Though never shy about advocating tighter handgun controls, The Tennessean is refusing this week to publish a family-oriented comic strip advocating handgun safety.
“Arlo & Janis” is a regular feature in The Tennessean and 600 other daily papers. In 12 strips, running last week and this week, the cartoonist shows two teenage boys playing with a handgun. (A sample strip from the series appears below.) There’s a nervous moment, but the boys get only a parental scolding and a warning about the dangers of having a gun in the house.
Without explanation, The Tennessean opted not to run the entire series and instead substituted some old strips supplied by the syndication company that distributes “Arlo & Janis.”
“I don’t understand,” said Jimmy Johnson, who’s been drawing the strip for 13 years. “If you have a gun and a teenager in the same house, you need to make sure the gun is secure. I don’t see how anyone could object to that.”
Johnson said it was “depressing” that The Tennessean did not run the strips. He also said he was surprised to learn that the paper editorially supports strict handgun controls.
“The only complaints I received were from right-wing gun nuts who thought I was trying to convey some sort of liberal, gun-control message,” Johnson said.
Numerous other newspapers in the state decided to run the series. Editors at papers in Memphis, Jackson, Knoxville, Murfreesboro, and Shelbyville said they saw nothing wrong with the series and had received no complaints about it. At The Knoxville News-Sentinel, editor Harry Moskos said he saw “nothing in the strip that would upset anyone,” adding that he had learned from experience to “leave the comics page alone. You upset more people by trying to be a censor.”
Amy Lago, the strip’s editor, said about 50 papers had requested alternative episodes of “Arlo & Janis.” Lago said she didn’t know how many papers had actually pulled the handgun series.
“Some editors just don’t want to deal with phone calls,” she said.
According to Tennessean editor Frank Sutherland, the syndicate sent the newspaper two sets of “Arlo & Janis” stripsthe handgun series and the alternative strips. Both were brought to him by features editors “for evaluation,” Sutherland says. He decided to yank the handgun series, he says, after discussing the issue with “a number of staff members and some people outside the newsroom to get opinions.” For some of those people, Sutherland said, the strip’s “moral lesson did not come across effectively until the second week”; others were concerned readers might think the first week’s strips were “flippant about a sensitive issue.”
Although the paper has offered no explanation to readers, Sutherland said Tuesday that he had planned all along to “reproduce both weeks of the strip at one time in our ‘Perspective’ section, along with a story on the issue.” He added there won’t be enough space in the paper to reprint the 12 strips for at least two more weeks.
It’s hard to believe that Sutherland, the editor of a large metropolitan daily, and his staff spent so much time debating the moral implications of an innocuous, feel-good comic strip. Three weeks from now when the strips appear, maybe Sutherland can explain what all the fuss was about.
“Here’s a pretty good offer,” begins the sales letter from the Nashville Business Journal. The customer pays for an ad in a one-time-only special section “and the other 51 weeks’ exposure are free!”
Fifty-one weeks of free ads? Not bad. Not true, either. Further down, the letter mentions that the special section is so popular, “it serves as a year-round reference tool.” And that, apparently, is the only free “exposure” you get.