‘Seattle Times’ Drops ‘Prickly City’ Strips About Schiavo Case

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By: Dave Astor

The case of Terri Schiavo, who died this morning, has been all over newspaper pages. But The Seattle Times wasn’t comfortable with the way the case was addressed in its comics pages — pulling Wednesday’s and Thursday’s “Prickly City” strips.

Cynthia Nash, director of content development at the Times, told E&P: “‘Prickly City’ is by nature a political strip, and often draws strong reaction from readers who disagree with its point of view. That’s to be expected. But we thought the strips in question were unnecessarily insensitive.”

The cartoonist, Scott Stantis, disagreed. “I wanted to comment on the culture of death that’s growing in this country,” he said during a phone interview this morning. “I thought I did it very well.”

Stantis’ sequence began this Monday. The first strip showed the girl Carmen depressed that her team lost in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Her animal friend Winslow says, “I know a way I can end your agony,” and takes away Carmen’s food. On Tuesday, Carmen says she doesn’t want to be starved to death because her team lost. “Talk about March Madness,” she muses.

Yesterday’s comic — which the Times pulled from most of its editions — has Winslow saying: “If you would just let me cut you off from food, this would be a whole lot easier, Carmen.” She replies: “Euthanasia isn’t easy. It’s immoral!” Winslow says: “You’re really blowing our chance to play God.”

Thursday’s strip — which the Times dropped from all of its editions — shows Carmen shouting: “Stop denying me food, Winslow!” He replies: “I’m doing it to stop your suffering, Carmen. Besides, suicide and euthanasia are cool now. Hunter Thompson. ‘Million Dollar Baby.’ It’s all the rage.” Carmen says: “But my parents want to take care of me. They love me and don’t want me starved to death!” Winslow says: “Well, don’t come whining to me because you’re not a cool dead person!”

Kathie Kerr, director of communications at Universal Press Syndicate, said she’s not aware of any other “Prickly City” clients pulling the sequence. Stantis’ conservative comic, which started last summer, runs in about 75 newspapers.

Nash of the Times, which ran a substitute “Prickly City” episode Thursday, said the paper normally doesn’t pull the comic. How much reader reaction did the Times receive? “We didn’t have a huge outcry about this,” replied Nash. “I would say we had a handful of complaints — well within the range of what we receive fairly often about ‘Prickly City.'”

Stantis said he has received “dozens” of most critical e-mails, including messages saying “how dare he make light” of the Schiavo case and messages taking him to task for his “pro-life” views.

The cartoonist noted that he’s consistent in those views. “I oppose euthanasia, I oppose abortion, and I oppose the death penalty,” said Stantis, who’s also editorial cartoonist for The Birmingham (Ala.) News and Copley News Service.

As for the Times action, Stantis said newspapers have the right to run or not run comics. But he said political and social commentary can help bring younger readers into newspapers, and that this commentary is just as legitimate in comics pages as it is on Op-Ed pages. “The comics section is the only part of the paper we can’t talk about Terri Schiavo?” he asked rhetorically.

The Times is running “Prickly City” as part of its guest-comics program (see E&P, January 2005, p. 6). “It’s too soon,” said Nash, “to know whether it will become a regular member of our lineup.”

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