They Oppose Full Price For Comic Repeats

Editors make their feelings known about 'Calvin and Hobbes' rate and other matters in Newspaper Features Council Survey

By David Astor for Editor & Publisher
October 12, 1991 edition; pg.32

Nearly 90% of newspaper editors feel they should not pay full price for repeats of comics by on-sabbatical cartoonists, according to a survey.

The Newspaper Features Council sent questionnaires to 200 editors this summer, and 66 responded. The results were announced at the October 2 NFC meeting in Charleston, S.C.

Editors were asked a variety of questions about syndicates in the survey, which was conducted after Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson began his May 1991 - February 1992 hiatus. During this period, Universal Press Syndicate is charging newspapers the same price for Watterson reruns as it did for originals.

Exactly 50% of the survey respondents said they should be charged a lower price for reruns, while 39.4% felt the comics should be free. Only 3% said full price is OK.

Sacramento Bee features editor Ralph Frattura, who hosted the October 2 survey results session, also read several comments from editors responding to the sabbatical price question. "He was already paid once," noted one editor. "No work, no pay," said another. "Only a few creators can get away with this," stated a third.

Frattura asked Universal president John McMeel, sitting in the NFC audience, whether the syndicate would lower the Calvin and Hobbes cost in response to the survey.

"No," he replied, "I do not see a rate adjustment."

McMeel said Universal is distributing "quality" material during the Watterson leave of absence. He added that people paying a fee to visit a gallery have to pay again if they want to see the same artwork the next day.

Also, McMeel observed last month that the Calvin and Hobbes repeats are from a period when the now-six-year-old comic had fewer clients -- meaning that the early strips are appearing in many papers for the first time (see E&P, September 14).

There were also two questions on the NFC survey concerning regular vacations (as opposed to lengthy one-time sabbaticals) for creators.

Editors were first asked whether they felt "vacation weeks are appropriate for comic creators and columnists." A total of 48.5% said yes and 45.5% said no.

Comments from responding editors included "Better than nine-month absences" and "Please, can we not imitate tv? We don't need to have reruns."

Then the editors were asked what price they should pay for repeated work during vacation weeks. "Free" was the response of 42.4%, while 31.8% said "lower price" and 13.6% said "same price."

One respondent thought half the rate was fair, while another wrote, "The columnist or cartoonist is self-employed. Either he -- or the syndicate -- should pay for the vacation."

Not all cartoonists want vacation or sabbatical periods in which reruns of their work are published. In fact, informal discussion at the NFC meeting revealed a bit of a generation gap on the issue.

The three Universal cartoonists who have taken extended leaves -- Watterson, The Far Side creator Gary Larson, and Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau -- were all in their 30's at the time. On the other hand, several older creators say they are against sabbaticals and believe cartoonists who want to take shorter vacations should prepare comics in advance.

One cartoonist, The Family Circus creator Bil Keane of King Features Syndicate, said from the NFC audience that he has no intention of taking a rerun break from his 31-year-old comic.

"I feel it's a privilege to be in newspapers," Keane stated. "I have more things to say about family life than I have days left in my own life. I would never give up the opportunity to do that."

Keane did add that if cartoonists want to take time off, "it's their decision."

McMeel said some cartoonists do more difficult art and writing than their peers, and thus might be more in need of a break. He added that the "burnout" factor among some cartoonists contributes to "mediocrity on the comics page."

The Universal president continued, "It is a privilege for cartoonists to be in newspapers, but it is also a privilege for newspapers to get their work" -- and to get it from creators who are not burned out.

McMeel quoted Trudeau, who noted wryly a few years ago that creators were being criticized for desiring vacations by editors vacationing on Martha's Vineyard.

[Note: This article continues on for another page, but the remainder of the text is devoid of C&H references, focusing instead on editors' poll answers on unrelated issues.]