Anthrax Worries In Syn Biz

By: Dave Astor

Syndicates, cartoonists, and columnists are looking very carefully at their mail these days. They’re hoping that envelopes containing feature submissions, fan letters, or angry messages don’t also contain anthrax. And, in some cases, they’d rather not talk to the media about specific precautions they or their mailrooms may be taking.

At New York-based United Media, for instance, Senior Vice President and General Manager Sid Goldberg said, “We’re following the procedures recommended by the police department. We may also have other procedures, but we don’t want to detail them because that would diminish our security.”

United, like other major syndicates, receives thousands of feature submissions a year from people — many total strangers — who want distribution to newspapers.

Two high-profile columnists, citing concerns for the safety of themselves or their staffers, declined to speak on the record about how they’re dealing with postal mail. Said one: “I’m reluctant to talk about whether I have procedures or not because, in the current environment, it might encourage someone to circumvent them.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Walt Handelsman also declined to talk about mail-safety measures that might be in place at Newsday, based close to Manhattan in Melville, N.Y. But the Tribune Media Services creator did note: “For years, I’ve opened all kinds of mail from people who didn’t put a return address on the envelope. Those days are over for me. It used to be fun reading scathing mail from anonymous readers.”

Indeed, Association of American Editorial Cartoonists President Scott Stantis said many AAECers received angry letters before Sept. 11. But it’s a scarier time now.

“Are editorial cartoonists nervous? I think we’d be liars to say we’re not,” said Stantis, who’s with The Birmingham (Ala.) News and Copley News Service.

Stantis, who has talked with various AAECers about the anthrax issue, said there’s a perception that certain cartoonists (such as Jewish ones or those in the biggest media markets) might be more at risk. But cartoonists in smaller markets don’t necessarily feel totally safe: For one thing, syndication and reprints can make their names known nationwide. Stantis is especially vigilant about looking closely at out-of-town envelopes before opening them.

Even comic creators who don’t address current events in their strips feel uneasy about the anthrax possibility. “I look at fan mail more carefully,” said Jerry Scott, who writes “Zits” (carried in 960 newspapers) and “Baby Blues” (750 papers) for King Features Syndicate.

A spokeswoman for Paws Inc., the company founded by “Garfield” creator Jim Davis of Universal Press Syndicate, said, “We’re cautious about anything that doesn’t have a return address.”


Et Cetera …

In response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Hollister Kids ( created a special 12-page Newspaper In Education section called “Strength of a Nation.” …

King Features Syndicate columnist Heloise was scheduled to appear Nov. 12 on the ABC TV network’s “The View.” …

The Cartoonists & Writers Syndicate switched its headquarters from New York to California, while keeping a New York office. The address is 27520 Hawthorne Blvd., Suite 174, Rolling Hills Estates, CA 90274.

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