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Feb. 21, 2011, 10 a.m.

McSweeney’s latest love note to newspapers: The Goods

If I was looking for an easily identifiable trigger for my love of reading, it would most likely be devouring Peanuts (and later Calvin and Hobbes) in the Sunday Star Tribune as a kid. (Whether that had anything to do with my decision to work in newspapers is harder to trace. Though it may have had something to do with Clark Kent.)

Mac Barnett, the editor behind McSweeney’s The Goods, had a similar experience. “One of my big memories as a kid, on Sundays, my dad would peel off the funny pages as he would read the newspaper,” Barnett told me. “I think that trained me to have a certain fondness for the newspaper. I don’t think kids have that now.”

That may be Barnett’s guiding principle as he oversees The Goods, an update on the classic kids page and McSweeney’s latest love note to newspapers, which debuts today. Though unlike the acclaimed (and gorgeous if you never got a look) Panorama, The Goods is going to be published on the regular thanks to a syndication deal with Tribune Media Services.

Instead of a Jumble and Family Circus, The Goods offers things like a vision quest, a secret-language-creation center, and Abraham Super Lincoln, defender of truth and justice. (Probably not to be confused with the vampire-slaying Lincoln.) It’s something akin to updating or “re-imagining” a classic film or old TV show: taking the markers and elements you liked and giving it a contemporary (and hopefully improved) spin.

In an email to readers, McSweeney’s described The Goods as “a half-page comics/puzzle/goofy-writing serial, both child-pleasing and heartache-relieving, and meant to appear in a newspaper much like yours.” The Goods will feature weekly material from an ever-rotating group of artists and illustrators, including Jon Adams, Laurie Keller, Sean Qualls, Mo Willems, and Jennifer Traig, to name a few.

When Panorama was in its development stages Barnett suggested to Dave Eggers the idea of a kids page to add another layer to the magazine-turned newspaper experience. “We wanted to present a lot of ideas that could be broken out or just completely stolen or used by newspapers for their benefit,” Barnett said.

Eggers has not been bashful in talking about his affection for print and how it connects to literacy in kids. In creating Panorama, Eggers and the McSweeney’s team offered up a collector’s item as a blueprint to help the newspaper industry. The Goods is a step further, though not one that was originally planned. “There wasn’t any intention to start a syndicated section,” Barnett said. “But I think we were all eager to do it.”

And now they’ve got to find newspapers eager to take them, papers that hopefully haven’t trimmed back too many pages and have room to add The Goods alongside Mark Trail and his friends. Success here likely hinges on getting papers to buy in and convincing parents: “You like McSweeney’s — so might your kids!” In their email to readers, McSweeney’s encouraged its fans to contact the features editor at their local paper and offer up The Goods.

“I think part of my job overseeing this is making sure that the content of The Goods is high, and respectful of kids’ intellect, but that the books they’re connected to will be good too,” Barnett said.

Barnett said the authors and illustrators working on The Goods are already familiar with the evolving tastes in children’s books and are trying to develop material that is smart and funny to kids. So yes, it may be goofy — there may in fact be ice cream cones riding motorcycles and talking animals — but it also includes a healthy dose of facts about U.S. vice presidents. Something like The Goods can show that newspapers care about kids, and maybe leave a window open to reading beyond the comics page, Barnett said.

“I would love for kids 10-20 years from now to have fond memories about The Goods,” he said.

POSTED     Feb. 21, 2011, 10 a.m.
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