Comics for A’s promotion at Big B Comics. Bring in an official K to 12 report card and for each subject area with an A, get a comic from the back issue bins for free! Even if they didn’t do so well this term, Big B sends kids home with something great to read, starting them down the path to the nostalgia of tomorrow.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Comics can help kids appreciate reading"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is the vice president of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

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