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Comics serious business for some readers

You don't have to be in the newspaper industry long to know comics are serious business. Readers like to wake up to their favorite strips and get a laugh or chuckle before they start the day.

So when comics get changed, it's almost like losing a pal. And when that happens, readers do what they would for any other friend - they stick up for them and show their support.

That's what happened at our paper when changes to the way we design some of our pages forced us to cut several comic strips. One of those was "Pooch Cafe" - a strip about a dog named Poncho whose master marries a Cat Person. Readers missed their buddy, and they let us know.

"I like all the situations he gets himself into," said Barbara Tyburczy, who lives in Buford. "Those of us who have animals bond with the little dog and his problems."

Tyburczy was quick to call when she noticed Poncho was missing, and she wasn't alone. Through calls and e-mails, readers let us know they wanted their adopted dog back.

I was impressed by the loyalty people showed the strip and wondered what the cartoonist, Paul Gilligan thought about it. I found his e-mail on the Pooch Cafe Web site and tracked him down in Melbourne, Australia, where he was attending a cartoonist conference.

"It is, honestly, the highest gratification," Gilligan said of the support his fans have shown. "Most of the time my work exists in a vacuum, whether people thought it was hilarious or if it made no sense to them whatsoever, I usually won't even hear about it.

"But I try to create characters of substance and storylines that are engrossing, and hearing about vocal support like this let's me know the strip is resonating."

We all like a good laugh, but Marianne Volpert uses the comics as a teaching tool as well. The Grayson resident keeps her grandsons several days during the week, and when they wake up grandma is ready with both breakfast and a lesson gleaned from that day's cartoons.

"Comics are a good way to teach kids about life," Volpert said. "There's always something (in the strips) that you can relate to life.

"Every morning at 10 after 7, we read the comics with our oatmeal. That's what grandmas do."

Volpert's grandsons - Andrew, 10, and Alex, 7 - are big fans of Pooch Cafe. They were upset that it was gone, which prompted their grandmother to send an e-mail. But she also used it as a lesson to the boys - that even at their young age they were being affected by the economy.

Everyone is different - Volpert reads the rest of the paper before moving to the comics while Tyburczy prefers to start with the cartoons - but no matter where you read them, comic strips play a big role in the paper, Gilligan said.

"Not surprisingly, I think cartoons are extremely important," Gilligan said in an e-mail. "Not only are they integral traditionally, they also provide balance to an otherwise heavy read.

"I can only speak from personal perspective, but I get a breezy feeling when I flip the page and see the comics laid before me. In times past, I would buy the paper specifically because I had to see what Opus' nose job looked like or if Calvin's propeller beanie came in the mail.

"Strips like that are the reason I do sequential storylines. And I've heard many times from Pooch readers that they've bought the paper to find out what's happening to the Poncho gang."

Ask some people what they think of cartoons and they turn up their nose, making it clear that they aren't high brow enough for them. But Tyburczy laughs at that notion, pointing out that friends who say they don't read the comics always seem to enjoy them when she shares one with them.

Volpert, the Grayson grandma, sums it up best.

"I always read the comics," she said. "Everyone needs a good laugh, don't they?"

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears online on Tuesdays and in Wednesday's print edition.