“Doonesbury” is still one of the better strips on the newspaper comics page (or op/ed page, where, if the paper cops out and puts it there, it just highlights the extreme lameness of most designated ‘editorial’ cartoonists of any political stripe – especially any ‘conservative’ strip placed next to it as ‘counterpoint’), but once a year, it squanders some of its goodwill on “Mailbag Week”, with poorly-executed contextualizing, 4th-wall-breaking and insincere self-mocking. [My opinion; your smileage may vary]

But on Saturday, February 2nd, “Mailbag Week” hit an all-time low with this dubious use of whitespace:
Doonesbury020213

Now, Trudeau & Company were among the first, and most successful comicmakers to embrace New Media (although Slate.com may no longer be the coolest place for most of their web presence). And some context can be gleamed from the rest of the week’s strips: first, two of the ‘Millennial’ characters interrupted a storyline to start the week, pointing out that mail – even email – was out, and they would be answering only Tweets. But mid-way through, two of the strips ‘old schoolers’ took back the process, so the question prompting the non-newspaper putdown was supposedly via Twitter to @zonker. This may be just the opinion of the characters Mike and Zonker (who, as one of the few surviving ’60s hippie characters left in the Media, isn’t supposed to be ‘up-to-date’), and “not representing the management” (to quote an old TV Editorial Reply disclaimer). But that’s the kind of misunderstanding you get when the 4th Wall is a pile of rubble in the front yard.

While the response at GoComics was mixed (even with some commenters pointing out “hey, I’m reading YOU on Not-Paper”), Doonesbury.Slate.Com’s “Blowback” comments section (which had been sparsely populated lately), came alive with WTF?-ing.

Of course, once the Webcomics community caught wind of this, there would be responses. And the most obvious response was to fill in the big blank space. David “Damn You” Willis was among the earliest responders, first inserting most-of-a-page from the awesome “Dresden Codak” comic created by Aaron Diaz:
doonesbury-codak
…then inserting a dramatic/controversial panel from his own “Dumbing of Age”:
doonesbury-dumbing

PvP’s Scott Kurtz (who once wanted so much to get into newspapers he offered his iconic webcomic for free) gave his response (appropriately via a Tweet):
doonesbury-kurtz

Nedroid’s Anthony Clark drew a custom (if simple) piece of filler (and altered the final panel reactions, just because):
doonesbury-nedroid

A random (but very smart) comics fan on Tumblr went several extra levels of ‘meta’ with a quote from the web-based Garfield Minus Garfield:
doonesbury-gmg

Other webcomics makers AND fans from all over had their way with the blank space (many on Tumblr with the #doonesbury tag); even alleged comics journalist Chris Sims of Comics Alliance put in his two cents with a panel from the infamous “Achewood”:
doonesbury-comicsalliance

Now, I wasn’t paying attention while all this was first happening, because I was working on my own “fill in the blank” project, but not with a single comic – I set out a 1000 X 1000 pixel grid with the two Doonesbury frames in top-left and bottom-right corners, and started filling everything inbetween with pieces from at least 20 webcomics. I ended up stretching it vertically another 200 pixels and including a total of 26 comics. Please don’t assume these are ALL my ‘favorites’… that would’ve filled three times the space, so there are obvious omissions, but I think I have a good mix here…

Click on image to make bigger and more readable (on most devices)

Click on image to make bigger and more readable (on most devices)

Again, I don’t know if that comic was the ‘official’ position of Garry Trudeau and “Doonesbury”, but in an interview last year (thanks Poynter), he was quoted:

Everyone knows where print is headed, and most Web comics are struggling. With adroit merchandising, a couple of them have been profitable, but they don’t connect with readers in the same visceral way that traditional comics once did. Comics used to be central to popular culture, enormously influential. They were a daily habit we all had in common.

I MUST note that there are a lot more than “a couple” profitable webcomics (and some of the most successful are intentionally niche-targeted), and I wouldn’t say “Doonesbury” or any newspaper comic is as “enormously influential” as it used to be. But then, the fragmentation of media is such that NOTHING is.

There’s also a quote going around that Trudeau never reads “internet comments” about his comics, but that’s not necessarily anti-internet, just pro-sanity.

Repeating ‘Credit Where Credit Is Due’ with links:

Octopus Pie (thought I’d get the ‘family-newspaper-unfriendly’ language out of the way first)

Surviving the World (yes, photocomics count and it’s just writing on chalkboards, but tell me it’s NOT comical)

Gunnerkrigg Court (showing a very big meeting hall from a very big story)

The Laugh-Out-Loud Cats (a one-joke concept that grew to provide a mix of cultural references, new and old, visual fun and a couple of the best cartoon cats ever)

Sheldon (a rare excursion into wacky-tech from a comic that does wacky-everything-else)

Cheesebo (in case you’re wondering, that’s a DVD getting ejected from a player with extreme prejudice)

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (the Zack has been mixing intellectualism and naughtiness longer than almost anybody)

Dr. McNinja (whatever other criminal intent King Radical may have, he has been totally stealing the show)

xkcd (stick figures + science = had to become a webcomic institution)

The Devil’s Panties (“What Not to Say in the Bedroom” has gone from a weekend filler to a beloved internet trope (and a book)

Crimes Against Hugh’s Manatees (Animals With Issues… what’s not to love?)

Vattu (in an alternate universe where various species are all too human… and all too cute)

Skin Horse (Government black ops where the talking dog is the smartest operative, and the zombie has more personality than most zombie-fighters)

Cyanide & Happiness (hilariously wrong. nuff said.)

Evil inc. (because it’s just not good to take supervillains seriously)

Girls With Slingshots (…and an occasional cat with its own weaponry)

Schlock Mercenary (Heinlein-esque military space opera with a trigger-happy blob as comic relief… makes perfect sense to me)

Hubris (an undiscovered gem – that I intend to personally get discovered – because Extreme Sports can always get even funnier)

Basic Instructions (demonstrated using rotoscoped friends and relatives, for a ‘silliness verite’ look)

The Book of Biff (one word: eyebrows)

Cucumber Quest (a kid-friendly fantasy with bunny ears and vegetable names, obviously!)

So Your Life Is Meaningless (the ONLY time it is okay to laugh at depression)

Looking For Group (because all RPGs should have a chaotic evil demon named Richard)

The Non-Adventures of Wonderella (I never tire of superhero comedy, especially with an anti-heroine like this)

Chuck & Beans (yes, a licensed product of the treacle factory at Hallmark, but proof that sometimes even the most corporate among us can bring the funny)

Two Guys and Guy (testing the limits of unlikeability and creepiness for good yuks)

Bad Machinery (continuing the proud tradition of the wacky supernatural and very British webcomic classic ‘Scary Go Round’)