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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

When complaints from the public mean you must be doing something good

Those who work in the media have to know how to deal with complaints from the public. If you're a journalist, for instance, it feels good to have a reader (or viewer) writing in and commenting on what you have published (or aired), even if that comment is critical. You feel good because it means someone has read what you have written or watched your news show and taken it seriously enough to give you feedback. You don't have to get into a tizzy just because your work made someone angry. (You need to develop a thick skin early on, says CNN-IBN's Suhasini Haidar.) If the criticism is warranted, and there is an error in what you have reported, a correction may be in order. Otherwise, just read the e-mail and move on.

Would the same principle apply if you were a syndicated cartoonist? If you were Stephan Pastis, the creator of the laugh-out-loud Pearls Before Swine comic strip?

Judge for yourself from these excerpts taken from his introduction to a collection of Pearls strips, "The Sopratos":

Being a syndicated cartoonist means getting a lot of e-mail.

But the best of the best, the crème de la crème, are the complaints.


First, there are the just-plain-hate-filled folk, who load their e-mail with lots of exclamation points and keep hitting the “CAPS LOCK” button


“You think you’re funny, but you’re NOT!! You SUCK!!! Your comic has never made me laugh! Not even close! And you can’t draw worth SH*T!”

When I’m bored, I will sometimes send those people the following:


“Dear Pearls Fan, 

“Thank you for your kind words. Your support of Pearls is appreciated. Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming popularity of the strip, Mr. Pastis cannot respond to each and every one of his fans personally, but he’s glad to hear you enjoy the strip.”

More than not, that will trigger a follow-up e-mail. Those look like this:


“&$%@ you, you #&$@#*. I am NOT a fan of your @*&@ing comic. And DON’T SEND ME YOUR %#*#ing FORM E-MAILS.”

This of course means I have to send him the same response a second time.


Then there are the more specific folk. These people write when a particular strip or series of strips has angered them. Ohhh, there’ve been a few of these.


Off the top of my head, and in no particular order:

  • Greek people (upset at being depicted as dirty restaurant owners)
  • Parents of kids with ADD (angry at my saying they shouldn’t be drugged)
  • Palestinians (angry at the Jerusalem bus strip)
  • Bisexuals (furious that I called a lonely man who would date people of either sex a “desperasexual”)
  • Family Circus fans (angry over any number of things I’ve done — depicting the kids as grown-up alcoholics, having Dolly say, “I love my dead grandpa,” or having the kids shelter Osama Bin Laden for a week)
  • Family members of people suffering with Lou Gehrig’s disease (angry at Pig for saying how coincidental it was that a guy named Lou Gehrig died from something called “Lou Gehrig’s disease”.)
  • George W. Bush supporters (mad that I had Rat writing him a letter saying that if he was going to bomb all 192 countries, he’d better pick up the pace)
  • Homosexuals (mad that Rat called Pig a “fairy”)
  • Baby Blues fans (deeply offended that I would show their favourite characters being babysat by Rat, above, who sat alone at their kitchen table doing tequila shots)
  • Turkish people (apoplectic over my naming a llama “Ataturk”, a former leader of Turkey. This one even triggered a letter from the Turkish ambassador to the United States.)
  • Nuns (angry that I referred to a nun getting an enema)
  • Abraham Lincoln supporters (offended that I showed Lincoln saying, “I need to see another play like I need a hole in the head.”)
Add to these the more general never-ending complaints about having the characters swear, drink, smoke, and shoot guns, and it’s easy to see:

I’VE GOT THE GREATEST JOB IN THE WORLD.


Also read: "You won't believe how this popular comic strip artist gets his ideas".

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