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John P. McMeel – RIP

Universal Press Syndicate/Andrews McMeel Universal co-founder John McMeel has passed away.

  
John Paul McMeel
January 26, 1936 – July 7, 2021

Hall Syndicate/Publishers-Hall Syndicate salesman and manager
Universal Press Syndicate Co-Founder, Sales Director, and President
Andrews McMeel Universal Chairman

 

On July 7 current AMU Chairman Hugh Andrews notified the company’s associates:

I am deeply saddened to let you know that our co-founder and most spirited leader, John McMeel, passed away today.

As you who have had the blessing, and pleasure, to know him, John was one of the most dynamic, energetic, and positive personalities one might ever encounter.  His unwavering optimism, enthusiasm, and true passion for life – and most of all, for people – was evident in everything he did.

For John, it was all about relationships.  He cared deeply, certainly for his family, but also for our talented creators, associates, and business partners, ensuring all felt valued, and welcome.  Determined, considerate, and thoughtful, not only was he the only business partner I have ever had, he was like a second father to me.

For nearly 60 years, the Andrews and McMeel families have worked, and enjoyed life, together.  All who have had the good fortune to know John will deeply mourn his loss, and each of us will remember, and miss him, in our own way.

Please remember Susan, Maureen, Suzanne, Bridget, and their families, in your thoughts and prayers.

The road to Kansas City:

The company that became Andrews McMeel Universal started as a moonlighting alternative career of two firm friends, John P. McMeel and James F. Andrews. McMeel was a native of South Bend, Indiana, who majored in business at Notre Dame University. In 1960 James Andrews rented a room in the home of McMeel’s mother, and the two young men became friends. They shared similar interests in humor, and soon they began a small business together, syndicating material for Catholic newspapers. McMeel eventually went to work for the Hall Syndicate, which distributed ‘Dennis the Menace’ and ‘Pogo.’ Andrews found a job with Sheed & Ward, a religious publishing house that printed serious theological works. They continued to run their syndicate, called A/M Publication Services, as a sideline. Then sometime in the late 1960s, their wives jointly convinced them to take the risk of making the syndicate a serious, full-time venture. In 1970, McMeel and Andrews quit their other jobs and incorporated Universal Press Syndicate, choosing the name because it sounded large and impressive. Actually the company was far from impressive at the time. McMeel rented an office in Manhattan, but it was a fifth floor walk-up over a bar. Andrews worked out of his home in Kansas City. The young company’s first coup was getting the serial rights to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh’s My Lai Massacre. Universal paid $20,000 for the rights from Random House, and then sold excerpts of the book to about 50 newspapers. Universal gambled on the quality of Hersh’s groundbreaking book, signing a deal with some papers to double its fee if Hersh won the Pulitzer Prize. He did indeed win the prize. Yet that was not enough to get the syndicate out of red ink. Its next move was to promote an obscure college cartoonist whose work had already been turned down by 40 papers. ‘Bull Tales,’ by Garry Trudeau, was running in the Yale Daily News when McMeel first spotted it in 1968. Despite its success with Hersh’s book, Universal was close to bankruptcy before its first year was out. Consequently, McMeel contacted Trudeau about doing a more general interest strip than ‘Bull Tales.’ This became ‘Doonesbury.’ The controversial strip, which satirized current political figures, was turned down by many papers, but it slowly caught on. By the end of 1970, McMeel had peddled the strip to 28 newspapers, and ‘Doonesbury’ took off from there. By 1973, Universal Press Syndicate managed to turn a profit, and in 1975, Trudeau won the Pulitzer Prize.


1973

Funding Universe has a fine history of John’s company
taken from the  International Directory of Company Histories.

 

From Cartoonist PROfiles #105 (March, 1995):


More from various issues of Cartoonist PROfiles.

Mell Lazarus from 1971 discussing Momma:

 

From 1973 is Tom Wilson on Ziggy and John and Jim:

 

 

Rival Dennis Allen of The Register and Tribune Syndicate in 1974:

 

Bernie Lansky also from 1974:

 

Cartoonists badgering John.

Garry Trudeau at a 1988 Newspaper Publishing Association convention:


In 1988 Jules Feiffer also worked John into a speech for the Newspaper Features Council:

 

In 1994 Chris Browne was preparing to syndicate Chris Browne’s Comic Strip:

 

John helped Dear Abby with some advice in 2005:

Certainly more recent tributes will be coming. Here from the National Cartoonists Society.


John in 2018 checking the walls of his company.

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