Pickles comic strip

The Oct. 25, 2015, "Pickles" comic strip by Brian Crane.

Forget #fakenews. The real story these days is #fakecomics.

This past week the Standard-Examiner shook the very foundations of the First Amendment by having the temerity to publish its weekday comics sections in — oh, the humanity — black-and-white.

Reader reaction was swift. And severe. Indeed, you’d have thought we’d just called Donald Trump the worst world leader since Yul Brynner’s evil pharaoh character in “The Ten Commandments.” (“And bid them make bricks without straw ... for my border wall.”)

No, wait. We’ve called Trump that before, and it didn’t generate anywhere near the criticism this latest move did.

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Reporters and editors in the newsroom have been inundated with angry calls and emails from readers upset over the lack of color in the comics section.

And by “lack of color,” they don’t mean the fact that the overwhelming majority of characters in these comic strips are white folk. That would at least make sense — people getting all worked up about how our comic strips ought to be more representative of this melting pot of a society.

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But no, these people were bent out of shape over the fact that they suddenly couldn’t tell that Blondie, from the comic strip “Blondie,” is, in fact, a blonde.

I, personally, spoke to a man who said he was canceling his subscription over this comical situation, and he was going to take his business to the Salt Lake Tribune or Deseret News. (I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was pretty certain those papers don’t print their weekday comics in color, either.)

Why, one reader went so far as to insist that the comic strips simply weren’t as funny in black-and-white.

Executive Editor Greg Halling said the decision to switch to black-and-white comics was simple economics. It costs more money to print comics in color, and in these days of tight profit margins, a business has to look at all expenses.

“We weren’t trying to anger anyone,” Halling explains. “If we’d have been able to come up with the money, we never would have taken it away.”

It was a stark reminder that a newspaper’s comics pages are the third rail of journalism.

Halling has been working in newspapers for almost 35 years. He knows just how possessive readers become of their favorite comic strips.

“I think perhaps comics are more of a lightning rod than even politics, in some ways,” Halling said. “They’re more passionate about that than civic life, or voting — the things that make a democracy run.”

Not that Halling blames readers. He knows that the world can be a grim place, and that comic strips provide a much-needed laugh amid the bad news of the day.

“The basis of their appeal is emotional,” he said.

The Standard-Examiner has been running weekday color comics for the better part of two decades now, and messing with that tradition angered readers.

“Especially once you’ve seen them in color, it’s hard to go back to black-and-white,” Halling concedes.

He says it had reached “a boiling point” when the newspaper’s advertising department sprang into action. Ad reps approached advertisers, asking them to save the readers’ color comics.

By Friday, the color was back. An inch-deep banner ad across the top of the comics page read: “Color Comics are Brought Back to You by Jen Kirchhoefer.”

Kirchhoefer is with the Ascent Real Estate Group. Dave Newman, who works in the Standard-Examiner’s advertising department, contacted Kirchhoefer about the comics.

“I called her and asked, ‘Did you notice the comics are in black and white?’” Newman recalls. “She said, ‘Yes, and that’s not good.’ I said, ‘How would you like to be the one to change it back?’”

Kirchhoefer picks up the narrative.

“I totally jumped on it,” she said. “Are you kidding? I knew people would be so ticked at that.”

Kirchhoefer says she’s an avid newspaper reader — she also writes a real-estate column for the S-E — and if she noticed, she knew others would. And that they’d be upset. And that she could ride in and save the day.

“I didn’t even ask how much the ad was,” she said. “I just said, ‘I want in.’”

Kirchhoefer pauses.

“Well, and then I said, ‘Oh, by the way, how much is it?’”

Whatever the cost, it was worth it. On Friday morning alone, Kirchhoefer estimates she took 15 calls, got seven emails and four texts — all thanking her for returning color to the comics page.

“People kept saying, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you,’” Kirchhoefer said. “In one of my emails, one of the people said, ‘If we ever buy or sell a home, we’ll use you.’”

Halling says it was brilliant marketing on Kirchhoefer’s part.

“She’s a hero in the community for ponying up and saving the comics,” he said.

And believe it or not, Kirchhoefer actually agrees with the reader who said color comics are funnier. She admits that during the few days they were in black and white, she didn’t even bother to read them.

“You can’t do comics in black and white,” Kirchhoefer said. “It just isn’t funny.”

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.

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