Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Comics reading

I had the great pleasure tonight of going to comic strip artist Stephan Pastis’ “reading” from his strip Pearls Before Swine at Vroman’s Books in Pasadena. Pastis is an affable and funny public reader of his own strip, accompanying himself with projected images of the panels he’s reading. My kids and I had a good time; so did the other 200 or so people jammed into a small upstairs room meant to accommodate perhaps 75.

During the Q&A, I couldn’t help noting the turnout — a standing-room-only crowd aged 8 through 80 — as well as his story of large crowds at all his bookstore signings. (For one in Texas, his event was moved from a bookstore to a church able to handle more people, where he delivered his remarks from the preacher’s post.) All across the nation, how did people learn of his strip and fall in love with it? Through newspapers. And how are those newspapers responding? By cutting down on the number of comic strips they carry, and shrinking their size. I have pretty good vision, but it’s gotten to the point where I have difficulty making out what the daily strips in the LA Times are saying. Moreover, the LA Times used to carry two sections of Sunday comics; now they carry three pages. When I pointed these things out, Pastis said, of course, “You’re preaching to the choir. We all tell them that. The comics are the most popular feature in the newspaper.” One would think that the publishers would want to run more of the most popular feature, not less. (But then again, one might think that newspaper publishers wouldn’t have gotten their classified-ad lunch eaten by a guy named Craig starting something called Craigslist.)

I also had a great time standing in a seemingly endless line talking books and reading with other people in that line. I discussed Hemingway, newspapers, and nearby over-priced bric-a-brac with the retired guy behind me, a teacher of economics for 35 years at a high school in a poorer area of Los Angeles who decried the complete lack of reading among children these days, despite the evidence all around him in the store, and espoused a love for the Wall Street Journal and a disdain for the slant he’s sure he’s reading on the front page of the Los Angeles Times every day. (“They should keep their editorials off the front-page reporting!”) At one point he mentioned his grandchildren in Texas; the guy behind him asked what time it is now in Texas, to which I said, “1956.”

I bought each of my kids a book, and picked up the new Pearls treasury and got Pastis to sign it for me — “That’ll be worth money one day!” my junior Uncle Scrooge offspring exclaimed — and then somehow made it out of the store without arming myself and my kids with another five or 10 books each.

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