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The Observer

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“I think you made a mistake removing the comic strip ‘Overboard.’ It’s one of the best ones you’ve run, certainly better than its replacement, ‘Lio.’ … Why not remove a truly bad comic strip like ‘Kudzu’ or ‘Judge Parker’ instead … ?”

Hardly anything gets newspaper readers more upset than the paper’s dropping a comic strip they like. Especially older readers, and they seem to constitute most of the newspaper audience these days. When the strip includes a lovable animal, as “Overboard” does, the anger is intensified.

So the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has been receiving many letters to the editor like the one above. It will be interesting to see whether the paper stands by its original decision, or reverses itself and reinstates “Overboard.” Newspapers have been known to do that when the outcry is great.

Here at the Times, we’re slow to criticize the daily paper. But as The Observer is an old comics reader ourselves, we feel qualified, if not compelled, to put our two cents’ worth in. The readers are correct in saying that “Overboard” is better than some of the strips the D-G is retaining, and certainly better than the one that replaced it. In announcing the change, a D-G editor said that “Lio” was in the tradition of famous old strips like “Henry” and “The Little King,” which — like “Lio” — starred a character who didn’t speak. We knew “Henry,” we knew “The Little King,” and “Lio” is indeed in their tradition. They weren’t funny either.

If the Democrat-Gazette is short on space in the comics section, it could make room for “Overboard” by dropping or moving to the editorial page such strips as “Kudzu” and “B.C.” that are mostly political.

This is how long The Observer has been reading the comics: He can remember when “B.C.” was funny.

Since we’re talking about art and the public, we’ll note the call we got at the Observatory last week. The caller demanded the Times do battle on inferior outdoor art, specifically a mosaic south of the Main Library parking lot and a decorative metal fence along a walk in Riverfront Park.

Public art — there’s hardly anything hairier. It requires that someone choose a piece of art that they think is good enough to be put on display but not so controversial that it gets too much notice.

Is there any public art that everyone embraces?

Some of us embrace more than others. The mosaics, a City Year project depicting the covers of children’s books, don’t appear to be finished, but The Observer wasn’t affronted by them. They have potential. They are no worse than the retaining wall itself. In fact, they are better. They are not the floors of Pompeii, but this isn’t Italy.

The caller’s beef with the metal waves was that he thought the steel was poorly cut and finished. The Observer trotted over. When it comes to metal waves, we are not a connoisseur. We were perfectly satisfied with the workmanship.

If The Observer sounds like a pushover when it comes to public displays, reconsider. We have previously poked fun at two anatomically referential sculptures downtown, the female part in front of the Robinson Center and the derriere close-up next to the Statehouse Convention Center. But, they have their positive points, so we abide them.

It’s a knotty problem (even a naughty problem), but what’s the solution? Appoint an art czar? Who would it be? We’ll take the job, but only anonymously.

A piece of public art that we can, at this stage, we can wholeheatedly endorse is the wooden structure that is part of the International Gate and Garden going up just east of the Statehouse Convention Center (and next to the rather unlovely backside of aforementioned sculpture). South Korean artisans are at work on the gate as this is being written, hand-planing huge Douglas fir beams that form a vault over an elaborately carved wooden roof fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle. The firs must have been ancient — the roof supports are single pieces of wood that appear to be at least 5-by-25-inches by maybe 7 feet, and are accompanied by long, fat round logs carved to a point. The gate honors Haeng Ung Lee, who made Little Rock an unlikely center of competition in the sport of tae kwon do.

The gate is now but wood and concrete, but it is beautiful as is, and no one can quarrel with the workmanship. Of course it will continue to change — it will no doubt be painted or otherwise finished. But it’s already lovely. At least, we think it is.

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