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Universal Press suggested “hybrid” to Lynn Johnston

From this article from the Post-Star comes confirmation to what I had suspected – that it was the syndicate that had convinced Lynn Johnston to keep For Better or For Worse going in what is being called a “hybrid” format.

Q: How did this hybrid idea come about?

A: It was suggested to me by Universal Press Syndicate that the strip could run again because there wasn’t anything that was filling that niche. I was surprised. I just assumed that it would end and I would take a bow and that would be it.

It was decided that because I had started with 150 papers and didn’t move up to 2,000 papers until after about 15 years, many papers never took the original work. So many readers never saw the original work.

I respect my editors and appreciate them; I really respect and appreciate my readers; and I also am not dead. So I would like to keep my hand in it.

While I have no information on the internal conversations or the chronology of those discussions – I could imagine some high level discussions inside Universal as they learned that Bill Amend was retiring his daily strip and knowing that Lynn was to retire in the fall of 2007. In the course of one year they could potentially lose 3,000 clients. To void that loss of steady income, I’m sure they were very eager to convince Lynn to keep the strip alive somehow.

Please note that I’m not dissing Universal or Lynn – it’s their product and as long as there is public demand for the strip, they should supply that demand. I do have to take issue with how Lynn responds to critics that say she’s shutting out other features. Here’s what she says:

Q: Some critics have said you should retire altogether to open more space for up-and-coming comic strip artists. How do you answer that?

A: I want to see new work. I want that to happen. If what we’re doing does not free up that space, it’s because somebody hasn’t come along to fill (the family niche).

What I learned from Bill Amend’s retirement is two fold: when a large client list feature retires, it really does accelerate the growth potential for other features (think Lio and Pearls Before Swine). Secondly, it’s quality not genre that takes up the openings. So for Lynn to say that she should stay in the game only because there’s not another quality family strip to take that space is a weak argument.

Community Comments

#1 Rob
March/6/2007
@ 1:53 pm

Why can’t she just be honest and say they threw a ton of money at her and she was helpless? Ben Franklin can be veerrrrry persuasive.

“OK, OK! I’ll do your stupid “hybrid”! Just stop throwing the money. I’m getting too many papercuts!”

#2 AJ
March/6/2007
@ 2:38 pm

“Secondly, itâ??s quality not genre that takes up the openings. So for Lynn to say that she should stay in the game only because thereâ??s not another quality family strip to take that space is a weak argument.”

Boy did you nail it. Exactly right imho.

That “family niche” line is ridiculous. Where did they come up with that nonsense?

Universal is one slimy operator (and this isn’t the only slimy thing they’ve done. NO slight against Lio, clearly a nice strip, but Lio wouldn’t have done half as well if Universal hadn’t been able to force it into the Foxtrot slots due to their real estate bundling agreements with papers from the old days).

Lynn should retire the strip and its characters with dignity they deserve, like Calvin and Hobbes. What she’s doing is just demeaning, and will hurt the public’s view of the comic pages even further.

Early unviewed material? Come on. Every strip has early ones no one saw before they were in papers, and to do some “flashback” thing is just an embarrassing money grab on the part of Universal (and Lynn, I suppose).

Almost everyone hates dead-cartoonist strips taking paper slots from fresh material because editors are afraid to let them go. Well, this is even worse: this is kind of a “zombie”, living-dead-cartoonist strip.

Yuck.

I hope readers know better and write letters to editors requesting strips that keep the comics pages vibrant and fresh, and don’t tolerate this kind of watered-down place-filler.

#3 Alan Gardner
March/6/2007
@ 2:46 pm

Universal is one slimy operator

AJ – that’s a pretty bold statement that I suspect would be hard to prove. Nearly every cartoonist I’ve met (which is quite a few) that has dealt with Universal has mentioned that Universal is one of the best syndicates in the business and that they treat their creators very well.

That doesn’t mean that they’re not a business with a bottom line to look at, and if they can keep a 2,000 tier level feature in the market making money – they’d be a fool not to do so. It certainly doesn’t make them slimy.

#4 Rob Tornoe
March/6/2007
@ 3:07 pm

I agree with the well-named “Rob.” It would be refreshing to hear her just admit that she will get paid a ton of money to repackage what she’s already worked on anyway. Who would turn that money down!?!?

That being said, why not just release a collection of her strips in book from, similar to Peanuts? Obviously is the timidness of the syndicate for fear of loosing all those contracted newspapers.

Well here’s a suggestion Universal – FIND NEW TALENT!

#5 AJ
March/6/2007
@ 4:48 pm

You’re right, Alan. “Slimy” is a difficult concept to “prove”. But this being a blog, not a journalistic endeavour, I’m obviously not seeking to prove anything. It’s simply that this move does seem “slimy” to me.

So that’s just my own opinion, on this strip “concept” they’re doing with FBOFW, and on other matters mentioned, but as you say, it may be a bit over the top. I, like you, know that many of their creators are happy with them.

#6 Rich
March/6/2007
@ 10:14 pm

It is a business, and a business wants to keep it’s bread and butter accounts (clients and employees). Those of us that would like the realestate open up (like we are going to have a shot at it anyway) will have to wait and see if the hybrid approach works. If it does, then they are geniuses, and if not, well they know they tried, and if nothing eles buys them more time to fill the void. It would be poor business not to have tried to keep it going.

An example comes to mind. Think of a lawyer that’s the tough, mean, anything-to-win type is the kind no one says they respect … but everyone wants on their team if they are going to court. Not that I’m making an equavalency here !

At first I didn’t like the idea, with pretty much the same feelings AJ expressed. But as I got to thinking about it … if it works, it has been earned … it’s a tribute to how well liked the strip is, so I wish them well with it.

#7 markt
March/6/2007
@ 10:16 pm

AJ Said…”but Lio wouldnâ??t have done half as well if Universal hadnâ??t been able to force it into the Foxtrot slots due to their real estate bundling agreements with papers from the old days”

AJ, what you don’t know about the syndication business is a lot. Syndicates have no control over decisions that newspapers make. Newspapers make their own calls. Yes, LIO did well when FOXTROT dailies ceased publication…I picked up about 100 newspapers. But that leaves about 400 or 500 newspapers that picked up other strips. Hardly what I’d call “forcing it into FOXTROT spots”. Universal has influence, but not that kind of influence. Ultimately, it is the decision of the newspaper what to fill the blank space with, and the clear majority went to other strips.

#8 josh
March/7/2007
@ 10:40 am

The ongoing story of the future of “For Better” fills me with conflicted emotions. This new idea of a hybrid strip does sound interesting. After all, the flashbacks will feature the characters in their younger years, but also in Johnston’s earlier style. Seeing that next to her current work will be a striking way to show her growth as an artist, as well as the characters’ growth in the comic.

Most people here would love to see space for new comics (present company included). If even a fraction of Johnston’s current subscribers drop the strip, then we will have it both ways: space for new strips, and a potentially exciting new form of storytelling.

#9 Heather
March/7/2007
@ 1:17 pm

This whole thing is just pointless in my neck of the woods. Our local paper just decided to pick a different comic by a former resident of the city to fill the slot. It was different at first (the paper always runs an article about why the change was made & talks a little about the idea behind the new strip. Aparently, a change in the comics is big news it this city :eyeroll: ), but the transition has been smooth.

#10 Rob
March/8/2007
@ 7:11 am

I really don’t care if she does do a hybrid.

I have an issue with what she said was the reason when she said

“A: I want to see new work. I want that to happen. If what weâ??re doing does not free up that space, itâ??s because somebody hasnâ??t come along to fill (the family niche).”
and
“It was suggested to me by Universal Press Syndicate that the strip could run again because there wasnâ??t anything that was filling that niche.”

If she would just admit its the money and not the “niche” that’s the prime motivator that would be cool.

#11 Brian
July/26/2007
@ 9:44 pm

I mean, it’s just a comic, really. Granted it’s one I’ve read since I was about 8 and that’s about 23 years, but really…it’s just a comic. Money’s money. Art doesn’t exist without it. Idealism or no.

I’m just sayin…

#12 Eric Burke
July/26/2007
@ 10:04 pm

â??Secondly, itâ??s quality not genre that takes up the openings. So for Lynn to say that she should stay in the game only because thereâ??s not another quality family strip to take that space is a weak argument.â?

I also think that LJ’s POV is weak. FBoFW has always been a great toon, but even great toons reach their creative peak, and it’s past. Lynn Johnston should go down as one of comicdom’s greats in my book, but her statement that there are no great features to replace hers is bunk. There’s quite a bit of quality strips out there today, if peeps would quit their nostalgic boo-hooing over the loss of the Big 3 (Farside, Calvin, Bloom County)…

…like any other medium, there’s quality and crap.

Now…isn’t part of the reason that lynn Johnston is “retiring” is because of illness? I believe she has had an assistant helping her the past few years. I might be wrong. If this is true, depending on her financial situation, and the cost of medical expenses, I could understand her not following Watterson off the funny pages…

#13 Garey Mckee
July/26/2007
@ 10:24 pm

Lio has done well because it’s a great strip with great content.

I have mixed feelings about FBOFW. I believe Lynn Johnston’s comment about a lack of quality family strips to be untrue and more than just a little arrogant.

#14 markt
July/26/2007
@ 11:17 pm

Thanks, Garey…the check is in the mail.

Mark T

#15 Garey Mckee
July/27/2007
@ 5:18 am

Swimmin’ pools an’ movie stars.

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