Universal Uclick to launch Wumo to over 100 papers

I’ve been a long-time fan of the Danish webcomic Wulffmorganthaler by Mikael Wulff and Anders Morgenthaler, so I was excited to learn it was being launched as a syndicated comic here in the US under the title Wumo. The feature has been on the web since 2002 and runs in several papers in Northern Europe. Universal Uclick will launch it into American Newspapers in November of this year and already boasts of a client list of over a 100 newspapers.

The strip’s launch is significant for a couple of reasons. This is Universal’s first launch since 2010 and the client list number is much larger than what one would expect in this economic climate. I talked with Universal Uclick President John Glynn about the new launch.

AG: How long has Wumo been on your radar for acquisition and when did you approach Mikael and Anders about bringing the strip the US – or did they approach you?

JG: We’ve actually been following Wulffmorganthaler for a long time. They were one of the very first comics on Comics Sherpa. And as an individual, I’d always been attracted to its gratuitous use of sex, violence and bulbous eyes, but I’d never thought it could work in North American syndication. Because we’d thought it was too much for most North American newspaper audiences and the editors who buy comics. Then last year, we’d started talking about doing a GoComics-only deal and when we went through the archives, we realized there was a lot of great stuff that would work in any newspaper.

AG: With the soft market and Universal Uclick’s already deep catalog of comics. Why try to launch a new strip now?

JG: We hadn’t launched anything since “Thatababy” in Fall of 2010, so it was time. Also, I think the market is better than most people think. We hear very public stories of papers that aren’t doing well, but as I read the call reports from our salespeople on the road, there are a lot of newspapers who have gotten past the dark days of 2008-2009 and whose outlook might surprise people.

AG: Will you only be handling the North American syndication or do you have more global distribution rights?

JG: Mikael and Anders and their team did a great job of selling the comic into Scandinavia and parts of Northern Europe, so any market they were already belongs to them, but we’ll handle the rest of the world.

AG: Of the 100+ papers that are buying Wumo, how many are in the US?

JG: 104 of 105 of our wonderful paying customers are in the U.S. to this point (Tokyo is the lone international client). But we’ve not introduced it to our international agents and salespeople yet. We’ll do that at a sales conference this October.

AG: A feature launching in 100+ papers – is this a sign that newspapers are loosening their wallet for comics?

That’d be great, wouldn’t it? Like I mentioned earlier, I think people would be surprised how well some papers are doing, especially in the middle and smaller markets where there’s not a lot of competition from other news-gathering sources. With Wumo, the amount of editors buying the comic on-the-spot (vs. taking to committee or asking for a few weeks to review) has been unlike anything we’ve seen since the launch of Lio and/or maybe The Boondocks.

Taking nothing away from Wumo, I think it helps that we have not launched anything since we took over UFS in June of 2011. But in our defense, we were getting acquainted with a roster of features that more than doubled our existing syndicate roster and included more than 50 comics. We do plan on resuming a regular launch schedule and we have some really interesting things in development that we’ll take out at a more regular pace.

For what it’s worth, I’m encouraged and excited that really smart dudes like Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett are investing in newspapers. When I first got to Universal in 2000, I read newspapers would be completely gone by 2005 … now that doesn’t mean we’re planning on massive or even significant growth from the print clients, it just means that rumors of their death were a bit exaggerated … or off by a decade or two or four …

AG: Wumo’s humor has historically been over-the-top. Kind of like South Park or Family Guy humor in newspaper comic form. The samples online are much tamer and more in line with American newspaper sensibilities. Has it been hard to rein in Mikael and Anders?

JG: The range of Mikael and Anders is pretty impressive. They do stand-up, direct live-action films, create, write and produce full animated series, run the largest humor site in Denmark, raise and kill sable for their pelts, etc. … so once we outlined the guidelines/borders of what an editor would object to, they knew what to do.

It may seem like a technicality, but we don’t view this comic as “Wulffmorganthaler” we view it as “Wumo.” They are different comics with different sensibilities that look an awful lot alike. But we will be editing this comic as we would any other comic that runs through our workflow, and it will adhere to the taste standards that North American editors are accustomed to.

AG: How have you addressed any concerns about any cultural or language/translation issues due to its Danish origin?

JG: It’s definitely a different edit than a comic from a North American cartoonist, but our editors have done a great job helping with wording and adjusting the dialogue to North American sensibilities without losing its international appeal. Plus their lead editor here– Lucas Wetzel — speaks German and your readers might be interested to know that Germany , like Denmark, is also a country in Europe.

AG: How much of the Wumo strips are original and how much is culled from their archive of material?

JG: 60%-80%? That’s a guess though. A lot of it has been published before, but what the exact percentage of comics that have been run online or actually in European newspapers, I’d have to ask them. For what it’s worth, I laugh harder at reruns of “Mr. Belvedere” now than I did when they originally aired.

AG: The samples on UU’s site didn’t include any Sundays. Is this only a daily feature?

JG: Sundays and Daily. The Sundays will look a lot like the dailies.

AG: At what point can we expect you being referenced somewhere in the comic?

JG: The guys told me that the word “Glynn” in Danish means “wearer of tight slacks” so they insisted that they want to wait till the context is right and not force it.

Wumo launches on November 4.

40 thoughts on “Universal Uclick to launch Wumo to over 100 papers

  1. What a sad state of affairs. Universal had to go to Europe to find a comic strip to market to a North American audience. That means in the 3 years and thousands of submissions they went through (or didn’t) since the launch of Thatababy they found nothing, zilch, nada, that they could market. Even with Thatababy it had to come to Universal’s attention by winning the Amazon contest in 2009 before Universal launched it. What Unversal is telling the aspiring cartoonist is go out there prove your strip is successful and then they will consider trying to sell you to the newspapers. Why should they even bother sending a submission to Universal at this point? The business of getting your comic strip to market is changing even if newspapers are not dead.

  2. 100 newspapers…

    Imagine the other talented cartoonists currently only on the gocomics website that could be launched in newspapers if only Universal Uclick would stop syndicating Peanuts and For Better or For Worse reruns!

    Seriously, no more reruns in newspapers!

  3. I hate the current state of newspaper comics too, but sydication is a business. Everyone in the business loves comics, but what it comes down to is if a rerun or ‘zombie’ comic is selling better than a new strip would, they aren’t about to risk the business.

    Don’t get me wrong. It stinks, but papers are dying, editors are scared and aren’t willing to take chances anymore. Also, most newspaper readers are older, and they like the strips they know, kind of like comfort food.

    The newspaper part of the business isn’t growth industry.

  4. @david, @ed – in this case, the re-run is misapplied. Wumo may be using a certain percent of strips from their vast archive, but it’s essentially all new to Americans.

  5. What’s up with Peanuts haters? Many strips from Schulz’s archive are new to me and a whole generation. Plus they’re funnier than 99% of the ‘hip’ current stuff. Peanuts isn’t wrecking anyone’s chances of syndication success. Let’s face it…zombies are popular, Charlie Brown!

  6. Comics are not just an American exclusive genre. WUMO is already successful in Europe, so why not give it a chance in North America and the rest of the world? How many American comics are run in publications internationally? Time to tear down borders, if it’s funny and great, then it deserves an opportunity to be enjoyed by audiences all over the world.

    PEANUTS continues to be popular with new generations just like Mark Twain. It’s timeless and genius. That’s why it continues to resonate with readers of all ages.

  7. @Alan, I didn’t say that Wumo was in reruns.
    I noticed that Wumo was being launched in 100 newspapers.

    Peanuts and For Better or For Worse reruns are still in over 1,000 newspapers each according to this post: https://dailycartoonist.com/index.php/2012/01/18/which-comic-features-appear-in-500-papers/

    If Universal Uclick freed up those Peanuts and FBoFW spots they could launch a bunch of new comics in newspapers. 20 comics could launch in 100 newspapers each!

    Peanuts is ABSOLUTELY wrecking everyone’s chances at syndication success! Comics pages rarely change, editors fear angry emails, phone calls and letters if any comic strip is replaced. Dinosaur comics like Blondie, Family Circus, and Beetle Bailey aren’t going anywhere. Comics pages aren’t getting any bigger.

    @Joe explain to me how Peanuts reruns taking up space in over 1,000 newspapers isn’t wrecking anyone”s chances of print syndication.

    If Peanuts is so popular with new generations they should buy the complete peanuts book collections! Go through the archives on the web or gocomics app!

    Until comics pages are expanded back to 2-3 full daily comics, reruns should not be printed!

  8. Peanuts is still relevant,inspiring and from a business standpoint making scads of dough. Browsing a collection isn’t the same as reading a strip daily along with the rest of the news. I agree that many ‘zombies’ ran their course, but messing with Peanuts… Good grief!

  9. I never said comics were an exclusive American genre.

    “Leonard: For God’s sake, Sheldon, do I have to hold up a sarcasm sign every time I open my mouth?
    Sheldon (intrigued): You have a sarcasm sign?”

    Nor do I have anything against Wumo. From the samples above it looks like a strip I will enjoy.

  10. Reruns belong on the ‘Net. I read a large number of reruns on my GoComics and DailyInk pages, where you can have as many strips as you want, and, yes, where you get to enjoy them delivered one at a time, just as they were when they first ran.

    Print space is limited, so space taken up by reruns is space denied to young talent. Oh, and there’s a clue to the mission of a newspaper in the first syllable of the word “newspaper.”

  11. Nothing better has come along to knock Peanuts off the ‘funny’ pages. Recognizable classic strips are one of the major assets left that give the medium a marketable identity. All comics may as well be relegated to the vacuum of the Net if a genius’s work is considered ‘taking up space’.

  12. Cul De Sac came along and absolutely deserved to be in 1000+ newspapers worldwide, but because of Peanuts and FBoFW reruns only made it into a few hundred newspapers.(Alan do you know how many papers Cul De Sac had at it’s peak?

    Imagine if instead of handing over the Tonight Show to Jimmy Fallon next year NBC decided to air reruns of Leno’s tonight show.

    I think Blondie (80+ years in newspapers) has the ‘recognizable classic strip’ spot covered. As do Garfield, Family Circus, Marmaduke, Ziggy, etc.

  13. If Universal Uclick freed up those Peanuts and FBoFW spots they could launch a bunch of new comics in newspapers. 20 comics could launch in 100 newspapers each!

    So you’re asking that a business remove its best-selling products from the market and try to fill that empty shelf space with untried products AND offer competing businesses an opportunity to fill that shelf space with their products?

    I get the sentiment, but it’s not how the market works no matter how much you want it too.

  14. Yes Alan I want them to transition those spaces. Have newspapers test new Universal comics in those spots for a week or a month each, until they find one that sticks.

    I get that freeing up the spaces could result in King Features swooping in with some of their awful legacy strips, but something needs to change or syndicates might as well tell all cartoonists to stop sending them submissions. No more new cartoons. If you wanna be a print cartoonist try being born to Dean Young and inherit Blonde.

  15. It seems like a chicken and the egg thing. Instead of crying and moaning about rerun strips and the declining market, why not create strips that are good enough to change these things?

    Personally I would prefer to see more creation and less lamenting please.

  16. If you honestly think there has been nothing in the past decade to rival Peanuts and FBOFW, you aren’t reading enough strips. I’m not being sarcastic — I just mean that there are some terrific strips out there.

    It’s important to remember that syndicated strips are not sold to readers — they’re sold to editors. When Schulz died, the paper I was at dropped it and we got a few calls but people understood that reruns are for collections and everyone moved on.

    By contrast, when Jeff McNelly died, we happened to be on the verge of a redesign and I was doing some focus groups of readers, so I asked them and they said to wait and see how the new team did. But there’s a difference between a zombie strip and reruns. Some zombie strips work, some don’t, just as even with the original artist at the helm, a strip can jump the shark after X-number of years.

    But reruns are just reruns. They don’t belong in the newspaper and while it’s brilliant for the syndicate to keep that milk cow producing, it’s silly for editors to duck their responsibility to readers. And it’s bad for the cartoonists. (Surprisingly, there are things that benefit the syndicate that don’t necessarily benefit the individual artists. No, really — it’s true!)

  17. Well, what it comes down to real estate. If the syndicate pulls Peanuts Classics, they have 1,000 + papers that they got money from each week now looking to all for new material from that syndicate and from that syndicate’s competition. They could lose the space. They aren’t going to do that.

    If they say “Hey, we’re taking Peanuts, but we’ll give you a new, unproven strip” some papers won’t take them up. Some will, but only for a test run, then most likely replace it.

    No matter what they now have less then the 1000+ papers they started with, and hence are making less money and they are a business.

    This isn’t NBC replacing Jimmy Fallon with Jay Leno re-runs, this is ‘Arrested Development’ being on TV for 3 seasons versus “Family Matters” being on for a bijillion. Urkel got viewers and made the network money. Arrested Development didn’t.

    It’s like saying tv reruns are preventing a lot of comedians from getting late night talk shows. In a way that’s true, in another way, TV reruns are a great way for stations to make money without the expense of launching a new show.

    The newspaper industry is dying. The readers are older. They want the strip they are used too. Newspapers aren’t strong enough to upset readers, hence the editors buy older strips, and that’s what makes the syndicate money. The syndicate is a business, not PBS, not a charity.

    They make money off newspaper real estate, and the newspaper busniess is a ghost town. If the syndicates start acting with as artist rather than a business, they will be gone faster then the papers.

    Does it suck? Yes. Is there a way out that doesn’t include the syndicates losing money, which is why they exist? No.

    But…there is the web, self publishing, and crowd funding.

    Of course, sometimes that makes you have to come off as a self promoting jerk, but you have to do what you have to do, right? 😉

    But seriously, wanting to be a cartoonist with a popular strip is like stand up comedians getting a sitcom after Carson left TV; you can still do it, but you need to figure out a different way.

    It is a scary time, but an exciting one.

    Good luck to us all. 🙂

    -Ed Power

  18. Just underscore what Mike said, if one wants to end reruns – don’t pressure or blame the syndicates who are only protecting a proven cash cow but pressure your local editor to give you something original.

  19. Why is everyone giving a pass to these estates of these dead cartoonists? I’d wager a guess that they make far more money than the distribution company.

    Or the cartoonists who are still alive in reruns? They have the power to stop their comic whenever they want.

    They could say “we’ve made our millions, it’s time to relinquish the space to the next generation.”

  20. @Mike – Apparently we need a simple business course on cartooning.

    Like the syndicate, the cartoonist is a business. He/she creates a product and the syndicate is the sales and distribution arm for the product. You can argue that the cartoonist should say, “I’ve had a good run, I’m going to let someone else take my spot,” but that’s not the world we live in. Cartoonists are in the game to make money too. They have mortgages, kids, tuition, car payments and all the other expenses normal people have. Just because they’ve been successful at their business is a piss-poor reason they should volunteer to step aside for a unproven strip.

    If you, as a cartoonist, want more papers – create a better product than what’s currently on the market. Forget gunning for Garfield, Peanuts and the other “legacy”, “re-run” strips – because you’re not going to knock them out. You’ve got to knock out the other strips that aren’t institutions. Cul de Sac, Lio, Pickles, Pearls Before Swine et. al. did just that – They created a better product that over-time took over market share.

  21. Believe me Alan I have written and had a letter to the editor published attempting to get my local paper to drop peanuts, but like trying to get anything else changed on the comics page the editors left Peanuts reruns in for fear of reader complaints: http://davidessman.com/blog/letter-to-the-editor-responses

    Which is why I think editors need to be forced by the syndicate to stop printing the reruns.

    The TV rerun comparison wasn’t great. There are plenty of channels and lots of time to allow for rerunning tv shows. Newspapers don’t have that kind of space. My local newspaper has barely over one page of comics and are still running peanuts and for better or worse reruns.

    Alan do you think Cul De Sac was an unproven strip?

    Charles Schulz is the 4th highest earning dead celebrity, I have no idea how much the rerun syndication brings in(perhaps a post on this Alan?) but I’d imagine it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the other merchandise.

    I get that syndication is a business but is it a smart business idea to hold back something like Cul De Sac because some reruns are still making money? Cul De Sac deserved a bigger audience!

    Peanuts isn’t the only comic in reruns. Lynn Johnston of For Better or Worse said she was going to do “newruns” of her stip but stopped doing them and went back to straight reruns in 2010.

    Why aren’t Calvin and Hobbes and Far Side reruns not still being printed in newspapers? Why not Cathy or Foxtrot? Surely they’d be a cash cow.

  22. @Mike McKeenan re: “Why is everyone giving a pass to these estates of these dead cartoonists? …They could say ‘we?ve made our millions, it?s time to relinquish the space to the next generation.'”

    From the Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum…

    “Jean Schulz, the widow of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz, issued a challenge: in addition to her initial gift of $1 million, she will provide an additional matching gift of $2.5 million if Ohio State raises the same amount from other sources.”

    Admittedly, that’s just ONE example.

    But, anyways, you were saying?

  23. @ David:

    RE “Which is why I think editors need to be forced by the syndicate to stop printing the reruns. ”

    If you had a choice between 2 restaurants, one that allowed you to order what you wanted to eat, and one that told you what to eat based on what they wanted you to, which would you eat at/spend your money?

  24. @Ed

    Does the restaurant where you choose only serve leftovers that have been sitting in the freezer for years?

    If the syndicate decides to stop offering peanuts reruns, this takes the heat off of editors who fear the angry response. They can tell their readers it was the syndicates decision to free up the space to introduce some new comics.

    The comics page rarely changes. The cartoonists newest to the newspaper have the least security fighting it out against each other while Blondie is handed down from generation to generation making jokes about large sandwiches for decades.

  25. No. They’re selling proven favorite foods/recipes, that all their customers like, and return for over and over again.

    I am done though. Reruns strips make money. No business is going to tell they’re customers they are wrong and stop selling them something that is making them money and try to force something they don’t want down their throat. If the sydicates follow your plan they will lose money, making them horrible, horrible business men who would be fired by their bosses.

    Sorry. It sucks for people trying to get syndicated (myslef included) but our chosen feild is a shrinking one. Blaming those who can still make money from it isn’t going to change that.

    The syndicate telling the papers “You are wrong. Read this instead” and the papers saying “Sorry, the sydicate says you’re wrong and you should read this instead” is not going to do anything except give people more of a reason not to buy papers.

    Remember New Coke?

    Good luck, but this is the business now a days.

  26. All this invective against Peanuts reveals a disturbing self-loathing. I’ve looked at all the ‘cartoonists’ links posted on this thread and am not impressed by the work I found there.

    Instead of crying I suggest taking Alan’s advice and forget Peanuts and try to beat Fred Basset out of his slot.

    And just to be clear, I love comic art and cartoons BUT I never wanted to do it myself because, to me, it is too hard labor for too little dough. I am a fine art/folk artist and make my artwork to suit only myself. I have patrons who buy whatever I care to sell; and I have never needed to publish, promote my work or hire an agent to do so. To get ahead you have to look to yourself, and work until others see your vision.

  27. @mikecope what does that generous gift have to do with reruns in newspapers?

    Do have any idea what a drop in the bucket that is for the peanuts empire?

  28. I’m not ‘crying’
    I’ve written my local editor, she responded to me saying although she’d like to replace Peanuts reruns, the readers would backlash. She said she admired Cathy artist Cathy Guisewite for simply retiring and not offering reruns.

    Calvin and Hobbes is the most popular cartoon on gocomics by a long shot! Wouldn’t it make business sense for Universal to still have Calvin and Hobbes in 2,000 newspapers?

    1. Calvin and Hobbes 245,141
    2. B.C . 141,934
    3. Garfield 122,641
    4. Wizard of Id 117,299
    5. Pearls Before Swine 117,081
    6. Non Sequitur 111,587
    7. Peanuts 108,337
    8. Get Fuzzy 107,935
    9. FoxTrot 106,623
    10. Pickles 105,630

    Pearls Before Swine is more popular than Peanuts now. How about a thousand papers for Stephan Pastis?

  29. David Essman- By ‘crying’ I refered to your posts on this thread. I invite you to reread them yourself and reflect on what credit they do you or your stated desire.

    This is an early lesson all my students learn; you alone are in control of your artistic success. Not the Shulz estate, not the syndicate sellers or the local editors. It’s all just you.

  30. @Doald A. Rex Jr. I am not trying to get syndicated. I do not have a comic strip.

    My frustration at Universal syndicating Peanuts and FBoFW reruns is that they keep artists who do deserve those spots and the audiences from, and who are producing NEW content from a spot in print.

    Pearls Before Swine and Get Fuzzy are proven strips and should be in 1000+ newspapers each. Cul de Sac should have been in at least 500.

    In a newspaper landscape where comics pages are shrinking and space is limited, why allow newspapers to print old material when plenty of talented cartoonists Universal has are producing new and funny work.

    Calvin and Hobbes, Cathy, and Foxtrot dailies have been retired. Why not FBoFW and Peanuts?

  31. @David – I completely agree there are excellent comics out there that deserve greater readership. That said, your frustration is misdirected (mostly).

    There are cases where the cartoonist retires a strip from the market – and it’s their decision not the syndicate. Believe me, I’m sure Universal would have LOVED to keep C&H, Cathy and Foxtrot in re-runs – why give up that space and revenue?

    So, if you’re upset with the status-quot, it’s not the syndicates fault or duty to change it. And don’t expect the cartoonist to act against their own self-interest either. If you have a property that was making a $1 million/year and you had a choice of retiring the strip completely and drop your income to near zero or earn $750,000/year doing nothing (except whatever your interests take you) you’d seriously expect the cartoonist to drop their income to zero? It’s not like their lifestyle expenses drop to zero – they still have to eat, pay mortgages, etc.

    And if anyone is still reading – I’m not arguing that this is the ideal situation, I’m just arguing that this is how it works now and the likelihood of it changing is near zero – so focus your efforts on what you can change – the quality of your own work.

  32. I agree with you Alan.

    The cartoonist has the control, not the syndicate. The syndicate is not going to say no to money, especially if their competitor is going to take it if they don’t.

    The Peanuts estate does not need the money. MetLife probably pays them more in a year than syndication. I would be surprised if Schultz was alive and retired if he would have agreed to reruns. But I recognize that’s impossible to know.

  33. @ David Essman

    “Why aren?t Calvin and Hobbes and Far Side reruns not still being printed in newspapers?”

    David, I don’t know if Calvin and Hobbes reruns are syndicated in the United States but we have been getting them here in the UK ever since it ended in the 90’s. In the national paper Daily Express.

  34. @ Mike McKeenan

    Do you think the Metlife sponsorship would still be with Peanuts if it had been out of the paper for the past 13 years? While the property most likely makes more money through licensing, the licensing only persists if the characters remain popular. With Peanuts showing up in comic books, and the potential of the new movie, hopefully there will be an opportunity to get new readers to the comics page, even if it is to read a legacy strip in re-run.

    A rising tide, as they say…

  35. @Jim Thomas: It’s a good question, but I do believe it would still be with MetLife. Snoopy is bigger than its newspaper presence and termination would be a blow, because it’s free advertising; sorry paid advertising for the brand. But Snoopy is iconic and on the level of something like Mickey Mouse. I haven’t seen a Mickey Mouse comic or even a Mickey Mouse movie either, but he’s as strong as ever I would argue.

  36. Good morning. Who do you contact if you have an idea for a political cartoon but you are not a cartoonist? Do any professional cartoonists like to receive cartoon ideas? Thank you! Carol

  37. Sorry, Carol:

    Political cartoonists, like columnists, come up with their own ideas. Usually by the time someone thinks up an idea, cogitates on it for a few days, and then shares it with me, the time for a really effective cartoon on the subject has come and gone.

    99% of the ideas I get from readers are lame or are recycled versions of another cartoon they saw someplace. The creator of the idea usually has a personal axe to grind about something. I have no desire to go off on someone else’s crusade.

    Comic strip artists and gag cartoonists occasionally use gag writers, but not editorial cartoonists.

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