After more than a week of gathering, analyzing, confirming data on which comic strips have benefited most from Cathy Guisewite’s retirement, I’m pretty confident in making the call. The last time I tried to do this was when Bill Amend retired his daily version of FoxTrot. Back then, I spent hours documenting what features picked up which features based on online announcements. The margin of error was surely out of acceptable lines, but both myself and Dave Astor had come to the same conclusion.
This time around, I tried to get multiple data sources to make the determination a bit more solid. The first data set came from the syndicates themselves. I asked them to name which three features were selling the most. Here’s what the syndicates reported. Features with a (*) indicate a feature launched this year:
- Dogs of C-Kennel *
- Diamond Lil *
- Free Range
- Dustin *
- Rhymes With Orange
- Pearls Before Swine
- Freshly Squeezed *
- Big Nate
- Stone Soup
- Cul de Sac
- ThataBaby! *
Washington Post Writers Group
The second data set I collected were online newspaper announcements through Google News. This method is unscientific, but the hope was to validate the syndicate reports. In all I collected 52 stories via Google. Two of the top three features in this sample matched what the syndicates report.
The third dataset came late in the game. Of the five syndicates above, I had been privy to real numbers from two of them. For those who haven’t worked with syndicates – there are two types of numbers: real numbers and PR numbers. Real numbers are identify by the lack of qualifying words such as “in over,” “just over” and “about.” Anytime you read in a news story that a feature is in “over 100 newspapers” – you’re looking at a PR number and its usually inflated. Because I had real numbers from some of the syndicates and not others it skewed the results heavily in their favor. The only remedy I could think of was to ask the other three syndicates to provide real numbers as well – at least for their top selling feature and see if it would validate the other data. Asking for real numbers from most syndicates is like going to the bank and asking how much money they have in their vault. They just don’t do that kind of thing. Luckily, two of the three syndicates responded, off the record, with real numbers for their top seller. It was enough to confirm the other earlier information as accurate. It should be noted that the syndicate numbers were offered blindly, not knowing any of my data so they didn’t have any incentive to “adjust” their numbers.
So with three different sets of data all pointing in the same direction, I’m pretty confident in reporting that the following three features have benefited most from Cathy’s retirement:
- Dustin by Steve Kelly and Jeff Parker
- Stone Soup by Jan Eliot
- Pickles by Brian Crane
Switching gears for a moment, here are a couple observations regarding the content of these three strips. When the daily version of FoxTrot retired, newspapers didn’t necessarily pick up another family strip (winners: Lio, Pearls Before Swine). It appears that this was the trend again. For those editors looking for a strong female character Stone Soup was the go-to strip. Out of curiosity, I added up all the female character strips in the Google News dataset and compared their sales to the total. Papers purchased less than 10% female lead character strips. I wish I had better data regarding how well female strips did. I doubt that the 10% is accurate – it just seems too low, but from anecdotal conversations while at the Festival of Cartoon Art, I have no reason to believe that female strips as a whole did very well compared to all sales.
The second thing I’d point out is the benefits of launching a strip this year. Of the seven features launched this year five are in the syndicate best seller lists. Three of those thirteen had launch dates with two weeks of Cathy’s exit. The take away is, if you’re going to launch a strip do it the same year a big name cartoonist is going to retire (and not do re-runs).