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Comic Stripped/News Bites/Immortal Thoughts

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Comic Stripped

Something new in the realm of journalism is the E-mail uprising. "What happened to Winnie Winkle?" queried Ecotype. "All of a sudden it just disappeared from the Sunday comics."

"Re: Winnie Winkle: How much LSD did Solange Blum give Pierre?" When the Tribune dropped the strip ConnorsHC was left not knowing. "Why does Solange think she will escape jail? Will Winnie find true love w/Michel? And what about the Wendy-Tami-Guy triangle? Will Billy get that film? How can we live without these details?

"Why didn't you wait until the Comics Survey was due before yanking Winnie Winkle?" (emphasis ours).

Good question. With great fanfare the Tribune had just asked its readers to vote for their favorite strips. "It does seem odd that you ran the comics survey and dropped Winnie before the results were in," noted SGNye Chi. "And what about that comics survey?" wondered DavidG3276. "Why did you make this change beforehand?"

RBentleyP sneered: "The fact this decision was made before the results of the Bi-decade survey were in should verify that the survey is nothing more than a patronizing PR stunt. It has nothing to do with customer satisfaction."

Winnie Winkle is an 84-year-old melodrama whose true loyalists (as opposed to opportunistic agitators) aren't hackers. The strip was doomed by its dismal showing in a second study of Tribune comics that the paper made much more quietly, one its editors call "scientific." The Tribune's belief is that the cool scientific survey and visceral public survey together will produce a CAT scan of its readers' comics tastes. This research will be worth every penny if it prevents a repeat of the folly that rocked the Tribune last April.

This was the infamous Mister Boffo cancellation, hastily reversed by E-mail mutiny. "My nomination for the first strip to be cut is Winnie Winkle," raged MHYLLAND then. "What the hell are you thinking keeping this outdated joke of a soap opera wannabe strip? When was the last time people dressed with turtle necks and leisure suits? BRING BACK BOFFO."

Cried Larry435, "CANNING MR. BOFFO SHOWS YOU ARE UNCLEAR ON THE CONCEPT. . . . IF I MIGHT OFFER A SUGGESTION CAN WINNIE WINKLE."

The Tribune is braced for more tumult and abuse. In the coming fiscal year, which begins next week, the paper shrinks and some comics and other features will disappear. No one wants to throw this cargo overboard, but after a year that's fetched the highest revenues in the Tribune's history, it's part of Charles Brumback's desperate attempt to keep the paper afloat.

News Bites

By racing to see who can suck up to the middle class fastest with the mostest, President Clinton and the Republicans have put on the table the considerable question of who the middle class is and what it wants. Last Sunday's Perspective section of the Tribune did exceptionally well by the subject, with personal accounts by Frank James, George de Lama, and Eric Zorn demonstrating that the middle class is "a psychological niche" (de Lama), and a "vast and well-populated psychological territory" (Zorn).

The Sun-Times editorial page made the sensible point that Clinton's so-called middle-class bill of rights advances the pernicious notion that "class entitles different segments of society to different rights. That's downright un-American."

But Perspective had a better grip on the big picture. Yesterday the credo that we get out of life what we put into it and that our children will have it even better than we did was what identified the middle class. Today it's the sullen conviction that we're getting screwed. And since just about everybody once held the former and now feels the latter, the middle class remains all-inclusive. Its new bill of rights would be everybody's.

A troubling Christmas card just arrived from England. The woman sending it is a professor at the University of Leeds who was in Chicago last winter studying writer Henry Blake Fuller. If you haven't heard of Fuller, that gives you an idea just how deeply she was sticking her nose into Chicago's business. Fuller was a turn-of-the-century novelist whose best-known book was The Cliff-Dwellers, and to know anything about it is to stand guilty of effete intellectual snobbery.

"I hear the Cliff Dwellers Club is to be taken over," the professor wrote, as if that were some business of hers. She continued, "Be good--look after Chicago (the Arts Club staircase!)."

Two months ago, when the Landmarks Commission gave developer John Buck permission to wipe the Arts Club off the map, commission member Albert Friedman dismissed the club's out-of-town champions as "carpetbaggers." Going Friedman one better, the Sun-Times's Raymond Coffey sneered at "a chorus of international aesthetes."

We hinted then that Friedman and Coffey sounded silly, but now that the past has come back to haunt us we'd better own up. One of those aliens protesting the gimcrackerization of Michigan Avenue turns out to be somebody who rode in our car. There probably are pictures. We're hopelessly compromised.

When Amtrak decided to halt virtually all passenger rail service between Chicago and Milwaukee the Sun-Times applauded, recognizing "the need to get the federal budget in order and the deficit down to reasonable levels."

The perversity of the situation escaped the newspaper. "Offering today's Americans the choice of train service as an option to bus, air and car travel is not so overarchingly important that future Americans must be called upon to pay for it," wrote the Sun-Times. Yes, but nobody flies between Chicago and Milwaukee, and the (federally supported) highways are too congested for many travelers to want to drive them.

Passenger trains make money virtually nowhere. As an Amtrak spokesman acknowledged, eliminating the Chicago-Milwaukee run will save Amtrak lots of money because there are seven trains a day to discontinue. But there are seven trains a day because the service is so popular. The elimination of rail service along such a natural rail corridor as Chicago-Milwaukee would be regarded as irresponsible lunacy in most parts of the world, although any clamor from those alien quarters could be dismissed as just another international chorus.

Immortal Thoughts

When time is running short, desperate measures are required. The other day we called Little, Brown and Company on behalf of--well, a friend, and asked when the new edition of Bartlett's Quotations would be published. The latest edition appeared just this year, and the fanfare reminded this anguished man of letters that he's not yet represented.

And he's not getting any younger. "I want to leave something behind," he's been heard to say, "so my name echoes through the ages. And the one thing I have to offer is a lot of snappy sayings."

Such as this: "Even a soft rain soaks the idler." He has many others, none yet cherished by the multitudes.

An editorial assistant at Little, Brown told us the next edition wouldn't be out until 1998 at the earliest, possibly not until 2002. This hardly gives our, uh, friend the time he'd need to take the usual route, publishing something that is clasped to the hearts of the masses, who then welcome pearls of lucidity such as "From an old leaf don't seek a new tree" into the vernacular.

We agreed to help him try the direct approach.

How does one go about making a submission to the next edition of Bartlett's? we asked the editorial assistant.

"Well, I suppose you would need to find out who the next editor would be and get in touch with that person. The editor is commonly known well in advance of publication."

And then one would direct submissions to this party?

"You're saying you'd like to submit a saying?" asked the E.A. "Well, I think they'd consider anything. It would have to be a famous saying though."

We pointed out that nine-tenths of Bartlett's flunks that test. Since you're willing to accommodate obscurity, what about something unknown but original that could go places once it gets a foothold?

"No," the E.A. said emphatically. "I wouldn't think they'd consider an original quote. No."

The news didn't surprise our friend. "I'm leaving behind stacks of three-by-five cards," he said. "Someday teams of scholars will pore over them. For now I'll just keep on writing."

One rapidly growing stack is marked "long-form sagacity." He's discovered simple turns of phrase no longer do justice to the complex ratiocinations of his advancing years.

"'Cease' and "stop' may be synonymous. Yet consider 'He ceased to smell the flowers' and 'He stopped to smell the flowers.' No trip is short enough to take with one indifferent to this conundrum."

With a sigh our friend placed the note card that bears this insight back in its stack. "My ace in the hole is a poem," he said. "It not only contemplates nature, but also engages the ultimate themes of the human condition."

He recited from memory:

As I drive down the road I find one simple solace grants my mind tranquillity.

It is the peaceful popping stain of little bugs upon the pane through which I see.

Perhaps one day I'll drive too fast. At any rate, they'll be here last. Then they'll pop me.

There was a silence.

"That says it all," we acknowledged.

"If I'm not here in 1998--" he began.

We'll do everything we can, we promised.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Reprinted by permission of Tribune Media Services.

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