King Feature Editor-in-Chief Jay Kennedy perishes in drowning accident (updated)

NCS president Rick Stomoski has informed me that King Feature Syndicate Editor-in-Chief Jay Kennedy has passed away yesterday in a drowning accident while vacationing in Costa Rica. Not many details have emerged, but I will be watching for updates and post them here as the become available.

I wish to express my condolences to the King Features family in this sad event.

UPDATE: Here is the press release in its entirety from King Features:


NEW YORK, March 16, 2007 — Jay Kennedy, editor in chief of King Features Syndicate, a unit of Hearst Corporation, died March 15, 2007, while on vacation in Costa Rica. He was 50 years old and lived in New York City and Orient Point, Long Island.

“Jay had a profound impact on the transformation of King Features as a home for the best new and talented comic strip creators in the country,” said Bruce L. Paisner, executive vice president, Hearst Entertainment & Syndication. “He was an extremely creative talent himself and we are indebted to him for all he did.”

King Features President T.R. (“Rocky”) Shepard III added: “Jay and I worked closely together to build this company into the dynamic and creative enterprise that it is today. He had a great impact on our industry throughout his career. He strengthened King’s roster of talented commentators and writers and articulated his vision for the future of the art. Everyone is deeply saddened. We will miss Jay’s talent and friendship.”

Kennedy joined King Features in 1988 as deputy comics editor and became comics editor one year later. He was named editor in chief in 1997.

From 1983 to 1988, Kennedy served as cartoon editor of Esquire magazine, also owned by Hearst Corporation. At the same time, he served as a humor book agent as well as a cartoon consultant and editor for magazines and publishers, including People and Whittle Communications. In addition, he was guest editor in 1985 for the “European Humor” issue released by the National Lampoon.

Kennedy wrote articles about the history of cartooning, and profiled cartoonists and contemporary comics for magazines including New Age Journal, Heavy Metal, New York, The IGA Journal, and Escape, an English bi-monthly. He was also the author of “The Underground Comix Guide” (1982). Kennedy’s interest in comics was worldwide and lifelong.

Before graduating with a sociology degree from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Kennedy studied sculpting and conceptual art at The School of Visual Arts in New York City.

Kennedy once explained that he chose a life in cartooning because “in the fine arts, artists generally comment on the world only obliquely; and sadly, only those people who have the leisure to study art history can fully appreciate their comments. By contrast, cartoons are an art form accessible to all people. They can simply laugh at the jokes or look beyond them to see the artist’s view of the world. Cartoons are multi-leveled art accessible to everyone at whatever level they choose to enjoy.”

He is survived by his mother, Jean M. Kennedy of Wilmington, Del., brothers Bruce C. Kennedy of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Mark W. Kennedy of Allentown, Pa., and sister Janet J. Kennedy of Centennial, Colo. He is predeceased by his wife Sarah Jewler.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete at this time.

53 thoughts on “King Feature Editor-in-Chief Jay Kennedy perishes in drowning accident (updated)

  1. I’m completely stunned by this. I too just spoke to Jay the other week. He was such a good guy. I will miss him a lot.

  2. That’s so sad. He almost always wrote a personal note on my comic submissions’ form letters the many times I sent them to him; even when he didn’t seem to like them but said he saw potential in me and/or my concept and to keep cracking. And I haven’t always be faithful, but I’ve consistenly tried to improve my work over the years largely due to his encouragement. I didn’t really know him, but he seemed like a good guy. The comics world has lost a great person.

  3. Yes, truly a sad incident. I read a lot of the material from King Features such as all the staples. I’m sure he was quite instrumental in bringing the newer generation of strips like “Baby Blues”,”Zits”,and “Mutts” to the readers.

  4. I am deeply saddened by the loss of such a monumental person. Jay was always looking out for new talent, encouraging aspiring cartoonists to pursue their dreams. 15 years ago, Jay offered me such encouragement, giving me the much needed impetus to continue pursuing syndication. My condolences go out to Jay’s immediate family, and to his family at King Features. His contributions to the industry are far reaching. We will miss him.

    John and Anne Hambrock

  5. Jay was the first editor to take the time to write a personal note on eone of earliest rejected submissions. It wasn’t a very good submission, but he still took the time to offer me some tips. I’ve never forgotten that. This is truly tragic news…

  6. A gentle man, a true friend to all cartoonists — A loss unlike any other. Jay had an impact on my career even though I never worked with or for him.
    He will be greatly missed.

  7. I’ve known and worked with Jay since he joined King Features Syndicate. He was always accessible, insightful, and honest. I will miss him.

  8. Jay has left a legacy of kindness and support for fledgling cartoonists. He would also always include a personal note when my submissions were returned. That meant a lot when compared with the mountain of impersonal photocopied rejection slips. He will be missed.

  9. No one has had a more profound effect on my life than Jay Kennedy. His single little attached note to an early submission soon led to my being able to work with this wonderful man closely for the last 12 years.
    He was a mentor, a brother, a dear friend. I am truly stunned by his passing and my deepest sympathy goes out to those who shared the King offices with him everyday. For a man so small in physical stature, the void he leaves is incalculable.

  10. Jay’s death was so unexpected, so sudden that it takes one’s breath away. As long as I have been sending proposals to syndicates Jay Kennedy was always one of the mandatory stops for a cartoonist. He truly understood the role of comics and appreciated the art form far better than his peers.

  11. During years that saw a number of tumultuous changes in the comic strip industry, in the newspaper business, in the relationship between syndicates and creators, and in the way comics were delivered, Jay was the steady presence that helped so many make sense of it all. His concern for the creators, the readers, and for King Features’ properties — new and classic — saw KFS through some particularly trying times. When the business model changed, resulting in a shift that moved much of the responsibility for distributing KFS comics to Reed Brennan, Jay’s leadership was the steady force that helped to smooth the transition. His will be difficult shoes to fill.

  12. I am so stunned and saddened by Jay’s passing. In the past two years that I’ve worked with him, his knowledge and advice have proven invaluable. My sympathy goes out to all his family, colleagues, and friends.

  13. Jay hired me as the colorist at King Features just one year afer he himself started. I worked with Jay on staff there for the next ten years. In that time, and after critical feedback from Jay, he hired me as the writer and artist of Flash Gordon. He could be incredibly blunt when giving a critique, but never mean-spirited. I had a lot of fun on staff and that can only happen if your boss creates the right atmosphere. Jay provided that in spades. He had a good heart. I owe him a lot…words can’t describe. He’ll be sorely missed.

  14. I had a dear friend and boss at King. It was Bill Yates, My Editor during my 5+ yrs at The Muppets, and when Bill stepped down, and on came this really young guy, I didn’t know what to think. It didn’t take me long to admire and appreciate Jay Kennedy. Jay had huge shoes to fill, and he didn’t try. He was his own man from the beginning. He was equally as at ease and respectful of the established Topdogs in the business, like Mort walker, Bil Keene, Dik Browne, and the younger guys just starting out.
    Though the few projects Jay and I worked on together didn’t pan out, we had mutual respect for each other’s work ethic, and a great respect for the comic strip as an artform, and a business. Jay was always one of the first to be onboard with any of the NCS projects or charitible causes I made requests for. He and I kind of grew up in this business together. It is unimaginable to me right now that he is gone. Jay was part of the past, the present, and the future of this great artform. I don’t know of anyone he worked with, or who ever got a note or critique from him, who didn’t admire his forthrightness, his unique vision, and his insight. I knew Jay for 24 years, and personally and professionally, I’m going to miss him. May God comfort and bless his family through this difficult and dark time….and may Jay’s memory live on in the art he loved so much, and the artists whose lives he touched.

  15. This is just so sad…

    I hope there is comfort for his family in the fact he touched so many, many lives and his own life had a great and wonderful impact on so many of us…

  16. As Jay’s nephew I always saw the personal side of him instead of the professional side. Reading the comments of everyone who worked with him, I can really connect what I knew of him with what I didn’t. I always knew him as an extremely intelligent and gentle man. He was passionate about a lot of things – comics, good music, making very aesthetically pleasing sculptures, good conversation, and drinking copious amounts of milk. He also deeply loved my late aunt Sarah Jewler. I’m not a religious person but I would like to think they are together in a better place now.

  17. Iâ??m completely stunned by this. Jay was such a great person, I remember everytime I sent a submission Jay would get back to me and tell me to keep up the good work. So that’s what I did I kept up the good work even though I never got syndicated, but I know I will one day, just like one day me and Jay will meet up above.

  18. Very sad and shocking news. One thing I always appreciated about Jay during the submission phase of Silo Roberts was his hand-written note on the form-rejection letter advising me how to improve the strip…which I found very helpful and inspiring.

    I always got the sense Jay wanted to help cartoonists make the best cartoons possible, whether they were syndicated with King, a rival company, or trying for their first syndicated strip.

    He was quite knowledgeable about what made cartoons work, and his impressive influence will be missed.

  19. I would like to give my condolences to all who knew this man. I was in the water in Costa Rica and attempted to save him and the woman he was with. I would not like to give out anymore information regarding what happened unless a family member would like to know more. All I would like to say is that he acted honorably and selflessly.

  20. T-

    I already posted but Jay was my uncle and I would like to know more about the circumstances surrounding his death. I can understand why you don’t want to write it out in this forum. But with all due respect I think such a death is worth talking about because at the same time it was an act of courage and self-sacrifice. Of course, as I write this I know very little about what happened. If you see this message I would appreciate if you could send me an email telling me about what happened at Also, I want to thank you for your own honorable and selfless act.

  21. My friend Jay wasn’t always easy. But he loved talent and biography and, ironically, staying out of he sun.

    Jay opened the door to an amazing coterie of comic book talents who didn’t hew to the old school rules of comix.

    He also protected the domain of many old school comic strip writers.

    He will be missed.

  22. I was fortunate to meet Jay through my beloved, late cousin, Sarah. He was one of the most unassuming, yet amazingly talented individuals I have ever met – on so many levels. Jay was passionate about his life, personally and professionally, and it is incomprehensible that now both Sarah and Jay are gone – when there was still so much for them to do.

  23. Re:T

    The “woman in the water” is a dear friend of mine. She thought the world of Jay, apparently as did everyone who knew him.

    I’m glad you were there.

    God’s love to all who will miss Jay.

  24. Dear T.

    Thank you for your efforts to try and save my brother Jay. I understand that it was very difficult for you. PLEASE do contact us as soon as possible and send your phone number to my email address We have a great need to know the details. The only details I have are from L. and you may have a differnt perspective of the events. I have not received your contact info from her yet and don’t know when it will come. We urgently need to hear from you. And thank you.

  25. Apparently this was a bigger story than first reported and many people were involved. I want to be sensitive to family members, but since the comments have been posted on this public board, can anyone who was there (T or Dr. Raggi) tell us what happened? All who have posted here obviously knew Jay and had a relationship with him.

    Again, I don’t mean to sound crass or overstep my bounds, but I think I speak for others who could benefit from getting some closure on this.

    If I’ve upset anyone, I apologize.

    Thank you,

    (syndicated cartoonist with King Features: TRIPLE TAKE)

  26. I was addressing comments made by a “Dr. Raggi” that have since disappeared. He mentioned 9 Duke university students involved. Was that post in error?

    Sorry for any confusion.


  27. All,
    I have given the story of events to Mr. Kennedy’s brother. I will not post the events, but rather, will leave the appropriate decision up to Bruce Kennedy.

  28. Scott,
    The comment made by Mr. Raggi was meant as a communication to me and at his request, I have deleted it from the comments section. Once the facts regarding Jay’s accident have been verified, I’ll post something to the blog.

  29. My condolences to Jay’s family and everyone at King Features.

    I never actually got to meet Jay but he sent very encouraging messages with each of my submissions. As a new cartoonist trying to break in, those notes were like a lifeline. They meant the world to me. I’m sorry I never got to meet him.

    Again, my prayers go out to his family and everyone who knew him.

  30. I met Jay for a few days in 2005. He was such a good and gentle man. Had kind words for everyone he met. I was fortunate to have several conversations with him and they all pointed to a wise and gentle soul. I’ll miss him. He had such a positive impact on so many people. I hope Sarah and Jay are together again wherever they are.

  31. I was good friends with Jay when we were in high school together in Ridgewood, NJ. He and his family were truly loving people. I so admired that he never strayed from his love of comix, and was so pleased that he had such a fabulous career doing what he truly loved. He was nothing but sweet. My deepest condolences to Jay’s family (with whom I went to see the movie Rhinestone Cowboy on Christmas day sometime in the ’70s — it was the first time I discovered that people go to the movies on Christmas).

  32. I knew Jay through his love of underground comics. i helped out in a small way on his UG comics Price Guide and cannot believe that so gifted and sweet a contemporay is gone. Although 15 years my junior, I always felt a real kinship with him. Knowing that he is not there is devastating. His contributions were enormous.

  33. My condolences to Jay’s family and loved ones.

    We met in 1977 via a roomate-wanted poster at UWisconsin-Madison. He had hand-drawn the ad himself. I think the cartoon figure made me take the phone number down. We lived in a little house by a lake. Jay was an excellent artist. He drew, he sculpted. He was a huge Robert Crumb fan. Jay duplicated exactly a Crumb comix cover that still hangs on my wall. The drawing depicts a dog playing piano with an all-animal band. The dog says “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be”. This sums up the moment for me. So here’s to a great guy who really liked chocolate brownies.

  34. I had the privilege to know Jay personally and professionally, and he was a great man in both arenas. The news of his passing hit me like a punch in the stomach. I had dinner with Sarah and Jay a few years ago, and to think now that they are both gone is very sad. The entire cartooning community will miss him deeply. I hope we plan to do something special in his honor at this year’s Rubens Awards.

  35. I also had the privilege to know and work with Jay. Jay was the first to discover my comic strip and develop it for syndication. Jay taught me how to construct a comic strip properly, and to this day I still hear his voice in the back of my head whenever I’m working. He will be sorely missed – this is truly tragic and very sad.

  36. For four years in the late 1970’s Jay Kennedy and I lived two blocks apart in the working class neighborhood of Brookline – just a trolley stop away from the Boston landmarks of Fenway Park and Kenmore Square. We would get together virtually every night, at one of our apartments, to open our mail and compare notes on the brown paper wrapped packages of underground comics that invariably arrived with each day’s mail delivery.

    As he continued to be throughout his life, the college-aged Jay was a gentle soul with a generous streak as wide as a six-lane highway. He spent months teaching me about the art and history of â??comix.â? Once I got up to speed, we spent countless hours together playing the role of cultural archeologists – uncovering the piecemeal history of how this rich trove of American artistry developed spontaneously across the country in response to a wildly changing world – digging deeper and deeper into the complexities of the various artistsâ?? styles and voices.

    At an age when most of us were superficial at best, Jay never failed to have a deeper more thoughtful take on, well, everything. I can only imagine what a blessing he must have been to a new cartoonist desperate for someone to “get” them, someone who could help shape his work and get him or her published.

    Jay and I stayed friends and stayed in touch, as our lives and careers began to take form and substance. He truly found his calling when he realized that he could combine his love of comics with an actual, paying career. I remember his astonishment at how easy he found it to navigate the previously daunting sea of office politics as he advanced through the ranks at King Features. He began, for the first time in his life, to realize what his friends knew all along – that he was just plain smarter and more perceptive than most people.

    After school, I moved to California and found myself a niche in the entertainment business. Jay and I were only able to get together on the rare occasion when one of our jobs brought us to the other’s town. Over the years our lives grew further and further apart. Although we only spoke once or twice a year, those quick calls to just say hi or ask a question, would typically expand until they encompassed everything from our lives, to world politics, to the importance of truth in art, to the very nature of the human existence. Weâ??d expect to get on the phone for just a few minutes, only to find ourselves firing our last bursts of conversation analyzing at two in the morning.

    Jayâ??s life took off in a truly wonderful new direction when he met Sarah. She was a beautiful girl with a counter-culture streak and a career at least as brilliant as his. More importantly, she was smart enough to match his intellect and confident and centered enough to straighten him out when he (as do we all) got a little nutty.

    When I took my family to New York last December I called Jay, to see if we could all get together. Thatâ??s when he told me that I had called, coincidentally, on the one-year anniversary of her passing. It was just like him not to call me sooner. He was generally a private person, not that comfortable burdening others with his problems. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. He had suffered this horror for a full year before we spoke. He sounded pained and confused, as if something huge and fundamental had been ripped from his core.

    I had the best intentions of following up with him when I got home, to see how he was holding up, but the demands of work and kids kept pushing that call back. And then last night Bruce Sweeney called me with the sad news about Costa Rica. I was dumbstruck with remorse for not having reconnected with Jay sooner, acutely aware that I had unknowingly squandered my last opportunity to luxuriate in his gentle voice and quiet laughter, my last opportunity to to be a better friend to my grieving buddy and to avail myself of the tonic that was a long call with Jay always provided.

    As we wander through life, we pick up traits, ideas and attributes from everyone we encounter, the way a rolling snowball gathers snow on its way down a hill. Those traits, ideas and attributes combine with your genetics to determine who you become; who you are. Who I am, is attributable in no small part to Jay Kennedy. I’m grateful for the time I got to spend with him and for all the ‘Jay-ness” he so freely and generously shared with me. In the spirit of the psychological denial that has served me so well all my life long, I will forever continue to believe that he and Sarah are still there in their little downtown apartment waiting to hear from me, talking over their respective workdays, safe and cozy in their floor to ceiling cocoon of books, art, comics and love.

  37. i felt sick when i heard the news. like others have said, the kind words and encouragement of jay were key landmarks in my life. when he looked at a batch i brought in for the new breed and he compared one of my cartoons to the great sempe, well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. he gave me shots, he answered letters, he was always there. even when we hadn’t spoken in years — i had gotten into writing — he graciously and personally answered a letter from me. then, by a twist of fate, last labor day mutual friends and neighbors had us at his home in orient. i can’t believe this loss. i wish comfort and support for all his family and loved ones. there was never a more generous or supportive man.

  38. Marc, that is a touching and eloquent remembrance. It is helpful to hear more descriptions about Jay from people who knew him so well. It enables me to see a
    much clearer, three-dimensional picture of who he was. I had the brief pleasure of working with Jay when my comic was being syndicated by King Features and experienced what most people did who crossed his path, a true comics fan, who understood the art and history of the medium inside and out, and who would go out of his way to encourage and develop artists. He was very sharp and had good instincts about what made a comic work. What made him a good editor, as others have mentioned, was that he could be direct and blunt in his criticism but always give it in a way that made you feel like he was on your side and respected your position. I think it was because he was so passionate about comics as a medium and understood the processes artists go through as they create work, that enabled him to go of his way to make those hand written notes and phone calls to artists who may have never had a shot of being syndicated. It was also a smart way of winning over cartoonists as they developed material that was syndication worthy. All else being equal, who were you going to sign with, the guy who gave you the helpful, personal, hand written feedback or phone call, when you were nowhere near being ready, or the syndicate that sent you the form letter? He was exuberant about the comic art form and savvy about the comic business. For me, and for so many other cartoonists it was that personal contact from Jay, that made one feel there was hope to continue going forward in this strange and baffling business called cartooning. Iâ??ve always had the thought, when creating any new work that Iâ??d always be able to get Jay to look at it and hear his response. That idea has always added to the motivation of any new cartoon endeavor Iâ??ve worked on. Iâ??m so very sad that I and so many other cartoonists have lost that opportunity. Jay will be sorely missed. May he rest in peace.

    Pete Murphey

  39. I was completely shocked when I read the sad news. Jay was a nice and gentle guy. I did a couple of try-outs for strips years ago and he was extremely professional and helpful in every way. He will be greatly missed.

  40. We are dear friends of Sarah’s family and want to extend our deepest condolences and prayers to Jay’s family and friends as well. Jay and Sarah were such a wonderful, talented, sweet and fun couple. It’s such a tragedy to loose them both within such a short time.Hopefully it’s some comfort to know how much they were loved & respected and how much they will be remembered.Our thoughts are with you!

  41. Since family and friends are reading and writing here, my husband, Rick Parker, and I would like to extend our condolences to you. Rick lettered Spider-Man, Prince Valient, Rip Kirby, perhaps others for Jay. And I wrote Apartment 3G for Jay for 10 years. Jay was very supportive when I was learning the ropes, and I will always appreciate his offering me the opportunity to write for him. After reading these very moving posts, I wish I’d known him as a friend. However, he was friendly in his professional dealings with me, and he made my world a better place. With sadness, Lisa

  42. I am so addened and surprised by this news. I never met him in person, but we corresponded on a regular basis. We had a common interest in collecting Underground Newspapers. We would be competing for the same items on eBay, but the next moment, trading items to complete our individual collections. I hope that all of Jay’s research/checklists for UG newspapers will not be lost….

  43. I, too, am saddened by this terrible event. I had only two contacts with Jay in my comics career. He wrote a few encouraging notes to me on an unsuccessful 1987 submission of a comic panel called “Kellian Province.” The notes and a follow-up phone call were a huge confidence booster at the time. 11 years later, I was lucky enough to sit next to him at the AAEC black-tie dinner in Las Vegas, NV and kibitz a little about comics and the cartoonist life.

    Many people in this business knew him very well and liked him immensely. I can think of no greater legacy or lasting monument to a career and a life. May he rest in eternal peace.

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