Comic strip artists band together for a silly and good cause

NEW YORK — Fans of newspaper comics noticed something missing in many of the strips Friday, May 7 — pants.

More than 25 cartoonists behind strips from "Blondie" to "Zippy the Pinhead" celebrated the quirky holiday No Pants Day in a way that helps charities get clothing to those in need.

Participating artists drew their characters without trousers and urging readers to donate clothing to thrift and second-hand stores hard-hit by COVID-19.

"This was a great way to help bring communities together but also have a little bit of a laugh," said Tea Fougner, comics editor at King Features Syndicate. "Just the idea of No Pants Day, I think, is something that everybody can feel a little bit closer to this year than in previous years."

No Pants Day, held on the first Friday in May, is believed to have been started by a group of students at the University of Texas who thought leaving the pants at home on the first Friday in May would be a fun way to end the semester. A winter spin-off was created called No Pants Subway Ride.

Comics creators have noticed the COVID-19 pandemic has effected people's ability to get clothing and charities have not gotten as many donations as typical.

In a gracious move among comic strip distributors, King Features reached out to fellow syndicators Tribune Content Agency, Andrews McMeel Universal and Washington Post Writers Group to pull off Friday's event.

"We may be business competitors, but we're all part of the same family," said Fougner. "We all love comics and we love our communities. And, at the end of the day, that's really what cartooning is about. So we want as many cartoonists as possible to take part in initiatives like this."

Cartoonists were contacted in February about the project, and the finished comics started to come in by March. In some cases, artists needed a quick brainstorming session to figure out ways to approach the request.

Not Bill Griffith, the artist behind "Zippy the Pinhead."

"He emailed me back right away and he said, 'Well, not wearing pants is Zippy's thing,'" Fougner said.

Organizers left it up to the individual cartoonists — some other participating strips included "Shoe," "Arctic Circle" and "Mallard Fillmore" — how to incorporate the message. The strips ranged from medieval knights to modern office workers, all sporting underwear.

Olive Brinker's "Rae the Doe" had a character donating clothes at an LGBT center while "Dennis the Menace" urged readers: "Give to a charity that helps people in need of clothing, like Room to Grow."

"And some folks just depicted the characters not wearing pants or put a little happy No Pants Day message in the comic," Fougner said.

The event is the latest attempt by the comics community to help society. Last year, more than 70 comic strips and panels banded together to hide six symbols in the artwork to honor workers on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.

Rowdy Facebook food page erupts over harvesting of ramps

NEW YORK — A popular, food-focused Facebook page bearing the name of The New York Times erupted in unruly debate Wednesday, May 5, over unsustainable harvesting of a basketful of coveted ramps purchased by an artist in upstate New York.

Tom Brauer of Norwich, New York, was no worse for the pummeling.

He had posted a photo and a question to The New York Times Cooking Community page, which has more than 83,000 members, asking how he should prepare the 15 or so ramps he bought for $10 from a forager who had a van full of the wild spring onions, which grow for just a month.

The photo, showing bulbs and roots attached, prompted a member of the private group to decry the way they were pulled. Pulling the entire plant means it can't grow again next season. Detractors soon piled on the critic, questioning her judgy tone, while others noted the harvesting practice threatens to endanger the beloved cooking ingredient.

Commenters wrongly assumed Brauer had foraged the ramps himself.

"It's funny because I used to be on that page a lot but it got really aggressive so I kind of went off," he said. "The whole thing was kind of annoying and obnoxious, but I do appreciate the info to be honest. I think I'm going to take the roots and plant them in my garden. The delivery was a little harsh, but what are you going to do?"

Brauer, 42, said he had no idea it was frowned on to take the bulbs and roots, and feels bad about it. He bought them from the forager while the two were at a friend's house Monday.

So what's he going to do with the ramps?

"I'm going to do a splayed chicken with caramelized ramps," said Brauer, a painter who works in his family's appliance store. "My cousin and his family are coming up for the weekend and I always cook them chicken."

As for the lively recipe page, the newspaper announced last month it plans to remove its branding once it appoints volunteer moderators to take over. The paper cited the time it takes to staff and moderate the group, which has seen numerous controversies and debates spanning politics, race and privilege.

"One thing is clear: The interest in this group is about much more than recipes or The New York Times," the announcement said.

The group was started in 2019 and grew quickly, with drama over how to discuss the cultural aspects of food, such as the use of MSG. For years, the food additive was branded as an unhealthy processed ingredient mainly found in Chinese food, despite a lack of supporting scientific evidence. The group erupted over anti-Asian sentiment.

Last October, members staged a revolt with food styled to say "vote" amid posts for particular candidates.

Brauer's chief critic, who derided him for pulling ramp roots, later toned down her response Wednesday, saying: "Y'all are a trip!"

— Associated Press

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