It was my first introduction to newspapers. It is a tradition in newspapers that go back longer than I’ve been breathing, but I’m starting to wonder if the times have changed. Perhaps today’s readers don’t have any real attachment to Marmaduke or Blondie Bumstead.

Lately the Times Bulletin has been surveying subscribers about which sections of the print editions are most read or anticipated, and I’ve been shocked that the lowest scores seem to be going to the comics page. I will admit that I don’t read the comics page anymore, but I remember as a kid scouring the funnies in my hometown paper to see the adventures of Nancy and a few others. I always figured that this was the section for the kids. (Although I couldn’t figure out the crossword puzzle or the astrology nonsense.)

It really started for most people my age with the little round-headed kid and his pet beagle. Peanuts was easily the most accessible and recognizable comic strip for us. It was funny for pet lovers, crabby people, Beethoven lovers, and perpetual losers. Plus there was a TV special for Christmas and Halloween. It was the perfect four-panel entertainment. You could tell how popular it was by the number of pets named Snoopy or Charlie Brown or even Linus. It was number one.

Sure, there were others that caught my eye, and a few of those are still being drawn today: The Wizard of Id, The Lockhorns, Tumbleweeds, and Funky Winkerbean. There were even “funnies” which were never funny. Dicky Tracy, Steve Canyon, and Alley Oop didn’t leave anyone chuckling. I tried to follow Alley Oop one year just to see what the deal was. I’m still not sure. I could follow the plot of the time-travelling caveman, but it all seemed like a waste of time. The whole plot had been going on since 1932, why would I think the story would get resolved during the year I was reading?

By my college years, there was only one strip to read. Doonesbury highlighted people near my age doing such important things like competitive suntanning and golfing. I generally ignored the political overtones in it, and I lost interest in it by the time it became little more than a soapbox with goofy people trying to make political points. After all, that wasn’t what kept me reading. It also didn’t hurt that Doonesbury was the only comic strip published in our college newspaper!

There were plenty of others like Garfield or Bloom County or Dilbert that found great fame, and there were countless attempts to launch strips that were funny twice a week, or twice a month. Very few comic strips are very amusing anymore. The exceptions are the ones you have been following for year after year. You know the characters and what they will say in the final panel. They feel like old friends. Unfortunately there are plenty of “old friends” I do not find funny anymore. They are kind of like crazy uncles I’d rather not be around — the jokes are old, and the situations have all been drawn before.

So that brings me back to my original concern: is the time of the newspaper comic strip over? Will we still crawl over endless pans of lasagna to read the latest from Garfield? Would we rather have Beetle Bailey discharged from the army? Is Dagwood Bumstead due to retire to a couch with sandwich in hand and Mr. Dithers’ phone number blocked?

I suppose there will be cartoonists plying their trade for years to come, but will anyone care? I know I would be sad if they went away, but I wonder how many others would really notice. Do kids (and adults) really ignore the comics? If not, is there one today that you really enjoy? Email me at egebert@timesbulletin.com and clue me in. It seems we should have something else in the newspaper to laugh at besides the government.