TV Try for Greg Evans’ ‘Luann’ Comic

By: Dave Astor

The odds of a hit newspaper comic spawning a hit TV show are even smaller than the odds of getting a comic syndicated in the first place. But lightning strikes once in a while — and the latest cartoonist to see if it will is “Luann” creator Greg Evans.

Dick Clark Productions has acquired the rights to develop a live-action, half-hour series based on Evans’ popular humor/story strip starring a teen girl.

“I’m excited, but I’m also aware that it can be a very frustrating process,” said the United Media cartoonist. “The best thing that can happen is a quality TV show that represents what I’m trying to do in the strip. My worst nightmare is that it will turn into a goofy, laugh track-pumped show.” And there’s no guarantee a “Luann” series, like any proposed TV project, will get picked up by a network.

Evans spoke to E&P Online by phone during a several-week stay in Burbank, Calif., to work on the possible series (while still continuing to do his newspaper comic). “I just had back-to-back meetings,” he said. “I have to say it’s a kick to hear TV people tell me their vision for the show. I heard everything from ‘A teen Seinfeld’ to ‘Malcolm In The Middle meets Leave It To Beaver.’ The process of turning a comic strip into a TV show is a complex one and, at this stage, I’m wanting to hear a brilliant concept from a person I like and feel I could work with. Apparently, such people are hard to find. One writer we didn’t interview — he has too many other irons in the fire — said he thought a Luann show would be a certain hit and we’d all get rich. I want to find another guy like HIM!”

The role of Luann was reportedly turned down by Jamie Lynn Spears, younger sister of pop singer Britney Spears. No other casting decisions have been made as of yet. Plans call for Luann to be 13 years old when the series begins, and eventually mature to 16 if the show runs long enough. She’s currently 16 in the 1985-founded comic, which appears in 400 newspapers.

The strip also appears in a 2003 collection called Luann: Curves Ahead (Andrews McMeel Publishing). This book was shown to Dick Clark Productions by a college friend of Evans’ who does freelance writing for DCP, which was interested enough to offer Evans the TV deal.

As he mulled over the offer, Evans talked to other cartoonists — including Scott Adams (“Dilbert”), Lynn Johnston (“For Better or For Worse”), and Jerry Scott and Rick Kirkman (“Baby Blues”) — with TV-show experience. All warned Evans about the potential pitfalls, such as having much less control over TV content than they have over their newspaper strip. So Evans has realistic expectations.

The southern Californian does have experience seeing “Luann” come to life in another medium. For years, school and community theater groups have performed a musical version of Evans’ comic.

***

‘Opus’ to Start in 170 Newspapers


And WPWG Execs Discuss Older Comics

“Opus,” the new Sunday strip by “Bloom County” creator Berkeley Breathed, will launch Nov. 23 with 170 clients.

In these days of fewer newspapers and a bad economy, many syndicated features begin with 25 subscribers at best.

“It’s a tremendous number,” said Karisue Wyson of the 170 figure. Wyson is sales manager/North America for the Washington Post Writers Group, which is distributing Breathed’s penguin-starring, half-page comic.

WPWG Editorial Director/General Manager Alan Shearer added that the 170 total is even more impressive because of the comic’s large size and because the syndicate, in an effort to keep “Opus” off the Web before it starts in newspapers, didn’t send samples to potential clients. “We only showed it in person,” he said.

Helping build the client list was both “Opus” itself and Breathed’s history with “Bloom County,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning comic published in nearly 1,300 papers before ending in 1989. Breathed and WPWG also convinced some clients to make room for “Opus” by pointing out that there are a number of past-their-prime strips — often done by successors to deceased cartoonists — taking up too much space in comics sections.

“We’re going to have to slowly move out some of these old concepts,” said Shearer, noting that editors don’t allow dated material in other parts of their newspapers.

“There are wonderful strips out there — not just from WPWG, but from other syndicates, too — that aren’t getting a chance to be seen by readers,” added Wyson. “It’s very disheartening for new cartoonists.”

Shearer said “Shoe,” “Andy Capp,” and “Barney Google & Snuffy Smith” are examples of comics that should have ended after the deaths of the cartoonists who had done them for many years.

***

Et cetera …



John Saunders, who wrote the “Mary Worth” and “Steve Roper and Mike Nomad” comics for King Features Syndicate, died of emphysema Nov. 15 at the age of 79. The Ohio resident was also a radio DJ and TV anchor during his career. He was the son of Allen Saunders, who co-created “Mary Worth” (formerly “Apple Mary”) in 1938. King said replacements for Saunders will be announced eventually.

Penny Singleton, who played Blondie in a series of 1938-50 films, has died at age 95. The 1930-founded “Blondie” comic is now done by Dean Young and Denis Lebrun of King.

Tribune Media Services is offering a free holiday package to TMS TV Listings customers. It includes an overview of holiday movies and specials, a sports roundup, a trivia column, color photos, and more.

The Zippy Annual 2003 comic collection by “Zippy the Pinhead” creator Bill Griffith of King is being published this month by Fantagraphics Books. In January, Fantagraphics is releasing its 49th collection of “Prince Valiant.” Road to Sorrow’s End includes 1979-1980 work by Hal Foster (1892-1982) and John Cullen Murphy, who continues to draw the King comic.

“Rubes” cartoonist Leigh Rubin of Creators Syndicate has two new books from BowTie Press — The Wild Life of Cows and The Wild Life of Farm Animals.

Readers (154 in one week) protested when The Salt Lake Tribune dropped “The Aces on Bridge” column by Bobby Wolff of United Feature Syndicate. The Utah newspaper responded by starting a shorter bridge column by Phillip Alder of Newspaper Enterprise Association, sibling syndicate to United, according to Tribune Reader Advocate Connie Coyne. She also reported that the paper reduced its daily comics section from three to two pages to make room for more TV and entertainment coverage. The Tribune dropped seven comics and two puzzles.

Three opportunities for writers are connected with the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop (http://www.humorwriters.org) scheduled for March 25-27 at the University of Dayton in Ohio. They include the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition, a Writer’s Digest Books giveaway, and services from 1st Books.

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