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posted: 4/10/2014 1:01 AM

Adding a new comic strip is serious business

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In the fuller pursuit of a newspaper's mission to delight and to instruct, you might be surprised to find that one of the most treacherous assignments for any editor can be found in the delight variable.

To be specific, the Comics Plus page.

Newspapers are known for their seriousness, their sense of duty, their investigations, their toughness. But many's the editor who has been brought cowering to his or her knees and pleading for the readers' forgiveness after messing with the bridge column, puzzle or "Judge Parker." So, finding and maintaining a good balance of entertaining games and comic strips is a job newspapers take seriously.

Enter "Gray Matters," a new strip we debuted this week.

"Gray Matters" is a cleverly drawn panel produced by two former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editors and artists. Ostensibly, as the double-entendre in its title implies, the strip deals with themes of aging in the contemporary world, but as you'll find as the strip proceeds, its subject matter strives more broadly to encompass all aspects of modern family life from the vantage point of middle age.

In a presentation produced by Milwaukee Public Television, co-creator Jerry Resler describes the central characters of the panel as Emily Grayson, a schoolteacher, and her husband Elmer, whose profession is kept purposely vague.

Elmer, Resler explains in the program, "was always known from a kid on as 'Gray,' and when he was young, he thought, 'That's a pretty cool nickname,' but as Elmer got older and looked in the mirror each morning, he increasingly and sadly began to realize that 'gray' was no longer a nickname but a description."

Resler's creative partner Stuart Carlson points out that the nature of that description isn't all that the strip explores. He emphasizes that topics range from issues involving young people -- a device advanced through Emily's experiences as a teacher -- to things like health issues, job-security, rapid technological change and the challenges of dealing simultaneously with your own kids and your aging parents, in his words, "that so-called 'Sandwich Generation' dilemma."

The strip has been produced through the website and is growing in newspaper syndication. Resler and Carlson -- who, by the way, is an award-winning editorial cartoonist whose work has appeared in Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, Washington Post and elsewhere -- note that considering a demographic of more than 100 million Americans older than 50, they have a strong potential audience base.

I hope you've already noticed and appreciated this new feature or that you'll make a special point to check it out and grow along with its characters and story lines as they evolve on our weekday Comics pages. The dicey part of adding a new strip, of course, is determining what needs to be retired to make way for a new opportunity. The strip "Soup to Nutz," which never seemed to generate the enthusiasm we hoped for, was our choice. We're sure the strip has its devoted fans, but we hope "Gray Matters" will be equally pleasing for them while providing some extra enjoyment for additional readers as well.

We devote substantial resources to the very serious side of our journalism mission, just as you devote substantial energies to the demands of citizenship. As a full-service newspaper, we also recognize the role relaxation and entertainment play in the life of a well-rounded citizen. That part of our mission may not seem as serious, but we're ever aware that it is just as important.

Jim Slusher,, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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