About two months ago WordPress pushed this update where I had no choice but to use their modern ‘Block’ editor. Its main characteristics are that everything takes longer and behaves worse. And more unpredictably. This is part of a site-wide reorganization where everything is worse. Like, it dumped the old system where you could upload several pictures, put in captions and alt-text for them, and have the captions be saved. And somehow the Block Editor kept getting worse. It has two modes, a ‘Visual Editor’ where it shows roughly what your post would look like, and a ‘Code Editor’ where it shows the HTML code you’re typing in. And this past week it decided anything put in as Code Editor should preview as ‘This block has encountered an error and cannot be previewed’.
It’s sloppy, but everything about the Block Editor is sloppy. There is no guessing, at any point, what clicking the mouse will do, much less why it would do that. The Block Editor is a master class in teaching helplessness. I would pay ten dollars toward an article that studied the complex system of failures and bad decisions that created such a bad editor.
This is not me being a cranky old man at a web site changing. I gave it around two months, plenty of time to get used to the scheme and to understand what it does well. It does nothing well.
For example, if I have an article and wish to insert a picture between two paragraphs? And I click at the space between the two paragraphs where I want the picture? There are at least four different things that the mouse click might cause to happen, one of them being “the editor jumps to the very start of the post”. Which of those four will happen? Why? I don’t know, and you know what? I should not have to know.
In the Classic Editor, if I want to insert a picture, I click in my post where I want the picture to go. I click the ‘Insert Media’ button. I select the picture I want, and that’s it. Any replacement system should be no less hard for me, the writer, to use. Last week, I had to forego putting a picture in one of my Popeye cartoon reviews because nothing would allow me to insert a picture. This is WordPress’s failure, not mine.
With the latest change, and thinking seriously whether WordPress blogging is worth the aggravation, I went to WordPress’s help pages looking for how to get the old editor back. And, because their help pages are also a user-interface clusterfluff, ended up posting this question to a forum that exists somewhere. And, wonderfully, musicdoc1 saw my frustrated pleas and gave me the answer. I am grateful to them and I cannot exaggerate how much difference this makes. Were I forced to choose between the Block Editor and not blogging at all, not blogging would win.
I am so very grateful to musicdoc1 for this information and I am glad to be able to carry on here.
With the final demise of Apartment 3-G in not just artistic but also actual production terms, the natural question is: who wins? That is, who gets the spot suddenly opened up in about three hundred newspapers?
I should point out, I don’t know how many newspapers Apartment 3-G was running in at the end. I say “about three hundred” because whenever a comic strip’s circulation is mentioned it’s usually given as “about three hundred”. “About three hundred newspapers” is the comic strip circulation figure equivalent of “has a girlfriend in Canada”. It’s possible enough, and disproving it would take more work than anyone cares to invest.
Certainly not winning are the soap opera strips. As a genre they’re dead, probably squeezed the same way soap operas proper are dying (in the United States). Kids don’t grow up reading them, and adults have better things to do than follow the soaps. I don’t know when the last new syndicated soap opera strip to launch was. The closest might be Dan Thompson’s Rip Haywire, which is an action-adventure strip, but a humorous, self-spoofing one. That means the main story would be serviceable for an action-adventure strip, but every panel includes a joke about how stupid the Kardashians are or something like that, and when the villain reveals his plan he owns up that this is a kinda dumb thing to do. It’s a fun strip, one of Thompson’s nearly six dozen good daily strips that he’s producing, but it’s not a soap. And I’m not positive it appears in any newspapers.
I would expect Greg Evans and Karen Evans’s Luann and Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean to make the most gains from the spaces available, actually. Both strips have moved into the semi-serialized format that’s the closest the market will support to a soap-opera strip. In this format — I think of Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury as the defining example of it — there are a couple of story lines going on, and each week will advance one of the stories. But nearly each daily strip will contain a punch line, or an attempted punch line, so the strip doesn’t quite abandon the joke-a-day format.
(This isn’t to suggest that humor strips with story lines are a modern development. Walt Kelly’s Pogo mastered the form, and strips like E C Segar’s Thimble Theater/Popeye were certainly doing that. But they would have typically one story going at a time, and focus on that for as long as conditions warranted. I think the markers of the semi-serialized format are that there are multiple story lines going on for the various characters, that one of them will be picked up for any given Monday-to-Saturday sequence, that the following week is likely to follow a completely different thread, and that the full week will be devoted to a single thread. Funky Winkerbean, for example, has so committed to this that its snark community gets confused when the strip does six days of unconnected gag-a-day jokes without an overarching topic.)
You may protest that Luann and Funky Winkerbean are already successful, commercially if not artistically. (There is a lot to snark about the plotting in both comic strips.) And yes, they’re probably doing about as well as syndicated comic strips not drawn by Charles Schulz half a century ago can hope to do. But success and acclaim tend to attract success and acclaim. That newspaper editors have heard of them makes it easier to pick them up, in newspapers that haven’t picked them up already. This may be cosmically unjust, but it is an unjust trait every human field has.
If King Features Syndicate were really on the ball, they would be pushing some of their semi-serial comics, such as Norm Feuti’s Retail, heavily. But then if King Features Syndicate were on the ball, some editor would have stepped in on Apartment 3-G sometime the past two years. (There is a rumor that Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock had strips, or at least scripts, prepared through to January 2016. If true, this would explain why the last few weeks of the strip so ineptly wrapped up events. I would be fascinated to see these strips and learn if they were pulled because they somehow managed to be even worse, or if the syndicate just decided to cut its losses finally.)
I have seen reports of King Features placing Niklas Eriksson’s Carpe Diem into newspapers. That’s basically a panel strip, although done in the long rectangular dimensions of a three- or four-panel comic. It’d be a good choice for any newspaper that doesn’t already carry Mikael Wulff and Anders Morgenthaler’s WuMo, if there are any. King Features has also started recently Take It From The Tinkersons, by Bill Bettwy, which is unlike other family comics by being about the Tinkerson family instead of other family-comics families; and David Reddick’s Intelligent Life, which hops on the bandwagon of The Big Bang Theory with the speed and precision we expect from the comics page.
Universal Uclick should be able to place Dana Simpson’s Phoebe and her Unicorn into at least a few of those emptied spots. Simpson’s is the first comic Universal Uclick has launched into newspapers in several years, and it’s got a pleasant, charming whimsy. It’s also benefitted from well-meaning reviews that claim it’s a female version of Calvin and Hobbes. It’s no girl-based clone of that comic, though. It really only shares the superficial traits of being well-drawn and starring a child and an animal with Bill Watterson’s masterpiece. But the syndicate would be fools not to trade on good publicity, and I’d expect many readers to like what the strip actually is once they’ve read it.
But it’s also sadly possible that no comic strip will reap a bonanza of new spots from this. It might all go to the tire ads instead. November 2015 has been a harsh month for syndicated comic strips, and that in a bloodbath year. While everyone was watching Apartment 3-G collapse, Larry Wright’s impossibly gentle panel strip Kit ‘n’ Carlyle ran its last installment, on the 7th of November. And come the 29th, Julie Larson’s The Dinette Set panel is to retire. Kit ‘n’ Carlyle was about a kitten making a mess of its owner’s dates or food or drapes, rather like Patrick McDonnell’s Mutts without the despair and misanthropy. The Dinette Set was all bite, daily peeks at some horrible people who don’t get it. It doesn’t really have punch lines, more of an atmosphere of awkward unpleasantness. I can’t fault the many readers who never got what was supposed to be funny in this.
I don’t know that I ever saw Kit ‘n’ Carlyle in an actual newspaper, but then I don’t remember when I last saw Apartment 3-G on paper either. The Dinette Set I remember seeing at least a few times, so maybe it runs in four hundred newspapers. Also finished this year were Fred Wegner’s Grin and Bear It and Steve Sicula’s Home and Away. Jan Eliot’s Stone Soup last month switched from daily to Sunday-only publication, which is almost as good as stopping altogether. Daily and Sunday comics pages are only loosely connected. Terry LaBan and Patty LaBan’s family strip Edge City is ending with the close of 2015. Given all this, I wouldn’t blame a comics page editor for taking the chance to reorganize everything and drop all but the cheapest or most popular comics. Or the tire ads.
If there are still comics page editors, or newspapers, soon.
I’m not saying my brother was trying to sabotage me. I would understand if he were, considering the times when we were young and I dropped a heavy glass cake pan on his head. But I’m pretty sure he can’t remember that, or much else from before 1994, so I’m supposing this was all coincidence. But he mentioned me in a tweet that mentioned this web service that tests how readable writing is. It reports the grade level of your writing and counts adverbs and passive voices and all that. It’s got to be reliable because it highlights stuff in different colors and it’s got a beta version of a new system dated 2013 and all that.
I poked around some to figure if I could make anything funny out of the tweet. There’s nothing amusing to be drawn from it at all, alas. But I submitted some of my writing to the service. My guess was that I wrote somewhere around a high-school reading level. And I’d have some fancy paragraphs of college-level text. It turns out my writing normally comes in at about grade level 26. It also has the occasional paragraph so complicated that the web service runs away screaming and jumps off Editors Leap, onto a pile of sharpened blue markers and misplaced apostrophes. The reason that last bit was funny is that editors used to use blue markers to highlight misplaced apostrophes. This was before editors got replaced with spelling checkers and little green squiggles underneath sentences containing the word “were”. That’s “were” as in “used to be”, not “were” as in “wolf”. Very few werewolves are detected by automated grammar systems, which is why you should not use them during full moons.
I was stunned. Gobsmacked, you might say, if the spell checker knows that word. I admit I’ve used overly complicated grammar in the past. That was mostly when I was on a student newspaper, and would annoy the copy editors by crafting sentences that read fine, but were about 1600 words long and turned into complicated gibberish if you tried breaking them up into shorter ones. I had good reason for doing this: we didn’t have much staff, so we had to annoy the people who were doing the tedious but necessary work. In hindsight maybe this is why we didn’t have much staff. Or readership. But I assumed I was done with that and just wrote like normal people do except that it’s not on a cell phone.
I did try diagramming some of my sentences, because I’m in the last age cohort that ever learned how to diagram sentences. One that I thought was a clear and punchy bit of text turned out to have the same structure as the caffeine molecule. Yeah, I was stunned too. Like you, I would have guessed theobromine. But I never imagined I could be so rococo. It’s not like I try to write the way, say, 18th-century people did, when everything read like a subleasing arrangement between two people who didn’t like each other, or themselves, and who didn’t want to make an arrangement anybody could decipher. It just happens.
So now I’m trying to check my text against this automated editor. I hope I can get the reading level down to any grade level that actually exists. It’s hard. Right now the service says 26 of the previous 29 sentences were hard to read, 14 of them were very hard to read, and four of them require they send someone over to crush my wrist underneath a rusted-out satellite TV dish. I gave them my brother’s address.
The service doesn’t like adverbs. It routinely gives me advice like that I have three adverbs and for a text of this length should aim for zero or fewer. The beta version is even stricter: it counts me at four adverbs and wants me to keep it to negative six adverbs or fewer, eliminating adverbs I encounter on the street if need be.
So I’m trying to write to the approval of a web service created by people I don’t know to enforce rules of grammar I might even agree with if I knew what they were. I trust that it must be measuring something reliably since its word count doesn’t agree with my text editor’s, and the beta version’s word count doesn’t agree with either. I don’t know why it’s impossible to get two programs to agree on how many words are in a thing, but at least I know I have to eliminate twelve uses of the passive voice before someone drops a cake pan on my head.