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  1. Opinion

Changes to the Tampa Bay Times comics inject new life and more color

There is an openly shared sentiment among top newspaper editors that changing comics is like touching the third rail. Readers tend to react with fervor.

But change can be a good thing. Comics get stale. Some of the old strips we've been featuring are in reruns. In other cases, the creators died years ago, leaving surrogates or family members to continue the work. They just aren't as good as they used to be.

Making changes in a vacuum is never a good idea. That's why we recently conducted a targeted readership survey to gather intelligence about your favorite comics. Readers told us they love "Pickles," "Zits," "Peanuts," "For Better or For Worse," "Garfield" and "Blondie." Worry not. They aren't going anywhere.

But the readership data also provided important guidance about your least favorite comics. So we are going to be adding new strips and subtracting others. "Peanuts" aside, we're parting with comics that are in reruns.

Here's the best news: We're going to be giving you more comics than before – and all of them in color. The new pages will begin Dec. 1 in the Tampa Bay Times. Changes to the Sunday comics will phase in Dec. 9.

The added strips are an eclectic mix. Whimsical and charming or laugh-out-loud funny. "Baldo" chronicles the life of a Latino teen and his family. "Red and Rover" is about a boy and the unique bond he shares with his dog. "Big Nate" follows the life of a rebellious sixth-grader. And it happens to be my 11-year-old son's favorite.

"Breaking Cat News" features the three household cats of comic artist Georgia Dunn. She paints each panel with water colors, one of the few artists to do so. The strip grows on you.

Other new ones include "Macanudo," "The Duplex," "Cornered," and "Reality Check." "The Argyle Sweater," which we've run only on Sundays, will appear every day. All the new strips will be featured seven days a week.

To make room, we're no longer going to be running "Get Fuzzy." The creator stopped doing original strips more than a year ago. We're keeping Gary Trudeau's iconic "Doonesbury" strip on Sundays but replacing it the rest of the week. Trudeau long ago stopped producing original material except on Sundays. "Dennis the Menace" and "Marmaduke" also move to Sunday only. The creators of both of these strips have long passed away.

The lowest-rated strips in our readership survey, meanwhile, will be gone. You will no longer see "Lio," "Prince Valiant," "Mark Trail," "Wumo," "Candorville" or "Tundra." We've also reconfigured the pages to limit distortion. Charlie Brown's head, for instance, will be more round than oval, page designer Lyra Solochek informs me.

A very long time ago, the "funny pages" served as my gateway to newspaper readership, so I know how important comics are to many readers.

I'm under no illusion that you'll love all the new comics. You may mourn some of the missing ones. But in an era when readers have experienced too many takeaways, we're happy to give you more comics – not fewer.

I hope you enjoy the new enhanced comics pages. And I have a feeling you'll let me know if you don't.

Mark Katches is the executive editor of the Tampa Bay Times. Contact him at mkatches@tampabay.com or at 727-893-8441. Follow @markkatches.

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