Hands up if you read the comics as a kid. Right, me too. Not every kid reads comic books (I didn't for one, why spend candy money on a story when the library was free) but anyone who got a newspaper read the comics. And -- this is my point today -- you read all the comics. Didn't you? I sure did. All the supposed-to-be-funny ones, anyway. I laughed harder at Calvin building weird snowmen than I did at Beetle Bailey taking a nap, but I read every word of every comic, even the ones I didn't really like. Hell, I read about Not Me knocking over a lamp in the Family Circus house.
My question is, why? I didn't watch every animated TV show. I didn't read every page of every book I started. There were no DVDs when I was a kid, but I sure changed the channel if the movie got boring. My kids are the same way. They'll change channels in the middle of a Simpson's rerun to watch another Simpson's rerun in order to catch a particular funny bit, but they'll read all the comics in the daily paper. So ... why are the comics different?
Here's what I think. Feel free to disagree. (Hey, feel free to book a holiday or download music or find a hot date. It's your computer.) What I think is that the newspaper comics represent limited time out. They are a ritualized few moments away from the worries of life, recess, if you will, in the middle of the school morning. The small-scale focussed games of recess assume a large importance -- much larger than they would if the break were longer. TV is almost infinite, like summer holidays. There, with no boundaries, your time out becomes your life. You pick and choose what you watch. You get bored. But recess is a narrow window. You've only got fifteen minutes -- about the same length of time it takes to read the comics. There's no time for boredom. Crouched over the cereal bowl or the toilet bowl (sorry, couldn't resist), you live each and every panel.