Calvin and Hobbes will return February 2 with a huge client list of more than 1,800 daily and Sunday newspapers - approximately the same number as when Bill Watterson's nine-month sabbatical began.
As of January 29, only seven papers had dropped Watterson's post-sabbatical Sunday comic because of its half-page size requirement, according to Universal Press Syndicate vice president / editorial director Lee Salem.
One reason for the relatively low Sunday cancellation rate is that broadsheet papers have the option of using the half-page tabloid version of Calvin and Hobbes.
Among the Watterson clients doing this are 11 Ottaway-owned broadsheet papers, according to the chain's vice president David Brace.
He added that Ottaway papers are bumping Calvin and Hobbes from the first to the third page of their Sunday comics sections.
We're not going to do Bill Watterson and the syndicate any favors by overplaying it," stated Brace, who said keeping Calvin and Hobbes on the first page would have forced Ottaway papers to shrink two other popular front-page strips -- Peanuts by Charles Schultz of United Feature Syndicate and Garfield by Jim Davis of UFS.
Brace expressed unhappiness with the Calvin and Hobbes size requirement, as have many other newspaper executives (see E&P, Decmber 21 and Januray 11). He accused Watterson and Universal of "arrogance," of not fully understanding how difficult the current recession makes it for papers to devote increased space to a comic, and more.
Also, Brace said he has heard that at least one Ottaway paper as well as a number of non-Ottaway papers are retaliating for the Calvin and Hobbes size requirement by dropping or not buying other Universal features.
Salem said he knows of "four or five" papers that have done this. "If the features are strong, they will hear from their readers," he commented.
The Universal executive added that he doesn't believe Watterson and the syndicate have been arrogant, noting that papers are not being forced to run Calvin and Hobbes and that clients do have the tabloid-size option.
Salem has stated previously that the economics problem complaint "is kind of a red herring" because papers have been shrinking Sunday comics for years -- long before the current recession began.
Universal has also said the half-page size gives Watterson space to do better work and may have helped convince the cartoonist to stay in newspapers rather than move to another medium (see E&P, January 18).
Part of the Sunday Calvin and Hobbes requirement is that clients do not have the option of dropping the comic's opening panels. Papers can do this with other strips when putting together their Sunday sections.
"[Our] concern with Calvin and Hobbes is as much format as size," said Salem.