Mediafile June/ July 1994

Strip Teased: Paley, Perkins leave Examiner for weeklies by Steve Rhodes

It is rare that an "alternative" comic is picked up by a major daily. It is even rarer that two alternative comics jump from a daily to weekly papers within a week of each other. But that's what happened as both Nina Paley's "Nina's Adventures" and Dan Perkins' "This Modern World" by Tom Tomorrow left the Style and op-ed sections of the San Francisco Examiner in early March of 1994. "Nina's Adventure" landed at the SF Weekly; "This Modern World" can now be found in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Part of the reason that Nina Paley and Dan Perkins (aka Tom Tomorrow) decided to leave the Examiner is they both felt their work was lost in an afternoon daily with shrinking circulation. They received less feedback from readers in the city they lived than in other cities where their comics appear. Perkins explained that "I've gotten more feedback from the Bay Area my first week in the Guardian than from a month's worth of running in the Tuesday Examiner."

When the Examiner picked up "Nina's Adventures," a comic commenting on philosophy, politics and the workplace, the paper initially paid her $30 a strip. After about a month, Arts & Features Editor David Talbot told Paley that the Examiner couldn't afford that, and she would have to appear bi-weekly. Paley told him she would rather take a cut in pay and keep the comic running weekly. They agreed that she would get $10 a week with the promise of a future raise. Talbot says that the Style section has a tight budget for freelancers, though Paley probably would have been given a raise if she had stayed in the paper this year. SF Weekly is paying her more than the Examiner did.

Although she was upset about the pay, it was the Examiner's failure to print her cartoon on two occasions that prompted her to move. Last fall, Disney's "Aladdin" ran for a week in place of all the weekly strips. Paley says she, "was really upset to see this piece of dreck instead of my comic, without warning."

Talbot explains that he "hated to loose Nina. She is talented and funny and one of the first people I tried to bring to the Style section." He admits that he should have warned the cartoonists that their slots would be occupied by the latest manifestation of that Disney cash machine, but he was sick with pneumonia at the time. Early this year, the Examiner, also without notifying Paley, failed to run a strip of hers about AIDS (SF Weekly printed it May 4 without hesitation).

The Examiner also didn't want to lose Perkins' "This Modern World." Perkins' 1993 MAMA award-winning strip takes on politics, the media and consumer culture. Perkins ranging from the San Diego Reader to the Sunday Des Moines Register. After becoming frustrated with being stranded on Tuesday's Op-Ed page, Perkins, who self-syndicates his work to over 80 publications, told the Ex he would only stay if "This Modern World" could move to the pages of the Sunday paper.

Publisher William Randolph Hearst and James Finefrock, editor of the editorial Pages, met with Perkins and offered him an additional strip in the Sunday comics if he would stay. Although Perkins says he was tempted by the offer, he didn't want to "buy his way into the Sunday paper with more work" (he worked over 60 hours a week when he did an extra weekly comic for Image Magazine). Still, it had always been a dream of his to appear in the Sunday funnies. So Perkins negotiated with Managing Editor for Operations Pamela Brunger Scott, but ultimately decided to move to the Guardian when she refused to meet his conditions for editorial procedures and publicity.

In a fax to the Examiner, Perkins stated, "the Examiner wants to continue my cartoon because it brings a different sensibility to the paper one which, however, may not always be shared or understood by Examiner editors. While the Examiner obviously cannot guarantee that editorial control will never be exercised, I feel that in the past my work has been subject to inappropriate editorial judgments. Cartoons have been dropped which, when reprinted elsewhere, have proven to be among my most popular."

Last fall the Examiner refused to run a "This Modern World" on corporate downsizing. Finefrock retorts, "it wasn't funny." (You can decide for yourself when it appears this September in Perkins' new collection, Tune In Tomorrow.) Despite the recent problems, Perkins says that this was one of the only times the Op-Ed Page refuses to run his work. "I am grateful that the Examiner was the first daily to run my work and that other dailies have picked it up since," says Perkins

Steve Rhodes , a member of Paper Tiger TV, writes about media, culture and politics.

Copyright 1994