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Fans of the funnies are not amused

It gives me great pleasure on this fine Sunday morning to announce the winners in my first and only "I Hate the Sunday Comics" letter-writing contest.

Drum roll, please ...

First place goes to Frank A. Ramczyk of Modesto, who sent me a letter in type so small that I could barely read it. Here's a portion of what he wrote:

"I must take issue with your paper's decision to cram as many comics as you can on one folded page. With a plethora of advertisements totaling close to five pounds each Sunday, I guess you had to cut back one page somewhere. I am sending in this letter in small font to illustrate your decision. ... Who was responsible for the reduced size comics? One thing I can tell you, they are not middle aged, elderly or have a vision impairment. Your comics page may be in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act."

Ramczyk's was the best of a few dozen communiques I've received since we changed the Sunday comics last month. As you may recall, we used to offer 29 comics on six pages; now we print the same 29 on four pages.

Why did we reduce the number of pages? Economics, my friends, economics. Like many businesses in our community and country, when the economy is struggling, as it is now, you look for ways to cut costs.

More and more papers are reducing their Sunday comics by either eliminating some strips or shrinking them. Western Color, the firm that prints our Sunday comics, uses a new process that allows papers to reduce size while keeping a sharp image.

The problem, though, is that some of the dialog-heavy comics are hard on the eyeballs, including mine.

As a result, we'll be working with Western Color to shift the strips around, giving larger play to comics with more words.

In the meantime, I expect I'll hear from more unhappy readers, such as the second- and third-place finishers in my letter-writing contest.

Runner-up Mick Daniels of Turlock had this to say:

"Let me join the hundreds of readers congratulating you for managing to shrink all of the Sunday comics onto a mere four pages. I can't tell you what a relief it is to not have to look at those gigantic comics. Plus, I get to show off my eagle-like vision when reading the microscopic print. What's that, you say? Hundreds of readers aren't writing in thanking you? Hundreds of readers didn't request the micro comics? Well, then, why in the world did you make the change? Now I've become one of those grouchy old men who complain about the size of the Sunday comics. See what you've done?"

And Norman Neff of Modesto gave me this piece of his mind:

"At one time you had a nice family newspaper, a little bias sometimes but that wasn't anything I could not live with. But someone in your organization thought change was good and ruined the relationship I have had with your business.

"First you put (a) teenage news magazine in as the Buzzz, which I tolerated. Then you crammed so many features in the Scene, causing it to be difficult to handle, which I hated. Now you crunched the Sunday comic section so small a person needs a magnifying glass to read it. I noticed you did not do the same thing to the ads."

To show my appreciation -- and, OK, my empathy, too -- I'm sending each of my three winners a nifty Modesto Bee/Modbee.com magnifying sheet. When held about four inches from the page, the 7-by-10-inch sheet doubles the size of the type. I know because I use one myself from time to time.

The Sunday comics aren't the only change we've made this year -- nor are they the last. In fact, we have some other changes coming this week.

Meet me here -- same page, same place -- Monday morning and I'll tell you about them.

Vasché is the editor of The Bee. Reach him at mvasche@modbee.com.

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