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Cartoonists Battle ‘P.C. Police’ in Name of Humor

January 25, 1994

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Reading the funny papers is supposed to be fun, but some cartoonists say an increasing number of readers have lost their sense of humor for the sake of political correctness.

″If somebody slips on a banana peel, it’s funny to everybody except the person who slips on it,″ said Bill Rechin, who draws the comic strip ″Crock″ at his home in Spotsylvania.

In recent years, some cartoon readers have decided that it might be insensitive to poke fun at a person because he or she slipped on a banana peel or gained too much weight, or at a woman who catches the eye of a male co- worker because she wears a provocative outfit.

They’ve written letters of protest, some of which have reached Mort Walker’s mailbox.

Walker began drawing the ″Beetle Bailey″ strip 43 years ago. Since then, a rotund Army sergeant has bumbled his way through the funny papers, stopping occasionally to beat up on the skinny, lazy private for whom the strip is named.

″I’ve always had criticism,″ said Walker. ″I don’t think you can do anything without somebody being offended.″

But Walker said that his work has been scrutinized recently by readers he characterized as the ″P.C. police.″

The first target was Miss Buxley, a voluptuous blond secretary who joined the strip about 30 years ago, much to the delight of Gen. Halftrack.

″They said I was doing the stereotyped dumb blonde, I was promoting sexual harassment in the office,″ Walker said. ″The funny thing about it is, they were right.″

Walker made a change. Miss Buxley kept her tight-fitting black minidress but lost the attention of a formerly drooling Gen. Halftrack.

Gerald Dumas, a cartoonist and writer who has been assisting Walker with gags for the strip for 37 years, said he was surprised when women began writing letters complaining about the portrayal of an overweight character named Sgt. Louise Lugg.

″We’ve never had letters about gags we’ve done about Sgt. Snorkel being fat,″ he said.

Rechin and his partner, Don Wilder, went out of their way to avoid stepping on toes when they added a black character named Daryl to the ″Crock″ strip.

″When we first started the character I was conscious of making him look good ... more so than I would any other character,″ said Wilder.

Lee Salem, editorial director for Universal Press Syndicate in Kansas City, Mo., said other cartoonists are hesitant to add nonwhite characters ″because it would look like they were patronizing a certain part of the readership.″

Walker received such criticism after adding an intelligent, motivated Asian-American character to his strip.

People wrote letters saying, ″I was racist. I was perpetuating the stereotype,″ Walker said. ″I said, ’God, you can’t do anything.‴

Lynn Johnston, creator of the cartoon ″For Better or for Worse,″ said she received criticism for a strip that showed children putting a spider in a microwave oven. The spider survived the microwave but later was eaten by a dog.

″People are outraged about everything,″ she said.

Johnston said cartoonists should resist calls to change the face of strips that have been popular for decades.

″I really feel that we’re limiting ourselves by trying to make everybody turn into unsalted oatmeal,″ she said.

Salem said the issue of political correctness ″is not one that we pay much attention to. We don’t encourage our people to pay attention to it.″

He edits a number of strips for the syndicate, including ″Doonesbury,″ ″Ziggy,″ ″The Far Side″ and ″Calvin and Hobbes.″ Some readers recently have criticized ″Calvin and Hobbes″ as a strip that promotes violence among children, he said.

But Salem disagrees, and said he would not suggest changing the strip.

Chris Browne, who draws ″Hagar the Horrible,″ a strip created by his father, said he has made changes that reflect different awareness in today’s society. For example, Hagar is no longer shown ″falling down drunk″ and Browne said he also ″reduced whatever vestiges of sexism there had been in Hagar a great deal.″

But Browne said he is concerned that political correctness could threaten the creative process.

″It’s hard to be creative and careful at the same time,″ he said.

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