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MacNelly widow sues Tribune Media Services (UPDATED)

Susie MacNelly, the widow of Shoe creator and Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist Jeff MacNelly has sued Tribune Media Services charging that TMS is obstructing a possible move to King Features Syndicate. Susie’s Blue Salvage Company, the company she and Jeff created in 1995, has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on Nov. 16, according Editor & Publisher. In question is whether TMS has “rights of first refusal” to sign Shoe up again when its current contract ends on March 31st, 2008. After Jeff’s death, Susie apparently signed a letter agreeing to maintain a 1995 contract (that created the March 31st expiration), but Susie maintains that the letter does not contain language regarding a right of first refusal. TMS maintains that the 1995 contract does.

Additionally, according to E&P, Susie has explored the option of taking Shoe to King Features where they have promised a $350,000 signing bonus as well as additional licensing and sales support that Susie feels TMS is lacking. While TMS has matched the signing bonus, but apparently Susie feels Kings licensing and sales promises make their offer more enticing.

UPDATE: E&P senior editor Dave Astor has posted a follow-up that includes a brief response from TMS. TMS executive John Twohey has stated that Susie “cannot unilaterally move the rights” of Shoe to King Features (or any other syndicate) because the current contract has clauses “that gives us the opportunity to match any offer Blue Ridge Salvage receives from another syndicate, and we have done that.”

I’m not a lawyer, but here’s what it sounds like. There is a right of first refusal in the 1995 contact that allows TMS to extend the contract, but they are required to match any offers from other syndicates. If they can’t match it, then the feature is free to leave. TMS has met King Feature’s $350,000 offer and thereby feels it has fulfilled its contract and the 2008 contract date should be extended. Susie recognizes there are non-quantifiable opportunity options, such as sales and licensing, that TMS is not providing or is incapable of providing. The 1995 contract may have been narrow in what it deemed as a counter-offer thereby only requiring TMS to counter quantitative dollar amounts. The 2000 letter Susie seems to be using, sounds like a weak loop-hole, but her best shot at moving Shoe to King Features.

Community Comments

#1 Chris H.
December/1/2007
@ 4:24 pm

Wow, TMS is really sinking fast. Comics like “Shoe” are abandoning it, and no new comic strips have joined since “Raising Hector” over a year ago. I heard that they send form letter rejections out within a week now (in other words, pretty much right when they get them). That happened to both Aaron Johnson of “What the Duck!” and Scott Nickel of “His and Hers” when they played Syndicate Bingo and Roulette respectively.

Suppose that the syndicate stops syndicating new features. Do you think that with only five syndicates the competition for syndication will gets fiercer? …Or are we already at that level, with TMS virtually not accepting anything?

#2 D.D.Degg
December/1/2007
@ 5:24 pm

I was thinking that with 600 papers “Shoe” is Tribune Media’s biggest seller; with maybe Harry Bliss’ panel running second. After those two I think their strips and panels take a mean drop in circulation. Anybody know? I enjoy their Annie, Loose Parts, Brenda Starr and Gasoline Alley.
Still upset that they never acknowledged Marlette’s passing on their press page.

#3 Chris H.
December/1/2007
@ 5:59 pm

D.D., I was under the impression that “Loose Parts” is pretty popular, although that could be incorrect for all I know. As for “Gasoline Alley,” Frank King’s version was of course fantastic, but even though the current version is good enough, I don’t know how it’s been doing paper-wise recently.

That strip could see a spike in recognition if Walt and/or Skeezix die(s). After all, it’s supposed to be realistic, and at this point both of them are tremendously old — to the point where it’s getting unlikely.

#4 Larry Levine
December/1/2007
@ 6:12 pm

“As for Gasoline Alley..That strip could see a spike in recognition if Walt and/or Skeezix die(s). After all, itâ??s supposed to be realistic, and at this point both of them are tremendously old”

Walt is only 147 years old, what’s unrealistic about that?

#5 Jeff Stanson
December/1/2007
@ 8:41 pm

From what I’ve observed, the syndicate isn’t doing a great job of handling its features these days, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that a strip owner that has a contract with them wouldn’t want to move elsewhere. Tribune is in the process of being sold, and I would recommend the new owner sell the syndicate to King, who seems to know more about handling legacy features. Tribune would profit from the sell, King would get some great newer and classic features, and the strips themselves would see better treatment.

#6 R Pyle
December/2/2007
@ 7:40 am

â??As for Gasoline Alley..That strip could see a spike in recognition if Walt and/or Skeezix die(s).â?

That would require plot movement.

I mean, right now we apparently have Skeezix languishing in jail for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Clovia facing almost certain financial ruin for the dingbat bums’ stint watching her garage, and an entire slate of characters that no one’s seen in years. Surely that’s an array of rich storyline fodder, ripe for the picking.

But first, we have to get through at least a month of Kitty’s fit of pique.

Sigh. Don’t get me started on GA.

#7 Jeff Stanson
December/4/2007
@ 6:08 am

Maybe Susie MacNelly’s lawyers could use as evidence the poor way the syndicate has treated its strips in the past several years, including how their website has deterioated. I hope that either Susie MacNelly wins her case or the syndicate aanswers the wake up call this is sending them to start treating their properties a whole lot better. Etiher way she wins. Or maybe Tribune’s new owner will see there would be profit to be made in selling TMS outright to King.

#8 Beniamin Pachidermeanu
December/4/2007
@ 3:56 pm

” … and no new comic strips have joined since â??Raising Hectorâ? over a year ago.”

Which is a very lame strip. They would be better off without it.

#9 D.D.Degg
December/5/2007
@ 8:08 pm

â? â?¦ and no new comic strips have joined since â??Raising Hectorâ? over a year ago.â?

Word is is that will shortly no longer be the case.
Come January 2008 they will introduce “Retro Geek” by Steve Dickenson and Todd Clark. These are the guys who took their “Lola” from TMS in 2005 and placed that strip with UFS.

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