Banner Year For New Comic Strips

By: Rob Tornoe

Taking advantage of a stabilizing newspaper market and the retirement of the long-runningcomic strip Cathy, the introduction of new blood is bound to invigorate comics pages across the country. One of the biggest successes of 2010 is Dustin, a strip created by two well-known editorial cartoonists, Steve Kelly of the New Orleans Times Picayune and Jeff Parker of Florida Today.

Launched in January, the King Features-syndicated strip has already been picked up in nearly 300 newspapers.

The strip is based around Dustin Kudlic, a twenty-something college graduate who moves back in with his parents. “The subject matter and timing of Dustin allowed it to tap into something happening in our society,” says Claudia Smith, King Features’ director of advertising & public relations. “In a humorous way, it touches on how our society has been affected by the recession.”

Another comic strip that started strong out of the gate has been Freshly Squeezed, created by former Rocky Mountain News cartoonist Ed Stein. Distributed by United Features Syndicate, the comic has already made its way into 60 newspapers since its launch in September.

The strip follows a married couple, Liz and Sam, and their preteen son who have to adjust their lives when Liz’s parents move in due to the Great Recession. Lisa Klem Wilson, senior vice president and general manager at United Media, believes this informs the strip’s humor and accessibility.

“Editors and readers have reacted positively to the contemporary theme of having a family forced into a situation because of an economic reason,” she says. “It’s reflective of what people’s lives are like out there.”

Gene Weingarten, the Pulitzer prize-winning humor columnist for The Washington Post, teamed up with his son Dan and cartoonist David Clark to create Barney & Clyde.

Distributed by the Washington Post Writers’ Group, the strip combines two very different worlds and finds humor
in an unlikely friendship between a wealthy, anxiety-ridden businessman named Barney and a clever bum named Clyde.

Amy Lago, the Post’s comics editor, says the strip’s edge is that it humorously deals with universal issues like poverty and wealth: “The concept of the haves vs. the have-nots is in our face daily. It resonates with people living in an urban environment.”

Another launch with a big name is Diamond Lil, a strip created by long-time Garfield collaborator Brett Koth and syndicated by Creators. The comic follows Lillian Bilious, a tough senior who always says what’s on her mind.

Sales have been good, and the strip found its way onto the pages of the Chicago Tribune for a test run. “Diamond Lil was a sharp-tongued character we hadn’t had in a while,” says Geoff Brown, the Chicago Tribune’s associate managing editor of entertainment.

Two additional strips, Thatababy and Dogs of C-Kennel, launched in the beginning of October, timed perfectly to take advantage of Cathy’s retirement.

Created by USA Today contributor Paul Trap and syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate, Thatababy focuses on a trouble-seeking infant and the mother and father in charge of raising him.

“Thatababy is loosely, or not so loosely, based on my wife and I welcoming our son into the world, but through his
point of view,” says Trap. “He was a tiny anarchist who immediately found the concept of bedtime much too abstract.”

Trap may have found inspiration from his home, but Dogs of C-Kennel creators Mick and Mason Mastroianni drew from time spent volunteering at the Orlando SPCA.

“There was a wing of the animal shelter that was out away from the other called C Kennel,” Mick Mastroianni recalls.        “I thought it was a catchy name and thought to myself that it must be where they kept the misfit dogs.

In addition to Dogs of C-Kennel, Mick and Mason create the popular legacy strips B.C. and Wizard of Id, since the death of their grandfather, Johnny Hart. So how does Mason explain the team’s ability to juggle all three strips at once? Simple: “We’re freaking hysterical!”

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