By: Dave Astor
A Syndicate World Extra
Which strip is replacing ‘Peanuts’ in comic sections? The answer is … ‘Peanuts.’
Charles ‘Sparky’ Schulz retired in December and died in February, but 2,460 of the 2,600
newspaper clients he had in 1999
are still publishing reruns of his work.
‘That’s more than we expected,’ said United Media Vice President for Sales and
Marketing Lisa Klem Wilson, who now
believes newspapers will carry the United-distributed reruns for years.
She noted that the immense outpouring of reader affection and media coverage after
Schulz’s death caused a number of
papers to rethink their plans to drop the ‘Peanuts’ reruns. In some markets, weeklies or
monthlies picked up the comic
after the daily canceled it.
The staying power of ‘Peanuts’ may not please younger cartoonists trying to break into
newspapers, but many readers like
the familiar sight of Schulz’s comic. ‘People are revisiting the friends they’ve enjoyed,
just like they watch the same
videos over and over, and reread their favorite books,’ said Lucy Shelton Caswell of Ohio
State University, where she’s
curator of the Cartoon Research Library and a professor of cartoon history.
Wilson did acknowledge that the ‘Peanuts’ client list ‘might go down a little every
month,’ while observers outside of
United said the 2,460 total could shrink more than a little at some point after what would
have been the comic’s 50th
anniversary this October.
‘I think it will trail off over time. How fast, no one can say,’ said King Features Syndicate
Editor in Chief Jay
‘I can’t fathom that the reruns will go on indefinitely,’ added Creators Syndicate
President Rick Newcombe. ‘Anything you
can see in newspapers you can find in books’ – referring to the many ‘Peanuts’
Many Replacing The One
But for now, there aren’t a whole lot of comic section slots vacated by ‘Peanuts.’ The 140
that did open up are being
filled by many strips, with none wresting the lion’s share of space. This spread-the-wealth
scenario will continue in the
future, according to syndicate executives, cartoonists, and others interviewed.
‘I don’t think it will be just a handful of comics that replace ‘Peanuts,” said Copley News
Service Editorial Director
Glenda Winders. ‘It will be a lot of comics.’
That would differ from early 1996, when a fast-rising ‘Dilbert’ grabbed many of the
nearly 2,400 slots that became
available when Bill Watterson ended ‘Calvin & Hobbes.’
Tribune Media Services Creative Director Fred Schecker did note that newspapers often
change three or four comics at the
same time, so it will be hard to pinpoint which strip actually succeeds Schulz’s strip. ‘You
don’t always see one-to-one
swaps,’ he said.
‘Mutts’ Makes Its Move
But observers said Patrick McDonnell’s ‘Mutts’ might eventually get a few more
‘Peanuts’ spaces than other strips. They
noted that the King comic has the thoughtfulness and several other attributes reminiscent
‘It’s just sort of the Zen quality of the strip,’ said Caswell. ‘Patrick has done what Schulz
did in terms of creating
strong characters and using the ‘slight incident.’ The art and pacing of the strip also
remind me of ‘Peanuts.”
King Sales Director George Haeberlein reported that McDonnell’s client list, after
growing steadily since the comic’s
1994 launch, rose ‘significantly’ faster after the first of this year. He believes ‘quite a bit’
of that growth resulted
from papers putting ‘Mutts’ in ‘Peanuts’ slots.
How does McDonnell – whose comic now runs in 400-plus papers – feel about at least
partially filling Schulz’s
shoes? ‘That’s the ultimate compliment,’ he replied. ‘He was my hero and definitely my
inspiration. One thing I most
admired about ‘Peanuts’ was that it had a moral compass. That’s important in my work as
Schulz was also a big ‘Mutts’ fan, contributing a glowing foreword to McDonnell’s first
comic collection in 1996. The
‘Peanuts’ creator wrote: ‘To me, ‘Mutts’ is exactly what a comic strip should be.’
Not A Runaway Winner
But, unlike the ‘Dilbert’ scenario four years ago, observers don’t expect ‘Mutts’ to greatly
outdistance other comics in
succeeding ‘Peanuts.’ Among the many strips expected to get their fair share of ‘Peanuts’
slots are ‘Baby Blues,’ ‘Jump
Start,’ and ‘Zits’ (see sidebar below).
Then there are a few comics that would have been logical ‘Peanuts’ successors, but are so
widely syndicated that few
papers need to add them at this point. One example is Lynn Johnston’s ‘For Better or For
Worse,’ which has more than
If no specific strip will dominate the slots vacated by ‘Peanuts,’ will a certain type of
strip dominate? Will it be
comics with one or more ‘Peanuts’ elements, such as kid characters, a charismatic dog,
and appeal to all demographics? Or
will openings go to all kinds of comics – including newer, edgier offerings that appeal to
the younger readers many
newspapers are trying so hard to attract?
‘That will depend on the individual paper,’ said Universal Press Syndicate Executive
Vice President and Editor Lee Salem.
Washington Post Writers Group Comics Editor Suzanne Whelton noted that some papers
will want something thematically
reminiscent of ‘Peanuts,’ while others will feel it’s ‘time to move on’ to a more
Salem observed that ‘Dilbert’ replaced ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ in many papers even though
the two comics are very different.
‘Jump Start’ creator Robb Armstrong of United did express the hope that comics filling
‘Peanuts’ slots won’t have the
‘mean-spirited, cynical, low-minded’ humor he sees in some newer strips and many
‘Sparky Schulz’s work was dignified,’ he said. ‘It lent an air of sophistication to the
comics, and benefited all of us.’
Armstrong added that the best newspaper comics are not only humorous, but inspire
readers by showing characters dealing
with problems and ‘bouncing back.’
Syndicates Pull Their Punches
Whatever the sensibility of their comics, most syndicates haven’t pitched them as
replacements for ‘Peanuts’ – even
though, as Schecker said, Schulz’s strip might be ‘vulnerable’ because it’s in reruns.
Why aren’t syndicates being more aggressive? ‘Out of respect for Charles Schulz,’
replied Winders. She and other
syndicate executives did emphasize that they are selling their comics as hard as ever, just
not specifically targeting
the ‘Peanuts’ slots.
Why was Schulz’s comic so respected? ‘The sense of morality,’ replied Kennedy. ‘The
philosophical commentary. Using kids
to deliver profound thoughts was pretty novel at the time ‘Peanuts’ started. And it was
Comic historian/critic R.C. Harvey added, ‘The sense of humor on display in Schulz’s
strip was different, more subtle,
than could be found anywhere on the comic pages when it first appeared’ in 1950.
And Caswell said, ‘Schulz created a strong set of characters that readers liked and
identified with, and he dealt with
the concerns all people have – love, rejection, failure.’
One indication of just how popular ‘Peanuts’ was came when Newsweek did a
late-1999 cover story about Schulz’s
retirement. It had the second most newsstand sales (321,000) of any Newsweek
issue last year, behind only a cover
story about the death of media darling John F. Kennedy Jr.
Schulz’s fans also included his fellow cartoonists, many of whom were influenced by
‘Peanuts’ and received advice and
encouragement from its creator. ‘His impact on their art will live on,’ said Whelton.
‘Peanuts’ was the most popular comic in a popular art form. A Metropolitan Sunday
Newspapers study found that 113 million
Americans (86 million adults and 27 million kids) read the funnies. And newspaper
surveys frequently show that comics are
the second or third most perused section behind the front page – despite the fact that many
significantly shrunk the size of strips.
Different people love comics for different reasons. ‘They’re reassuring; something steady
in their lives,’ said Kennedy.
‘They’re enjoyable. They challenge people to think. For kids, they’re a vehicle for
learning to read.’
Whelton added that comics give people a break from the bad tidings in news pages.
There will be especially good tidings May 27, when cartoonists pay tribute to ‘Peanuts’
in their strips and panels. So,
for one last time, there will be original ‘Peanuts’ material in newspaper comic sections.
A SAMPLING OF SUCCESSORS
Here’s an alphabetical look at some of the comics newspapers are buying or considering
to replace ‘Peanuts’ in their pages:
‘Agnes,’ Tony Cochran, Creators Syndicate: Precocious girl lives with grandmother in a
‘Baby Blues,’ Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott, King Features Syndicate: Harried couple
raises two high-maintenance kids.
‘Baldo,’ Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos, Universal Press Syndicate: Just-launched
strip is one of the few starring Latino characters.
‘Cats with Hands,’ Joe Martin, Los Angeles Times Syndicate (LATS): They have feet,
‘FoxTrot,’ Bill Amend, Universal: Life with the frenetic Fox family.
‘Get Fuzzy,’ Darby Conley, United Feature Syndicate: Abrasive cat, sweet dog.
‘Grand Avenue,’ Steve Breen, United: Grandmother raises twin grandchildren.
‘Jump Start,’ Robb Armstrong, United: Middle-class black family.
‘Liberty Meadows,’ Frank Cho, Creators: Humans and animals interact.
‘Lola,’ Steve Dickenson and Todd Clark, Tribune Media Services (TMS): A feisty
‘Luann,’ Greg Evans, United: Teen girl deals with life.
‘Monkeyhouse,’ Pat Byrnes, LATS: Widowed dad and his daughter.
‘Mutts,’ Patrick McDonnell, King: Mooch the cat and Earl the dog view the world.
‘Nest Heads,’ Steve Dickenson, Copley News Service: A couple’s life after their
childdren leave home.
‘One Big Happy,’ Rick Detorie, Creators: A girl and her grandfather are among the
‘Pickles,’ Brian Crane, Washington Post Writers Group (WPWG): Senior citizen couple.
‘Pooch Cafe,’ Paul Gilligan, Copley: Clever canine.
‘Red and Rover,’ Brian Bassett, WPWG: A gentle look at a boy and his dog.
‘Rose is Rose,’ Pat Brady, United: Visually inventive look at a family of three.
‘Six Chix,’ Isabella Bannerman, Kathryn LeMieux, Rina Piccolo, Stephanie Piro,
Margaret Shulock, and Ann Telnaes, King:
Life from the perspective of a rotating group of female cartoonists.
‘Spooner,’ Ted Dawson, LATS: Young, recently married couple.
‘SuperZeroes,’ Mike Luckovich, TMS: Hapless superheroes.
‘Zits,’ Jim Borgman and Jerry Scott, King: Not-always-lovable teen deals with