‘Sun-Times’ Readers Meet the Beetle

By: Dave Astor

Ten months after dropping “Beetle Bailey” from its pages, the Chicago Tribune finally released the comic — and the Chicago Sun-Times snapped it up.

“I feel like I’ve landed on friendly ground,” said “Beetle” creator Mort Walker, when contacted by E&P Online. “I want to be where I’m wanted.”

The Sun-Times has indeed made Walker feel wanted — publishing a long profile of the cartoonist, writing an editorial welcoming “Beetle” to the paper, and even requesting (and receiving) a “Beetle” original to hang in the newspaper’s offices.

In its editorial, the Sun-Times took some potshots at the Tribune. Although the Tribune stopped running “Beetle” last June, the editorial wondered in a seemingly tongue-in-cheek way whether the actual cancellation of Walker’s military-themed comic was “an act of anti-patriotism” during a time of war.

“They’re doing what they feel they need to do to market their acquisition,” responded Geoff Brown, associate managing editor/features at the Tribune. “Just because Beetle Bailey wears a helmet doesn’t mean he represents the modern American military.”

When asked why “Beetle” was dropped, Brown said: “We need to update and freshen the comics lineup from time to time.” He told E&P Online that Walker’s 1950-founded strip wouldn’t have been in the Tribune in the first place if another comic hadn’t been dropped to make room for it years ago.

Brown added: “I grew up reading ‘Beetle Bailey.’ I have no agenda against ‘Beetle Bailey’ or Mort Walker.”

The Tribune received much more negative than positive reaction from readers after pulling “Beetle” last June, and after recently announcing in the paper that it had officially canceled the comic. “Quite naturally, people don’t like change,” said Brown, adding that readers are more likely to write newspapers with complaints than praise. But he noted that the total number of “Beetle” complaints was “small.”

Walker said he wrote the Tribune several times since mid-2002 to ask why “Beetle” had been dropped, but never received a reply. Brown said he didn’t personally receive a letter from the cartoonist, and added that he had been communicating with King Features Syndicate about the matter. King distributes “Beetle” to about 1,800 newspapers.

The Tribune made several comics changes over the past 10 months, so Brown said no one particular strip replaced “Beetle.”

For a previous story on the “Beetle”/Tribune situation, see the Jan. 16 “Syndicate World.”

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