What's the deal with 'Prickly City?'

Question: I’m not a cartoon reader, but I heard the uproar about “Prickly City” and, of course, checked it out. It’s not a cartoon; the man can’t draw a bean. It’s a political column masquerading as a cartoon. Someone at The Spokesman-Review doesn’t understand the background on this.

Years ago, Doonesbury was removed from the cartoon page as being a political column masquerading as a cartoon. Later came Mallard Fillmore. Cartoon readers noted the unfairness and complained. The decision was made to link Mallard and Doonesbury and send them to editorial page, and now they’re floating around the S-R galaxy, linked liked bad children. We all thought that was fair.

Now someone has slipped in another political column called Prickly City onto the cartoon pages, and the balance of the S-R galaxy is once again out of balance. Rather than be labeled a front for the right wing, shouldn’t you remove Prickly City or add another left wing cartoon/political column? What happened to the fairness doctrine? Have recent personnel changes tipped the S-R to the right? -- George Thomas, Spokane

Answer: I picked up Prickly City - as did a couple of hundred other editors - before it actually launched and on the basis of about one-month's worth of preview and test strips. Most of us picked it up because there is little out there like it. Socially conservative strips are very, very rare.

The test strips I saw were far more gentle and, frankly, funny, than the strip we've seen since launch. At the time, I likened it to a somewhat conservative "Pogo," a classic strip, now gone, that featured gentle social satire.

We're going to give Prickly City a bit more time, a couple of weeks, to see how it develops. After that, we have a couple of options. I'm leaning toward dropping it daily, or secondarily, moving it to Classifieds to replace Mallard Filmore which I don't think is very good. But we'll likely keep it Sunday where it does balance Doonesbury.

To the larger point, I don't believe that comic strips must be socially or politically balanced panel for panel. For one thing, that sort of juggling act simply isn't possible with some strips straying occasionally into politics or social issues and taking readers -- and editors -- by surprise (see recent forays into the culture wars by such non-political strips as Funky Winkerbean and even For Better or Worse). In general, I do believe we must strive for balance as best we can throughout the paper, trying to respect the widest range of views. In these times, with passions running as hot or hotter than I've ever experienced, the juggling act is becoming tougher and tougher.

As to whether or not we're leaning more to the right --- we hear far more from people who think we're leaning further to the left. Isn't it just a bit absurd, and frankly silly, to generalize about a newspaper's bias on the basis of a comic strip? As editors, all we can do is try our hardest to walk the line as we see it, relying on our best judgment, our professional values and ethics. -- Steve Smith, editor

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