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Steve Kelley sues former newspaper employer

Former San Diego Union-Tribune editorial cartoonist Steve Kelley is suing his former employer for allegedly pressuring the current editorial cartoonist Steve Breen to not work with him on a collaborative comic strip that was due to launch this year. According to Voices of San Diego, an online newspaper, Kelley and Breen teamed up to create a comic strip entitled “Dustin” and secured a development contract with Universal Press Syndicate back in 2006. The suit alleges that the Union-Tribune “applied undue pressure and coercion on him [Breen] … and caused him to believe that his job at the U-T would be in jeopardy should he continue his involvement with ‘Dustin'” and that “the same personnel who were instructive in Kelley’s termination from the San Diego Union-Tribune were still employed by the defendants and they did not want to see Breen partner with Kelley on the comic strip project.”

The paper has asked that the Superior Court judge throw out the suit citing, “at worst, defendant’s actions were merely engaging in fair competition for the services of Breen.”

Community Comments

#1 Howard Tayler
November/15/2008
@ 12:30 pm

Wow.

It’s been depressing to read about all the editorial cartoonists being shown the door, but this looks downright vicious.

#2 SW PARRA
November/15/2008
@ 3:10 pm

What a terrible position for friends to be in, both Steve’s are trying to earn a living for their families, both Steve’s are incredible Editorial Cartooning giants that deserve more respect than what the UT has offered. I hope Steve wins but it sure puts other Steve in an awkward sistuation.

#3 Mike Peterson
November/15/2008
@ 3:11 pm

Sounds like a good stage to keep our speculation to ourselves, but I would suspect there are some expert witnesses here who could testify as to the practicality of being a credible editorial cartoonist while creating a comic strip.

#4 Brian Fies
November/15/2008
@ 5:22 pm

Successful examples of simultaneous editorialist/strippers I can think of include Jeff MacNelly, Mike Peters, Jim Borgman, and Wiley Miller (not sure of the timing on Wiley’s career–I’m sure he’ll be along shortly–but think he might have been doing “Fenton” while drawing editorial cartoons for the S.F. Examiner?). A lot of work, I’m sure, but doable by at least some. Too bad Kelly, Breen and the U-T couldn’t work it out short of court, which practically guarantees that no one will end up happy.

#5 Alan Gardner
November/15/2008
@ 5:48 pm

I should have mentioned it above, I thought it to be common knowledge – but Breen already does a comic strip “Grand Avenue.”

While many editorial cartoonists “double dip” and do a comic strip on top of their day jobs as editorial cartoonists, only one that I’m aware of (Jeff MacNelly) did multiple features (Pluggers, Shoe, weekly illustrations for Dave Berry column) on top of his editorial cartooning duties.

#6 Wiley Miller
November/15/2008
@ 6:57 pm

In answer to Brian’s question (assumption)… no, I did not do both at the same time. In fact, I was always quite vocal in the editorial cartooning profession against the practice, as they are both full time jobs and completely different disciplines, with entirely different deadlines. When I picked up one, I dropped the other. There was only a few months overlap from my job at the Examiner and producing Non Sequitur, and I quit Fenton when I got the job at the Examiner.

However, as the job market waned and insecurity of staff positions grew over the past several years, I softened my position, as editorial cartoonists needed to have a safety valve. Unfortunately, doing a comic strip is no longer a viable option, as the market has become so bad that it’s nearly impossible to successfully launch a new feature today. The few remaining cartoonists that have a staff position and don’t have a Pulitzer under their belt need to find other venues as an exit strategy today.

#7 Brian Fies
November/16/2008
@ 12:08 pm

Well, Wiley, that’s what happens when one assumes: you make an ass of . . . just me, actually. Sorry about that.

I liked what I saw and heard of “Dustin” at Comic-Con and hope it gets a fair shot.

Interesting times in the cartooning world.

#8 Wiley Miller
November/16/2008
@ 5:11 pm

Well, one would hardly expect you or anyone else to know, much less remember, the details of my career moves, Brian. It was a logical assumption on your part.

And indeed it is interesting times in the cartoon world, as hitting rock bottom is always an opportunity to evolve. While I mourn the passing of the traditional staff editorial cartoon position in newspapers, it is long past the time to come to grips with the reality that it’s a thing of a bygone era. Ironically, it may turn out that those who have been able to hang on to their job the longest could ultimately be the biggest losers in the long run.

#9 Jeff Darcy
November/17/2008
@ 11:27 am

Even having a Pulitzer didn’t save Ramirez’s staff job.

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