Another One Bites the Dust

By | Monday, February 24, 2020 Leave a Comment
Back in January, I noted the passing of The Pajama Diaries and Ask Shagg. Yesterday saw the final installment of Norm Feuti's Retail which he had been publishing through King Features since 2006. The last storyline revolved around Grumbel's -- the fictional retail location of the strip -- going bankrupt and having to liquidate all of its assets. Many of the main characters quit rather than deal with the trying to help liquidate the store's inventory.
Penultimate Retail strip
On his own site, Feuti noted, "I’ve been lucky in recent years to have multiple opportunities creating children’s books, and have decided to take my career in this new direction... I am exploring options for the digital archive of RETAIL after it finishes its run. Once I’ve found it a digital home, I will be sure to announce it." Retail's copyright actually belongs to Feuti himself, not King Features, so it's unclear how/whether the strip will be continued in reruns on their site. The children's books opportunities he mentions include his Hello, Hedgehog! series published by Scholastic. The most recent book in the series came out earlier this month.

In my upcoming book on Webcomics, I spend some time look at some of the conflicts that arose between newspaper cartoonists and web cartoonists. One of the interesting things I came across was multiple newspaper cartoonists talking about how their incomes were through newspaper strips were decreasing. Greg Cravens spoke of it more broadly: “I still draw a newspaper comic strip (The Buckets) for which newspaper income is declining and web income is, slowly, increasing.” However, Dinette Set creator Julie Larson was more explicit in how her income has shifted: “I used to get $375 [from The Seattle Post-Intelligencer] for four Dinette Set Sunday cartoons. Now that they’re strictly an online paper, they only pay $40… To add insult to injury, even my own syndicate, bound to sell and promote Dinette Set, gives my product away for free on their website.”

Terri Libenson left The Pajama Diaries to pursue working on children's books. With Feuti doing the same, I can't help but believe their decisions are motivated by finances. They realized that they simply were no longer making enough money doing newspaper strips, and feel there's more money to be had in children's books. I don't know the specific financial situations of either of them, of course, but I can't help but see them as looking at their newspaper strip incomes and saying, "I have to get off this sinking ship before it's too late!" Fortunately, they were able to pursue some other options before then. But I wonder about those folks still left.

Guys like Jim Davis will be fine, obviously. Garry Trudeau, Scott Adams, and Stephan Pastis probably have been successful enough already that they'll be able to coast for years to come. What about Julie Larson? She try self-syndication and went back to the Universal after only a few months. What about Rina Piccolo? She tried doing a webcomic, and couldn't make the economics works after two years. What about, say, Tom Thaves of Frank and Ernest? It's an enjoyable enough strip, it has some longevity behind, but it's never been especially popular. J.C. Duffy? Kevin Fagan? Robb Armstrong? Gary Brookins? Not that these folks aren't talented, but what happens when their newspaper strip incomes dry up entirely? And that's just the names that make it into the newspapers -- what about all the folks who actually work at King Features or Universal?

People have been saying newspapers are dying for decades now. And indeed we've seen a lot of them go away. We've also seen a number of editorial cartoonists lose their positions as well. I'm just wondering how far behind are newspaper strips. After all, is it easier/cheaper to pay Norm Feuti to make new Retail strips or to re-run old Blondie and Beetle Bailey ones?
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