Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Behind The Comics

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a comics survey recently. These are usually harbingers of some sort of blood-bath on the comics page like when the Baltimore Sun about a year back axed about a dozen strips and shrunk the remaining comics to a nearly illegible height. Not surprisingly, Foxtrot just edged out For Better or For Worse as the most popular strip and Mary Worth came in as the most hated.

What was really cool is that they linked to a lot of the raw data from their survey and broke it down by gender and age category. They noted for example:

The dislike for "Mary Worth" crossed gender and age lines. The strip came in last overall with male and female voters and in all the demographic groups except the 55-and-older segment, where only "Get Fuzzy" received more "hate it" votes.

The demographics of the survey proved interesting. Nearly as many women (2,689) participated as men (2,780), but "Dilbert" topped the male vote while "For Better or for Worse" was the leading vote-getter among females.

"Dilbert" also finished No. 1 with voters 31-54, the age group that provided the largest block of voters. The 55-and-older group followed, choosing "For Better or for Worse." The 18-30 and 17-and-under age groups had "FoxTrot" at the top of their lists.

Update (12/6/06): See this post for my take on Foxtrot going Sunday-only.

I decided to shake and bake the numbers a little differently. I looked for the comics that had very few “Love It” or “Hate It” votes. Ten of the top twelve in this category were either trial runs or Sunday-only strips, which makes sense, because people hadn’t been able to read enough of them to get a strong opinion one way or the other. From the list of daily strips, here are the most “Meh” strips from the survey:
  1. Jump Start
  2. Over the Hedge
  3. Curtis
  4. Baby Blues
  5. The Amazing Spider-Man
  6. Tiger
  7. Frank and Ernest
  8. Marmaduke
  9. Dennis the Menace
  10. Rex Morgan, M.D.
  11. Get Fuzzy
  12. Sally Forth
The article mentioned that there were gender differences. I went a little deeper and came up with a complicated and statistically suspicious algorithm to determine which strips were most gender biased. These are not the most popular (although Cathy and Dilbert top each list respectively) but the most polarizing. For example, while everybody hates Mary Worth, a guy is twice as likely to despise it as a girl.

Chick Strips Guy Strips
Cathy Dilbert
For Better or For Worse Wizard of Id
Mutts Doonesbury
Family Circus Beetle Bailey
Sally Forth Hagar the Horrible
Mary Worth The Amazing Spider-Man
Baby Blues Frank and Ernest
Rex Morgan, M.D. Prince Valiant
Jump Start Non Sequitur
Tiger Born Loser
Zits Bizarro
Ask Shagg FoxTrot
Garfield Drabble
Peanuts (classic) The Boondocks

I used a similar method to devise a way of measuring the generation gap. I took the Geezer age range (55+) and compared it to the Young Hipster age bracket (18-30) to see which comics one group liked, but the other hated.

Geezers Hipsters
Born Loser Lio
Family Circus FoxTrot
For Better or For Worse Get Fuzzy
Prince Valiant Doonesbury
Dennis the Menace Non Sequitur
Tiger F-Minus
Beetle Bailey Zits
Hagar the Horrible Dilbert
Frank and Ernest Watch Your Head
Blondie The Boondocks
Wizard of Id Red & Rover
Sally Forth Over the Hedge
Rex Morgan, M.D Soup to Nutz

The surprise winner here is Born Loser among the Geezers. Nobody born after the Ford Admistration reads this depressing comic, but it is a favorite of the early-bird dinner set. Golden Oldies like the Sunday-only Prince Valiant and the other usual suspects pushing their Diamond Jubilee also populate this list. On the other hand, Lio, which (like half of the Hipster-only faves) was only a trial run, appealed to young adults but was Kryptonite to the AARP eligible.

What does it all mean? Anything you want it to. It confirms some prejudices. It also tells the comics editors of the world what comics target what age groups. If you want to keep your drooling old farts around, keep running Beetle Bailey and Hagar. If you expect to lure the college-aged and just-out-of-college crowd away from their RSS webcomic feeds, you better put up some fresh and edgy material.

Blatant Comment Whoring™:
What are your favorites? What are the surprises here?


TBG said...

So the geezers like Born Loser. What's wrong? The Post Gazette doesn't carry the Lockhorns or Andy Capp?

yellojkt said...

The survey had 42 comics listed. Four were Sunday-only strips and seven were trial runs. And everybody's favorite wife beating drunk wasn't among them.

Anonymous said...

How can Cathy be the #1 "chick strip"? Do today's women identify with an eating disordered crazy person? I'm confused.

Demographically, I *am* Cathy -- female, married, no kids, dog owner, close relationship with parents -- but I despise that strip.

Anonymous said...

I'm always surprised by the negative to meh response "Jump Start" receives. It's a consistantly well written strip with competent writing and interesting characters. It does a few "message" strips a year (mostly about safety issues like seat belts, bullet proof vests, etc), and has a multi-racial cast that doesn't seem forced or overly planned.

I'm female and I DESPISE Cathy. She's everything I hate about portrayals of women in the popular media.

Anonymous said...

Dude! Someone has way too much time on his hands!

So where is your 'tween demographic? Where would this 45-year-old guy be in your study? While I probably identify with much on the Guy Strips list, there are a lot of favorites of mine in the other group. And while I haven't hit geezerdom yet, there are many I read (perhaps more out of tradition than as favorites) on that list while very much enjoying a lot of the edgier hipster strips.

Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, down in God's Waiting Room, the St. Petersburg Times carries nearly all of the "Hipsters" list and only a couple of the "Geezer" list. Go figure.

yellojkt said...

I did look at "Parents" (31-54) and "Kids" (17 and under), but they mirrored the master list too much. Nothing to really snark at.

The St Pete Times like most of the Florida papers colorizes their daily comics. Sometimes that's good, sometimes it's a train wreck. I think the competition with the Tampa Tribune keeps them on their toes.

J.Po said...

Snark all you want on Mary Worth, but beware of white-haired crones at your doorstep, bearing tuna casseroles.

MW is so bad, it's good, and eminently entertaining in its badness.

Anne said...

I resent being called a "hipster" just because of my age. Oh wait, the hipster cutoff is 30. Um, I resent not being called a "hipster" becuase of my age.

Anonymous said...

great analysis.

Anonymous said...

For the last comics shakeup at the Kansas City Star, they took your "Meh" approach (spooky, since you hadn't invented it yet) to eliminate two strips. Marvin and Funky Winkerbean were not hated or loved enough to make the cut. That was right before Marvin added the adopted Chinese baby girl to the cast and got all racist. Maybe the controversy would have given it an edge. I must reiterate my opinion on yet another blog that if you shaved Garfield and put him in a bad wig you get Marvin. Cutting Funky (a phrase I encourage all to use as slang) added injury to insult as now I have to look him up online to get depressed every day.

Mooselet said...

First of all, you have waaaay too much time on your hands to break this down like you did. Then again, you are an engineer so I guess this is second nature. :-)

Where is A3G??? No Margo? How can this possibly be a good paper?

I, too, am a female and HATE Cathy to the roots of my being. I'd rather read Judge Parker, or have bamboo shoved under my nails. I love to hate FBOFW, and the teenager in Zits is my teenager in disguise so I like that one.

Our local rag carries very few comics - half a page worth - and several of those are Aussie ones, so I have to go online to read mine.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

I don't buy our local paper ('cause it sucks) so I get my comics vicariously through Josh. However, I've always liked Calvin & Hobbes, FoxTrot, Doonesbury and (like Mooselet) Zits - as my teens get older.

Anonymous said...

As a former Mary Worth hater, I heartily recommend checking out the amusing and even edgy self-parody at the heart of the current story arc.

Anonymous said...

I'm the theater critic at the Post-Gazette. I was dissatisfied with the statistical analysis we provided with the comics poll report, so I spent some time refiguring the statistics and issued my own "minority report," complete with some commentary. I referred to it in the paper but published it in my online theater journal (here's the link: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06326/740607-346.stm; or go to www.post-gazette.com/theater/onstage and scroll down to Nov. 22).
I enjoyed your analysis, and I think our Features editor did, too. There hasn't been a bloodbath yet, but I assume "Mary Worth," at least, is due to be sent packing. There's no strip we carry its equal for flaccid writing and drawing, both (though "Sally Forth" gives it a battle on the drawing front), but I have to agree with gnome de blog that the current storyline has the potential for surprising us. Still, I assume that potential is the only suprise it will offer: I predict MW will slide back into endlessly drawn out blah.
The one definite result of the poll so far is that "Baby Blues" has just been given the spot sadly vacated by "Boondocks."
-- PG Comics Geek

Anonymous said...

What an interesting thing to do. That explains why I didn't get so many of those right column guy ones. I'm hardwired against Hagar.