Public Editor

Some thoughts about comics and crosswords

Satchel and Bucky of “Get Fuzzy”
Satchel and Bucky of “Get Fuzzy”

I follow a few “rules” in representing voices from The Kansas City Star’s readers in a public forum:

▪ I don’t give airing to simple expressions of racism or other bigotry. (I’m happy to report they are rare at my lines anyway.)

▪ I don’t get involved in disagreements with opinion columns that are clearly labeled as commentary. There is no such thing as a “fair” opinion — but I often suggest that dissenters submit a letter to the editor giving their side.

▪ I don’t address people’s preferences relating to the comic strips and puzzles that run in the Features section.

But here I am breaking that rule.

No two people will ever agree completely on every cartoon the paper chooses to run, and the decision isn’t up to a democratic vote in the first place. Like everything in a newspaper, the lineup is determined through an editing process.

There are some strips with a small but extremely loyal fan base, but probably a larger number of detractors overall. (I’m looking at you, “Zippy the Pinhead” and “Candorville.”) I think it’s best to have a little of both popular and niche. After all, the section runs 33 strips. There’s room for variety.

The Star has run reader polls to help with comic strip choice in the past, but they’re increasingly problematic in the Internet age. Even when the paper collected votes by postal mail, fans of certain strips obviously tried to stuff the ballot box. Online, there are simply too many ways of gaming the system to make such surveys useful.

That being said, it’s usually obvious when a particular strip is exceptionally popular or unpopular. For example, readers offer unsolicited praise for “Pickles” and “Zits” and their humorous depiction of relatable life experiences.

Fans also express their fondness for the offbeat, self-referential “Pearls Before Swine” and office-humor stalwart “Dilbert.”

But I usually hear more knocks for comic strips people don’t like than kudos. Many don’t enjoy “Wumo,” whose European sensibility is different from most strips’. I also heard lots of complaints about “Get Fuzzy’s” long run in repeats. Cartoonist Darby Conley is no longer producing daily strips, so FYI editors chose to drop it for another comic.

I always convey this feedback to the Features department, and editors are always re-evaluating the selection.

It’s been over five years since the section started running a new crossword puzzle, and I sense that puzzlers have adapted to the new creator’s sensibility.

But a number of readers noted a problem in the crossword that runs only once a week in the Sunday Star Magazine. On Nov. 16, its words and boxes were fuzzy and indistinct.

“At first I thought it was my eyes going, but then I saw it was a printing problem,” said one caller.

Indeed it was. A low-resolution version of the puzzle made its way to the final page, and nobody noticed it on page proofs.

Readers certainly noticed. Puzzlers take their crosswords very seriously, I’ve learned. And while it was possible to decipher the text, it wasn’t easy. Editors need to remain vigilant that these mistakes don’t become commonplace.

To reach Derek Donovan, call 816-234-4487 weekday mornings or send email to