State of Syndicated Newspaper Cartoonists

It’s no laughing matter. Austerity, consolidation and platform disparity undermine cartoons and comics.

“I’m expecting some problems.”

Editor & Publisher looks at the current situation of newspaper syndicated editorial cartoons and comic strips.

Ginger Meggs is an institution in Australia, where the beloved comic strip — about a “red-haired larrikin” living in the suburbs — has run in newspapers nationwide for over 100 years.

But that relationship between generations of Australians and the newspapers that have long published the comic strip was instantly severed when the two major chains down under — Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp Australia and Nine Entertainment — decided to eliminate all comic strips.

Cartoonists and syndication companies in the United States are keenly aware of what happened in Australia and what it could portend for comic strips here. While no major newspaper chains in the U.S. have pulled the plug entirely on comics sections, publishers have been willing to make wholesale moves involving comics and puzzles they wouldn’t have dreamt of doing in previous years for fear of alienating more of their declining print subscribers.

In March 2021, McClatchy Group consolidated their comics and puzzles into one standardized page that appears across all their properties.

Lee Enterprises followed suit in September 2022, unifying their comics and puzzle offerings across their 77 daily newspapers and reducing the number of comics in their dailies…

Gannett, the country’s largest chain with more than 250 daily newspapers, announced a move towards a unified comics package in September. But unlike McClatchy and Lee, Gannett said comics may still vary from market to market.

Rob Tornoe, at Editor and Publisher, reports on the current state of newspaper comics and what syndicates are doing to help their cartoonists. And Rob’s article also notes the grim state of newspaper editorial cartoons.

Newspaper chains in the U.S. have come for their newspaper’s opinion sections, too.

Gannett decided in June 2022 to pare back opinion sections. Some newspapers have cut opinion pages to just one or two days a week. At nearly all papers, syndicated columns and editorial cartoons have been eliminated.

Newspapers also continue to shed editorial cartoonists on staff. In July, McClatchy laid off its three remaining staff cartoonists, all Pulitzer Prize winners — Kevin Siers at the Charlotte Observer, Joel Pett of the Lexington Herald-Leader, and Jack Ohman at the Sacramento Bee.

13 thoughts on “State of Syndicated Newspaper Cartoonists

  1. Maybe it’s time for some enterprising news publisher to come out with a national weekly paper that is nothing but comics and editorial pages. I’d pay as much as five dollars a week to get a week’s worth of editorial cartoons and a week’s worth of 70 – 100 different strips.

    Anyone else this this may be an untapped market?

    1. Interesting, when you consider Cartoons Magazine, a monthly, was doing this over 100 years ago.

  2. I’m familiar with both Funny Times and Humor Times; I’m thinking more of a USA Today type paper to be created, available in print weekly around the country (more like a Village Voice in its heyday).

  3. In the 1990s American Publishing out of Virginia put out a fortnightly called Strips ( ) with two weeks of humor comic strips and added another called Storyline Strips for consisting of continuity comics.
    Twenty years before that Street Enterprises (Hi Mike) published the weekly The Menomonee Falls Gazette ( ) with adventure strips. Their companion was the Menomonee Falls Guardian, a like publication of humor strips.
    Maybe it’s time for someone to try it again.

    1. I forgot all about The Menomonee Falls Gazette…

      I agree, it’s time for someone to try it again…

      1. (Hi, D.D.!)

        A revival of any publication like our two tabloids, if accomplished today, would of course be entering a comic-strip world quite different from the one which provoked us into beginning the GAZETTE and GUARDIAN 52 years ago. When we launched in 1971, we published nearly 60 current strips, none of which were being carried by the Milwaukee Journal, and only a few that were appearing in the Milwaukee Sentinel (THE PHANTOM, STEVE CANYON, BUZ SAWYER, JULIET JONES and BEETLE BAILEY, since King Features didn’t care about regional exclusivity). Today, as the Gannet list of authorized strips indicates, there are nearly that number which are so ubiquitous that only a very small number are actually hard to find outside of your local newspaper (at least if you’re anywhere close to a large metro area). In addition, when we existed, there was no alternative to physical copies of strips. Today, not only do the two main comic-strip sites feature virtually every daily and Sunday strip which is currently being syndicated, they’re almost all in full color. True, your access to all of them isn’t permanent; like streaming TV series, the sites can and have removed strips, in part or in total, at their whim. I’ve never tried printing out copies from either site, but I presume there’s a way of doing so, so I guess you can physically archive them yourself if you have the desire. I would guess that’s why most recent publishers have devoted their efforts to publishing compilations of complete runs as books, rather than make any attempt to publish them as current publications.

        About all we offered that can’t otherwise be found online or in books were foreign strips and obscurities from the ’30s-’60s. Ironically, just as we left the field, both DC, with WORLD’S GREATEST SUPERHEROES and BATMAN and Marvel, with SPIDER-MAN, THE HULK, CONAN and HOWARD THE DUCK, along with sf franchises like STAR WARS, STAR TREK, BUCK ROGERS and STAR HAWKS, and classics like ZORRO and LONE RANGER were launched as comic strips that featured the very characters which might have given comic-book fandom a good reason to be interested in collecting comic strips in publications like ours just to be able to follow continued stories, which could well have kept us in print. None of those strips are around anymore to provide that collectors bait. If a strip today has any audience at all, they are unanimously humorous, and there are already publishers issuing compilations of that recent fare. The total number of still-current syndicated adventure/story strips is tiny (THE PHANTOM, DICK TRACY, ALLEY OOP. MARK TRAIL, FREX MORGAN, JUDGE PARKER, MARY WORTH, GASOLINE ALLEY and the recently launched FLASH GORDON), and I doubt that they would be sufficient to create a very commercial package, so any new publication, in whatever format, would require either a wealth of vintage comics (which would only serve to diminish the quality of today’s comics) or a hybrid of adventure and humor comics not too dissimilar from what you already get in a daily paper.

        I really don’t see anything that would indicate that there is an audience today for what we provided in the 1970s: a means to read and collect current comic strips you couldn’t find any other way More’s the pity..

  4. What about the fate of:
    Real Life Adventures by Gary Wise and Lance Aldrich (It has been in daily rerun mode for 2 weeks since October 15, 2023 – Was the hint one of the cartoonists was retiring in a September 2023 Real Life Adventures the hint about this?)
    Herb and Jaamal by Stephen Bentley (which has been in rerun mode for the past 5 weeks)
    …and I bet Mother Goose and Grimm by Mike Peters is taking a rerun break at the time Mike Peters turned 80 years old (like Charles Schulz did for his 75th. birthday in 1997, which was the first time Peanuts went into reruns – and reruns came back in 2000 following Schulz’s retirement and death).

  5. The myopic, wholesale decimation of the Australian comic strip industry was a warning shot from Down Under.

    Within 12 months, not only did all daily comics vanish from all of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers, but then the competition followed suit and took out whatever was left. It ended my 16-year run as cartoonist for the 102-year-old comic strip, Ginger Meggs.
    Rob Tornoe’s comprehensive article above is very well researched, but broadly: This should come as a loud warning shot to all US comic artists and editorial cartoonists. If it wasn’t already abundantly apparent that cartoonists aren’t valued in traditional publishing business models, it should be crystal clear now: Our time is running out.

    As Keef so eloquently put it last year at CXC…
    “I tell young cartoonists, and other working artists, ‘We have to give up on newspapers, because newspapers gave up on us.”
    The only refuge left are places where our readers can find us without having to tolerate algorithmically targeted ads (or page after page of printed ones). Places like Substack, Mailchimp, Patreon, etc.

    (I should add that whenever I say ‘newspapers’ I’m not talking about print. I’m talking about the companies themselves — online and offline.)

  6. I’d name a newspaper that consists entirely of editorial comics and cartoons the Fort Mudge Most.

    If the comics are shifting to an online format, it would be nice if that format paid as well as the newspapers did.

  7. I have been reading newspaper comics for almost as long as I have been able to read. While I am very sorry to see the way that papers are reducing and/or eliminating their comic portfolio, people need to understand that the only purpose that comics ever had in the newspaper business is to encourage people to buy more newspapers. Virtually all syndicated comics are available online for free, which means that they cannot be a factor in single-copy sales or subscriptions. Therefore, it is perfectly understandable that papers would want to eliminate a cost factor that is not providing any measurable benefits. If artists are unhappy that they are no longer able to make money publishing their work in newspapers, then they need to find a different genre or marketing strategy.

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