Unified Comics Page Sweepstakes Winners and how to help those left out in the cold

So who came out ahead with the recent spat of newspaper groups standardizing their comics pages?

Gannett/USA TODAY Network with around 200 newspapers, Lee Enterprises with more or less 70, McClatchy‘s 30 or so, PostMedia‘s three dozen dailies(?), and Wick Communications’ 10 papers comes to about 350 newspapers whose parent companies have determined what comic strips will run on the locals’ comics pages.

The options for Gannett newspapers are some arrangement of The Gannett 34. While it is nice to be included in that assemblage some groups are favored more than others. The first four groups seem to be popular, though a number of them have opted for just the first three. (The newspapers seem to pick the groups they have chosen in the order they are listed starting with Group One, rather than jump around.) A few papers have gone with Groups 1 – 5, papers picking up all 34 of the comics are as rare as hen’s teeth. Thus winning the Gannett lotto are those in groups 1 – 3 which are getting onto nearly all of Gannett’s 200+ daily comics pages (there are a few that only run the first eleven daily comics).

Group 1: Blondie, Zits, Beetle Bailey, Family Circus, Hagar the Horrible, Dennis the Menace

Group 2: Garfield, Peanuts, For Better or Worse, Baby Blues, Pickles, FoxTrot

Group 3: Pearls Before Swine, Jump Start, Ziggy, Marmaduke, Non Sequitur, Crabgrass

above: left is a Gannett daily page with 22 comics (groups 1-4); right is a McClatchy daily page with 21 comics

While the King Features comics in Gannett’s Group 1 are winners with 200+ papers we have to cut them out of our sweepstakes as the rest of our newspaper publishers have gone exclusively with Andrews McMeel comic offerings (McClatchy makes an exception for Zits).

So now we see how many of McClatchy’s 21 daily comics are also part of Gannett’s Andrews McMeel comics in groups 2 and 3.

That narrows the competition down to Garfield, Peanuts, Baby Blues, Pickles, Pearls Before Swine, JumpStart, and Crabgrass.

It should be noted that the comic strips and panels in Gannett and McClatchy papers run daily and Sunday. We note that because we now come to Canada’s Postmedia whose newspapers do not run Sunday comics.

The Postmedia collection of newspapers are, as said above, purely Andrews McMeel and, yes, they also have a select group of comics they run as dictated by headquarters. The comics they run that are the same as Gannett Groups 2 and 3 and McClatchy are: Garfield, Peanuts, Baby Blues, Pickles, Pearls Before Swine, and Crabgrass. That drops JumpStart from our list.

above: a Postmedia daily comics page (left) and a Lee Enterprises daily comics page (right)

That brings us to Lee Enterprises with a healthy more-than-70 newspapers but only a half page of daily comics. Their Sunday funny papers run all ten of the daily comics plus another eight getting 18 for Sunday.

Our list after Gannett, McClatchy, Postmedia, and now with Lee remains the same with the same six: Garfield, Peanuts, Baby Blues, Pickles, Pearls Before Swine, and Crabgrass.

Bringing in the smallish (less than a dozen dailies that also run Sunday/weekend editions) Wick Communications and we lose Crabgrass.

So we end up with five comic strips getting into all nine newspaper slots

(we count daily and Sunday editions separately as the syndicates do).

The Sweepstakes winners: Garfield, Peanuts, Baby Blues, Pickles, and Pearls Before Swine.

Missed it by this much. These comics made it into seven of the nine: For Better or For Worse (no daily or Sunday McClatchy) and Crabgrass (no daily or Sunday Wick). (Luann, if we count Gannett Group 4 – which we aren’t, gets six slots losing the daily and Sunday Wick and the daily Lee.)

Sunday bonus. Foxtrot and Doonesbury, both Sunday only, each made it into three of the four Sunday/weekend papers. Foxtrot got Gannett, McClatchy and Lee. Doonesbury got McClatchy, Lee, and Wick.

As for those left behind…

© North America Syndicate

Story strips are being hit hard as none of the newspapers’ honchos opted to pick them as way to keep readers coming back to read the continuities. Terry Beatty, the writer/artist of Rex Morgan, notes on Facebook:

I now have official word that the January 28 Sunday strip will be the last that any Gannett newspaper readers will see of Rex Morgan (and Judge Parker) in their newspapers. Des Moines Register readers will still be able to follow the strips in the online version of the paper — so that’s something of a silver lining I suppose.


Though Rex is still in a fair amount of newspapers, and online access helps it to keep running. I do earn a decent living from it, as well — though when I recently saw a list of what cartoonists were earning in the 1930s, I noted that one of the major names on that list was earning the exact amount I earn now — but my paycheck has NOT adjusted for inflation…! Sigh….

It [the unified comics pages] helps those who were included — provided they co-own their strip – paid per paper. “Legacy strip” artists/writers (like me) get a flat fee.

So that’s how it works for a number of cartoonists working on King Features-owned material (is that the standard at Andrews McMeel, Tribune, and Creators too?). I hope it doesn’t bite them when contract time rolls around.

What to do?

Support syndicated cartoonists by subscribing to their online outlets Comics Kingdom and GoComics!

This from Sandra Bell-Lundy’s Facebook page:

Well, it’s happened again. My comic has been canceled in a number of newspapers. The latest drop is a result of Gannett going with a common comics page in their chain of papers across the US. They’ve chosen a number of comics that their editors can pick from to run. They say they did a survey. But I don’t see any representation in their chosen line-up that appeals to my readership. You can reach out to your editors and complain. Their hands are tied with the pre-determined list they’ve been given. But who knows, maybe they might reinstate Between Friends in another section of their paper.

If not, you can read Between Friends daily at Comics Kingdom. comicskingdom.com I’m going to explain how Comics Kingdom works… you will be able to read a limited number of comics each month. After you reach that limit, the comics will go behind a paywall unless you pay a subscription fee. Once the month is up, the process will restart. At present, the subscription fee is 29.99 for the year. This allows you to read ALL of the approximately 60 comics available plus decades of their archives. This means, for example, if you wanted to revisit some of the story arcs in Between Friends, you can re-read them at any time.

With the transition that is going on in the newspaper industry, this is part of the way I am earning my income and it allows me to continue producing my comic.

© Sandra Bell-Lundy

If you’ve read this far and are a syndicated cartoonist The Daily Cartoonist (especially Mike Peterson) wants to hear from you so Mike can write a piece on how this is affecting you and others you know:

a request of cartoonists

I’d like to write about how the centralized corporate purchasing of strips has hit syndicated cartoonists, one way or the other, but realize it’s a very personal situation. I will guarantee anonymity if you’ll email me with your situation and prospects at teachup@gmail.com

feature image from the Blondie comic strip

13 thoughts on “Unified Comics Page Sweepstakes Winners and how to help those left out in the cold

  1. Your daily comics page from the /Talahassee Democrat/ is identical in content and layout to the daily page in our Rochester NY /Democrat and Chronicle/.

    It’s the 22 comics in the first four Gannett groups, less (Sunday-only) Foxtrot. And our eighteen comics on Sunday are exactly the comics in the first three groups.

    Talk about lazy editors. . . .

    1. Some Gannett papers run the six Group Five strips on the page following their 22 comics page in a column taking up about a quarter of that page. I have also seen Sunday Gannet papers running those same Group Five strips on a fifth Sunday color comics page – the Gannet Sunday Funnies run one group per page.

  2. I don’t know what PostMedia does now, but Canadian papers used to run the colour “Sunday” comics on Saturday with the usual black-and-white dailies.

    1. The recent Postmedia papers I found on newspapers.com (Calgary Herald, Vancouver Sun, Montreal Gazette, Edmonton Journal) had only a page of daily comics on Saturdays with no Sunday sections shown.

  3. Crabgrass is the only newer strip on that list that appears online and in newspapers. Most new strips now appear on GoComics or Comics Kingdom. My FurBabies comic strip was picked up by Andrews McMeel for GoComics last year.

    1. Not only is Crabgrass (*2019) the only Gannett strip that is younger than 16 years, all but four of those strips are over 27 years old. The average age of all 34 strips is 47 years. Over half of those strips are either zombies (following the death of the original creator) or in reruns (Peanuts is both). In other words, these are strips picked by geezers. Perhaps they figure that young people just don’t read newspapers, and they may be right.

      1. On the other hand, retaining Rex Morgan (*1948) and Judge Parker (*1952) wouldn’t do anything to reduce the average age of the Gannett strips, nor would it help with the percentage of strips still earning money for their original creators.

  4. A lot of food for thought in this story. We all know that newspapers are a dying industry and with them so goes comic strips. Can strips sustain themselves after the total demise of the daily paper? I would like to see how much of a split in income for a cartoonist from online vs. hard copy. Is it 40-60 or 90-10? I see a really excellent strip like “Wallace the Brave” and with less than 10,000 daily followers (I know there are other hits), it’s hard to think that Will Henry gets that much from his work distributed online.

    It is hard, also, to think about how a once great profession has fallen. There was a time where it was ranked up there, almost with movie stars and ballplayers. And the best not only were very wealthy but were known by a good chunk of the populace. The competition was something fierce to get the coveted position of rolling out a daily strip and the losers settled for the far less lucrative comic books, still hoping for a chance to break into the “Big Leagues”. Now a cartoonist probably makes less than the Metro bus driver.

    You mention the number of papers some of these strips appear in. Is there a way to find out the number for just any strip? I sort of remember that back in the ’70s, the Comic Buyers’ Guide, used to publish those numbers annually for nearly all, if not all, strips. I think they used to get it from Editors and Publishers but I don’t know if that info is even made available or it is if you are a subscriber.

    I am one of those people from a vanishing group of people that reads a lot of strips every single day, probably about 100 or so – 50 in my daily paper, about 40 with GO, and another 10 from CK. And then there are other sites that post old strips like Gasoline Alley, Jeff Hawke and Twin Earths that I also read. Something like half of the strips I read on GO have been discontinued, many because the creators couldn’t make it viable to continue. It is a tough business to break into and a tough one to make a living. And I’m sorry to admit that I get around CK’s pricing scheme by opening an “Incognito Window”. It just would not be worth it to me to pay $30 a year to read ten strips, most of which I could read on Arcamax without paying anything.

  5. I hate to say it…but creators who are working for KFS and getting paid a flat fee, could face a new reality at contract renewal time. King (and any other syndicate) would have to weigh the ROI on the feature existing mainly on line via their digital extensions. Maybe that subscription/advertising model will be robust enough to support the content creation. Hope so. I see King is going to be updating the Comics Kingdom site. They need eyeballs and hopefully those are enough to keep the money flowing.

    I will say it again. Gannett sucks. To not be able to allow a group of serial story comics to remain as an option for their papers, especially the ones that carried a story/serial comic strip or two, is ridiculous.

  6. Before my city was cut out of their circulation area for daily delivery in the mid-’00s, then out of single-copy sales five years later, I had a nearly unbroken collection of daily and Sunday comics sections from the Milwaukee Journal/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel going back to 1970. This, and local sports coverage were the only reasons I bought a mail subscription to the paper for about three years till I realized that the $400 a year wasn’t really worth it since the P.O. would deliver them out of order or four or five days at a time, so they had no news value, much less affording me the time to read them before the next one arrived, so all I was doing was pulling out the comics and throwing the rest of it away unread. Around 2015, I stopped seeing the physical paper at all.

    The new Journal Sentinel line-up, in its Gannett remix, dropped all the strips I loved best while I was still getting it: MUTTS, CRANKSHAFT, ARLO & JANIS, CURTIS, MARVIN, BETWEEN FRIENDS, BALDO, GRAND AVENUE, LUANN, plus the Sunday MOTHER GOOSE & GRIMM, HI AND LOIS and GET FUZZY (and DOGS OF C-KENNEL, which I’ve never read). Nearly all of the “new” strips were formerly in the Journal Sentinel comics section but were dropped at some point: BLONDIE, PEANUTS, BEETLE BAILEY, HAGAR, FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE, GARFIELD, MARMADUKE, NON-SEQUITUR and the only new one, CRABGRASS. I think DENNIS THE MENACE never made the jump when the Sentinel was absorbed into the new hybrid paper in the ’90s, but has finally “made” it. Retained are PICKLES, ZITS, BABY BLUES, FAMILY CIRCUS, JUMPSTART, plus, puzzlingly, ZIGGY and PEARLS BEFORE SWINE, two I’d thought would have been naturals for omission–but that’s just me. Editorial decisions on dropping most of these had been due to their legacy status, making room for most of the newer titles they’ve now jettisoned. (The reprint strips, PEANUTS and FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE, were reprinting material that originally appeared prior to when the Journal picked them up, but the editors were too young to know that. In fact, I doubt that the current editors even realize they used to carry all these strips.)

    I won’t weigh in on whether legacy strips are more or less worthy of inclusion on today’s comics pages, but I suspect whatever polling was done was probably accurate because newspaper readership skews far older than the general population. No matter–what it means is we’re headed for a world where there simply won’t be more than 75 strips appearing in print newspapers–however long they ultimately last. And that’s sad for both cartoonists and comic-strip readers in general.

    1. Would it be surprised if Tribune Publishing sold off the New York Daily News to Gannett?

  7. I’m lucky Chicago doesn’t have a Gannett, Lee, Post Media, Wick, or McClathy owned newspaper (Though why are 2 Chicago papers – Tribune and Sun-Times) still carrying Grand Avenue (daily and Sunday for Chicago Tribune, Sunday only for the Sun-Times).

  8. If you’re a cartoonist working on an already syndicated comic strip not in these groups, are you screwed?

    If you’re a cartoonist with hopes of getting a comic strip syndicated, are you even more screwed?

    We know cartoonists have taken a hit, but have the syndicates taken a hit as well?
    Is it worth it to syndicates to keep comic strips around that aren’t in any of these groups?

    The sad thing is, there are so many good comic strips that don’t appear in any of these groups.

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