Lee served as editor and then president of Universal Press Syndicate, now called Andrews McMeel Syndication. In his nearly four decades at Universal, he is credited with editing and developing some of the iconic comic strips of our time, including Calvin and Hobbes, Cathy, Cul-de-Sac, Doonesbury, The Far Side and For Better or for Worse. Lee’s calm demeanor and steadfast defense of cartoonists’ creative rights resulted in close friendships with numerous creators. His colleagues at the syndicate benefited from his quiet leadership and integrity.
Lee Salem’s name was little known outside industry circles, yet for the better part of four decades, perhaps no editor had a greater impact on what newspaper comics tens of millions of people read over their coffee and juice boxes every morning.
Michael Cavna, for The Washington Post, has a wonderful farewell to Lee, with quotes from Gary (The Far Side) Larson, G. B. (Doonesbury) Trudeau, Cathy (Cathy) Guisewite, Aaron (The Boondocks) McGruder, and Bill (Calvin and Hobbes) Watterson. All of them fans of Lee’s editing.
Lee didn’t just seek out and inspire new kinds of strips. He raised the bar in what it means for a syndicate to have a creator’s back. He gave strips a chance to evolve. Lobbied with editors and salespeople to give new strips more time. He’s legendary for giving creators all the credit when things went well, and hopping right down into the fire with us when they didn’t.
Lee encouraged creators to push the edge. Sometimes he helped push the edge. And when we went over the edge, Lee propped us up, fielded the irate calls, had drawing supplies brought in and arranged for bedside Federal Express pick-ups.
Cathy Guisewite, for the National Cartoonists Society, offers a heartfelt tribute to her editor and friend.
Lee’s abilities are being hailed from near and far:
“Lee was respected and revered by associates, creators and representatives throughout the media industry,” said [John] McMeel. “His contributions have been immeasurable. Over four decades, he was instrumental in discovering and nurturing relationships with creators as trusted editor, sound adviser, valued friend and insightful champion to extraordinary talents.
“The impact that Lee had on the lives of our creators and associates cannot be underestimated,” said [Hugh] Andrews. “A skilled negotiator, his ability to simultaneously advance the best interests of creators and AMU is unparalleled. It is hard to imagine AMS without Lee’s fundamental involvement; his legacy lives on through entertaining millions of people around the world with the work of our creators.”
One of the many reasons I mourn the decline of print newspapers, and not the least of those reasons, is that it has diminished the funnies.
That makes it important, and poignant, to mark the death of Lee Salem, who through the last quarter of the 20th century was a godfather for some of the best newspaper comic strips ever.
Of course famed cartoonists who Lee helped guide are making their gratitude and sorrow known.
Lynn Johnston: “He was a mentor, a friend and a wonderful sounding board…I am so lucky to have known and worked with Lee Salem.”
Ted Rall: “Kind, droll, generous, Lee signed me in 1996 and has always been supportive in the face of censorship and suppression.”
Mark Tatulli: “I can’t express how broken I feel at Lee Salem’s passing. I’m sure many other creators share my feeling that we owe our place in this crazy, exhilarating business to Lee.”
Bill Amend: “I’m still in shock re Lee Salem’s passing. I am FoxTrot’s creator but Lee was FoxTrot’s father.”
Derf Backderf: “Lee Salem rejected a comic strip proposal from me way back in 1988.Thank God, because after that defeat I decided to hell with mainstream comics and developed The City, and was on my way. Lee got a good laugh out of that when I met him years later.”
Ruben Bolling: “Sad day for me. My friend Lee Salem passed away this morning.”
above: from Bill Watterson on Lee’s 2014 retirement.
update September 16
Lalo Alcaraz paid tribute to Lee in his September 16, 2019 La Cucaracha strip.
Lalo’s earlier tribute to Lee, on the occasion of Lee’s retirement,
was featured in the September 11 Los Angeles Times obituary where they said:
Beloved by a tight circle of industry artists, Salem’s keen eye for finding talented and idiosyncratic writers and cartoonists lead to the syndication of some of the best and most daring American comic strips of the last quarter of the 20th century.
and quoted John Glynn, vice chairman and editor at large of the media corporation Andrews McMeel Universal:
“I think I’m biased, but he’ll go down as the greatest newspaper syndicate editor in the history of our industry.”
below: Lalo on Lee’s retirement
Also paying tribute today (Sep 16) was Scott Stantis and Eric Allie in Prickly City: