Opus 113:

Opus 113: Cartooning Awards Season, Editorial Cartooning Crises, Fond Farewells to Two Funnybook Titles, Shrink-squeezing Comics (April 20).

Horsing Around Earns a Pulitzer. When, in early April, David Horsey at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer won a Pulitzer for his editorial cartoons, he set a record that will not likely be broken for a long time: Horsey is the only editorial cartoonist to win the Prize in two different centuries.

            He's also one of only eleven cartoonists to cop the Prize more than once in the 81 years that the category has existed and the first to do so in eighteen years (since Jeff MacNelly earned his second in 1985). The most times the Prize has been given to a single cartoonist is three, and that's happened to only four cartoonists—Rollin Kirby (who won the first for cartooning in 1922, then again in 1925 and 1929), Edmund Duffy (1931, 1934, 1940), Herblock (1942, 1954, 1979), and Paul Conrad (1964, 1971, 1984).

            But Horsey has his sights set high: "I intend to be the first person to win it in three centuries," he said at a party celebrating his win.

            Horsey's first Pulitzer was awarded for his work in 1998, which he calls "the Year of Monica. It was the height of the Clinton scandal, target rich."

            This time, he expressed his gratitude to the U.S. Supreme Court: "I couldn't have done it had the Supreme Court not made George W. Bush president," he quipped.

            "The current times are target rich, too," he continued, "—the war, terrorism—and eventful times inspire better cartoons. But we're also seeing an administration that is more radical than any we've seen in a long time."

            Many of Horsey's 2002 cartoons that won him his second Pulitzer poked fun at the Bush League policies—everything from forests to tax cuts to joblessness.

Finalists in NCS. Every year, the National Cartoonists Society presents the Cartoonist of the Year with a heavy metal statue called the Reuben (named for the Society's first president, Rube Goldberg, who also sculpted the statue—even though he thought, at the time, that he was making a lamp). NCS also presents "division awards" in all the genres of cartooning. Finalists for the Reuben this year are Pat Brady (Rose Is Rose), Greg Evans (Luann), Matt Groening (The Simpsons and alternative comics), and Dan Piraro (Bizarro). This is Brady's sixth consecutive nomination for the honor; Evans has been nominated five or six times, too, but not consecutively. Groening was nominated two years ago; Piraro, never.

            Nominees in the various divisions are: advertising and illustration—Jim Hummel, B.B. Sams, Terry Willis; newspaper panel cartoons—Jerry Van Amerongen (Ballard Street), Dave Coverly (Speed Bump), Wiley Miller (Non Sequitur); greeting cards—Oliver Christianson, Jerry King, Glenn McCoy; magazine cartoons—Jerry King, Gary McCoy, Glenn McCoy; new media (chiefly 'net-related)—Mark Fiore, Bill Hinds, Ian David Marsen; comic books—Mike Mignola (Hellboy), Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise), Stan Saki (Usagi Yojimbo); newspaper illustration—Drew Friedman, Steve McGarry, Ed Murawinski; tv animation—Butch Hardman (Fairly Odd Parents), Steve Hillenburg (Spongebob Squarepants), Greg Miller (Whatever Happened to Robert Jones?); newspaper comic strips—Darby Conley (Get Fuzzy), Jim Meddick (Monty), Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine); book illustration—Glenn McCoy, B.B. Sams, Bob Staake; magazine illustration—C.F. Payne, Tom Richmond, Jay Stephens; editorial cartoons—Clay Bennett, Mike Luckovich, Tom Toles; feature animation—Peter DeSeve (Ice Age), Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away), Chris Sanders (Lilo and Stitch). Winners will be announced during the annual meeting of NCS, which, this year, takes place in San Francisco on Memorial Day weekend.

NOUS R US. Yes, John Byrne is drawing Funky Winkerbean these days—has been for the past two-three weeks, and will be for the next several weeks, ten altogether. Byrne pencils, and the strip's creator, Tom Batiuk, inks and letters the strip. It started, Batiuk told me, because he got a little behind due to the surgery that was performed to cure his "Tennis Foot" (as I called it). The surgery was successful, and Batiuk is back on the tennis court. Here's Batiuk's formal statement on the matter from the Unofficial Funky Winkerbean Fan Page (http://www.angelfire.com/va/funkyw/index.html): "In the course of my career, I've been blessed to have worked with some very talented artists. On John Darling, I worked with Tom Armstrong of Marvin fame, and of course the art on Crankshaft has been handled from the very beginning by the amazing Chuck Ayers. The brilliant Batman colorist, Lee Loughridge, has been coloring Funky for several years now. Chuck has also been helping me with the penciling on Funky, and when some recent foot surgery among other things caused us to get behind in our schedule, I asked John Byrne, one of the top comic book artists in the business today and an artist whose work I've long admired, to step in and do a guest shot sharing art duties with my Funky characters for a few weeks on a cool story I had in mind. Fortunately, he was able to do it and the work he did is exceptional.

            "While it is extremely flattering," Batiuk continues, "that my readers are so engaged in the lives of the characters in Funky that the slightest change upsets them, it tends to make things a bit confining. Over the years, my work on Funky has evolved and grown and will continue to do so. When the current story arc concludes (and it is a very cool, contemporaneous story), the art will settle into a more familiar but improved version of the characters which will afford me the opportunity to work with a more mature and nuanced type of humor. Rather than an obsessive fealty to a tedious status quo, what I do owe my readers is the very best comic strip I can give them, and I've found that trusting my creations to others as talented as those I've just mentioned can bring a whole new energy level to the work. It's akin to the electricity created by having a talented musician sit in with your band. Besides, it just makes it flat out more fun, which, in the end, is what this should really be about."

            At the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, editoonist Mike Luckovich almost always gets his cartoon into print. Only rarely—maybe once or twice in every 200-300 cartoons, he says—does his editor, Cynthia Tucker, spike his submission. One of those times occurred on April 15 when she pulled his cartoon off the AJC's website. The cartoon, which was in cyberspace only briefly and never made it into the paper's print editions, was occasioned by Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue's effort to get a referendum on the state flag. Two years ago, during a brouhaha about various Southern states' penchant for displaying the Confederate flag, the state discarded its old flag, in which design the Confederate battle flag is prominent, reacting, probably, to the criticism that the symbol reminded people of slavery and racism. Perdue, elected only three months ago, felt the action left the state divided and proposed a referendum to let the populace at large decide the matter. Luckovich's cartoon depicts Perdue standing next to a "flag" emblazoned with the T-shirt slogan, "I'm with stupid" and a giant finger, pointing to Perdue. The caption explains it all: "A Flag Georgians of All Races Could Unite Around." When Tucker pulled the cartoon, it was suspected, briefly, that she was reacting to pressure from the governor's office, but she said she just had second thoughts about it, saying that it was "unfairly harsh and unduly disrespectful." She had initially approved the cartoon, whereupon it was routed to the paper's website; then came her reconsideration, in time for the print edition but too late to prevent the drawing's showing up online, albeit briefly. Luckovich indicated that the decision reflected "respect for the governor's office," not for Perdue himself. For Perdue, the AJC has no high regard, although the present posture is to give the recently elected governor a little more time for a "honeymoon" before jumping on him for presiding over what the online Georgia Reporter called "the longest and least productive legislative session in the history of our great state."

            Kirk Anderson, whose stunning stylings in editorial cartoons have Click to Enlargegraced the St. Paul Pioneer Press for eight years, did his last four cartoons for the paper in April. The paper, a link in the Knight-Ridder chain, is the least profitable of the corporation's 27 papers, and payroll reduction is apparently the route that will be taken to enhance the bottom line. Reportedly, the Pioneer Press is close to a 20 percent profit margin (most businesses in the U.S. would be delirious with a 15 percent profit and are usually quite happy with 10 percent), but Knight-Ridder boss Tony Ridder wants to increase that to 25 percent. Several years ago, the publisher of another Knight-Ridder paper, the San Jose Mercury News, resigned over the issue of profit margins, saying the paper could not perform its mission creditably if it cut staff as much as seemed necessary to generate the profit the corporation mandated. While this announcement roiled the waters a little among professional journalists, it had, apparently, no effect upon Knight-Ridder policies.

            Said David Astor at Editor & Publisher: "Anderson's layoff continues a trend that has seen the ranks of staff editorial cartoonists dwindle to fewer than 100 in the U.S. as newspapers seek to save money and/or avoid running potentially controversial art."

            Anderson produced cartoons on national issues for his syndicate, Artizans, but at the Pioneer Press, he took particular delight in commenting on local issues. With his departure, he said, the Press will be without a cartoon commentary on local matters for the first time in its 155-year history.

            In a formal statement, Bruce Plante, president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, said: "We at the AAEC are aware of the financial realities of the newspaper industry, but our industry leaders must realize that by laying off an editorial cartoonist of Kirk Anderson's stature, they are contradicting their own stated goals. Readership surveys have told us readers want more local content, more local commentary, and more visual elements. Editorial cartoonists provide all three. If our industry leaders are truly concerned about readership, laying off cartoonists like Kirk Anderson is the last thing they should do." Plante, editorial cartoonist at the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press, added that the AAEC intends to "pursue" the Anderson situation in some way. Anderson, meanwhile, will freelance, he said.

            Jerry Bittle, who produced two daily comic strips—Geech, about life in a small town, and Shirley and Son, about life after divorce—died unexpectedly of a heart attack on April 8 while on a trip in Honduras; he was 53. ... Jeff Mallett's comic strip Frazz won the 2003 Wilbur Award for communicating values, ethics and religious themes in secular media; the title character is song-writer, who, after selling a hit song, becomes a janitor in an elementary school, whistling Beethoven as he sweeps the halls and engaging the admiring kids in stimulating discussion as he listens to their complaints and counsels appropriate action. ... At the Washington Post, reviewer Rita Kempley said the latest Disney offering, Piglet's Big Movie, "is undoubtedly the finest film ever made about six mentally challenged stuffed animals." ... Here's a twist: Lingerie Barbie, a doll for the so-called "aftermarket"—that is, not preteens but adults (and probably male adults)—wears black lace underwear, including hose and garters. ... On Blondes, a history of flaxen-haired femaleness by Joanna Pitman, doesn't do much to answer the question of why women bleach their hair, but, according to Allison Pearson in the London Daily Telegraph, "there's power in peroxide"—"turning blonde proves to a girl she has 'the cunning' to fake it."

FUNNYBOOK FANFARE. Have you noticed? Pick up a comic book from the newsstand and start to flip through it, and the only pages you see are advertising pages. If it's a new title, I want to see what the art looks like. And in order to do that, I must carefully turn the pages. No flipping. Flipping produces only advertising pages. Not surprising: one out of every three pages is an advertising page. That's lots. No wonder the comic book industry is in such good shape financially. (And here you thought the business was on its last legs!)

            Marvel's Truth, that prequel to the origin of Captain America in which African-Americans are the first to be experimented on with the serum that, eventually, will create the super soldier, is garnering its share of knocks because of the caricatural drawing style Kyle Baker adopted for the series. Baker, an African-American, is a canny stylist and undoubtedly chose deliberately these ugly visual mannerisms for rendering an ugly story. The crudeness of the drawings emphasizes (and therefore is perfectly appropriate for) the less subtle aspects of the story, its brutality, bigotry, and anger. I say again, Marvel is to be commended for its editorial courage in publishing Baker's interpretation of the story. Meanwhile, racists everywhere are accusing Baker (and Marvel) of racism.

            Gotham Central is a nifty premise engagingly presented—the cops want to fight crime without the help of the costumed do-gooder, Batman. ... Gus Beezer No. 1 verges on exploiting the medium in a telling way but stops well short of achieving any thematic emphasis thereby. The top half of each page relates Gus's "real life" as a passionate Spider-Man fan, age—what?—seven, eight? This includes a certain quantity of juvenile fantasizing as well as an accompanying series of reality checks. That's the humor. The bottom half of each page regales us with Gus's own comic book, drawrn by his very own hand in crayon stick figures. While this novel (and therefore intriguing) storytelling maneuver implies some sort of parallel between the two narratives, nothing of that sort emerges here. Too bad. But Jason Lethcoe's soft-edged artwork, apparently performed in pencil, is pleasing to the eye. Ditto Joe Mateo's drawings in Awesome Man No. 1. More soft-edged animation-style rendering of a tale in which we discover what would happen if a young first- or second-grader woke up one morning as his favorite superhero. This one's from Astonish Comics, the Hero Bear empire, and it's done in much the same fashion except for the full color embellishment. Nice to look at; nothing hugely exceptional otherwise. But if comics aren't supposed to be enjoyed for their purely visual aspects, why are they drawn instead of typed? Take a look.

            Sadly, Codename: Knockout comes to a conclusion with No. 23. In the last and penultimate issues, we have plenty of undressed people of both (er, all three) sexes, often naked for no particular reason (except the aforementioned treat afforded in a visual medium by eye candy), a healthy dose of incidental sex and occasional fondling of body parts—in short, lots of anatomy and big hair but very little background art. Well aware that No. 23 would be the last, Robert Rodi is able to wrap up his story. But there are lots of loose ends to tie up quickly, and in the apparent rush, much plot confusion ensues. And there is, alas, less word play than usual, less double entendre and sly innuendo. Some aspects of the wrap-up make no sense at all: why should a shoulder wound send Big John into unconsciousness? But none of us came along on this ride for plot or characterization. And it's been a fun trip, unusual for its constant barrage, visually and verbally, of sex, and John Lucas inked by Andrew Pepoy gives Angela and Go-go a good send-off, culminating (oddly, considering the amount of cramming necessary) in a full-page pin-up, wonderfully decorous while, simultaneously, suggestive. Nicely done, gang.

            A while back, Steve Gerber finished the mini-series return of Howard the Duck with No. 6 of that rejuvenated title. Another wild ride with Gerber's specialty—drive-by satire with barbs of ridicule being fired off on every page. Issue No. 4 attempted, with wrecking-ball success, to take Witchblade to pieces, bringing "Doucheblade" into the spotlight. This sort of scatter-gun assault is often screamingly funny (if you're reading it aloud with a group), but it sometimes proves more than it sets out to. In this case, when Beverly's friend Suzi is transformed into a weapon, her bosom is also transformed—magnified, actually—and in the voluminousness thereof we find lurking the inherently contradictory nature of feminism. In No. 5, Gerber deflates the self-worshiping, self-congratulatory Oprah and introduces us to God, who has a tripolar disorder (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost).

            In the final issue, No. 6, Howard has an interview with God, blasphemous enough that Marvel runs a disclaimer on the first page asserting that "the opinions expressed in the following story are either divinely inspired or delusional on the part of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Marvel Comics or any sane person." We learn that creation was a "contract job," and that the meaning of life is "dancing the rattlesnake." For several of the recent issues, Howard has been in the guise of a giant mouse (by which device, Gerber intends to taunt Disney, who, disturbed about his duck satire in its first incarnation, demanded that Howard wear a pants so's not to be confused with the house duck, Donald), albeit without shoes and wearing a shirt (so's not to be confused with the house mouse at Disney, kimo sabe); now, at last, he reverts to his original fowl form.

            I particularly enjoyed No. 6 and God's metaphysical insights, but the whole series is liberally sprinkled with Gerber's witty phrasing—someone's "deeply pretentious and totally incoherent vision," for instance; Howard the Mouse becoming one with Jane Austen, Britney Spears and, maybe, Lizzie Borden. Or when, in confrontation with Oprah, Howard discovers, by a trick of verbal gymnastics, that people are not, as asserted, "very damn good" but are, instead, "good for nothing," turning "Oprah's" so-called logic against her. Deft, Steve, deft indeed. And daft, too—in short, a keeper of a comic for the pure sake of its audaciousness. As for the artwork, it is awe-inspiring in the sheer quantity of its relentless detail, all those accouterments and feathering and modeling and whatnot. Glenn Fabry and Garry Leach aren't quite my cup of tea, but they're impressive. I like Phil Winslade, who takes on the last two issues, even though he noodles up his rendering more than the other guys.

            Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace, on the other hand, may be the "deeply pretentious and totally incoherent vision" Gerber had in mind. A square-spine paperback with 140-plus pages, this opus is clearly intended as a graphic novel of impressive dimensions and noir tendency. Written by Jason Hall, the story concerns a private eye named Mitch Pistolwhip, who idolizes a comic book hero named Jack Peril, who might, actually, be his own creator (or the alter ego thereof), who may or may not be dead or otherwise among the missing. The fictional Peril performs in comic books, movies, radio, and pulps, and we slip back and forth between these make-believe environs and the "real world" of Pistolwhip, who does his best to keep his sanity and solve a case all the while. In effect, the book seems a storyboard for a motion picture in which the creator of a hero becomes the hero and baffles everyone in both the fictional and real worlds. The story with its interwoven plot threads deserves at least a second reading (it may even demand it in order to induce some measure of comprehension), but Matt Kindt's spare drawing style (not to say primitive amateurism) is fairly daunting. Its simplicity is so crudely attempted that the characters are barely recognizable from one appearance to another, and since we're also shifting between realities, the confusion mounts, page by page. It is supposed to be confusing: that's Hall's design, I'm sure. There are layers and layers. And meaning and meaning. But the final result, whatever the nuances, plays upon that old saw about the illusory nature of reality and the seductive reality of art. Entertaining but no longer profound. The book's real hoot, however, is the index. Yes, it has an index that refers you to key players and moments—for instance, cowardice (page 70), laundry, dirty (pp. 65-73, 79—obviously, a big deal in this tale), greed (pp. 93, 98), and so on. One indexed item is "Secret Society" but it's been lined out, obliterated. (It's secret, see?) There's also a bibliography, but you get the idea. Someone's having me on here, and I've played right into it.

OOOPS. I misspoke. Sawdust wasn't a mock comic strip by Vera Alldid, as I asserted in Opus 111 just a few weeks ago. Nope: Sawdust debuted as a comic strip within a comic strip—in Chet Gould's Dick Tracy—on July 31, 1964, and its author was Chet Jade, a character in the Tracy continuity at the time. The strip, as I correctly said, consisted of specks dotting the bottom quarter of the panels, and hovering over these specks (the "sawdust") were speech balloons laden with terrible puns about wood and trees and so forth: "He's not knotty?" "No, but sometimes he goes against my grain." Before I plunged into my brief aside in Opus 111, I should have consulted Victor Wichert's Dick Tracy Encyclopedia (click here for Opus 93 where it's reviewed), the most comprehensive compendium of Tracy information extant.

            Wichert says that Sawdust was Gould's satiric swipe at the shrinking allotment of space for comic strips in newspapers. And it was surely that. But it was also a snide comment on the state of the art of comic strips. Chet Jade had four assistants (named Al, Ray, Jack, and Rick) to help him "draw" the strip. Each one drew the specks in one of the four successive panels each day. And all five names (Al, Ray, Jack, Rick and, of course, Chet) were signed to each daily strip. Although Gould himself had assistants at the time, the usual practice when he started in the early 1930s was for one person, the cartoonist, to do all the work. Gould saw (and bemoaned) the growing number of strips with more than one name in the byline. (Ironically, after he retired, Dick Tracy was signed by Chester Gould, Max Allan Collins, and Rick Fletcher.)

            Sawdust was also a swipe at the "simple"drawing styles (Peanuts, B.C., Miss Peach, and others) that had infested the comics pages by the mid-1960s. When a reader observes to Chet Jade that "your characters—they're just dots," Jade responds: "Not just dots. Those are special dots. Each dot has a personality." (But each dot is "drawn" by a different assistant in each of the strip's four panels.)

            Merlin Haas prompted me to look into Wichert by suggesting that the ultimate extension of Gould's satire about comic strips was The Invisible Tribe. In this one, we have only speech balloons (all punning about invisibility: "That's one person I can't see"). And it was this strip that Vera Alldid did. Vera was married to Sparkle Plenty, you may recall. (Sparkle, the daughter of B.O. ["Body Odor"] Plenty and Gravel Gertie, inherited her mother's waist-length hair at birth and inspired one of the earliest merchandising sensations, a doll with long flaxen hair.) By this time—the Tribe debuted April 10, 1969—Gould's strip had come somewhat unhinged as a "procedural police work" strip and had embarked upon a space odyssey of its own with space coupes (powered by planetary magnetism) and moon colonies and the like. (The Moon Maid wrote gags for Sawdust, incidentally. She married Tracy's ward, Junior, on October 4, 1964. This is the sort of fascinating trivia you can find in Wichert's tome.) With bitter irony, Gould has Alldid explain that The Invisible Tribe is "designed for people who hate comic strips."

            But Gould's final caustic comment was another strip-within-the-strip, Bugs and Worms, in which the characters were squiggles and dots. It was produced by a 10-year-old boy named Peanutbutter, who signed his strips with a drawing of a peanut plus the word "butter" (evoking Harvey Kurtzman's famous signature, Kurtz plus a stick figure of a man). There was, thus, more drawing in the signature than anywhere else in the strip.

More Insidious Than Ever. And, speaking of the abuse comic strips suffer in the host publications, newspapers, we've known for several years that some newspapers tamper with the dimensional proportions of comic strips in order to get them to fit a page design that was probably conceived by a plumber—or, if not that kind of mechanic, some other kind who has never grasped the concept of form following function. In other words, it is no longer a matter of simply reducing comic strips. There's that, true. But even more insidiousness results when the newspaper uses a camera technique that "squeezes" the subject—that is, makes it narrower than it was but still as tall, or shorter but the same width. This maneuver became obvious to even the ordinary citizen when United Feature Syndicate began offering "Classic Peanuts" from the early 1970s. The proportions of strips were different back in the 1970s: the relationship of height to width was not the same as it is now. So to make the seventies vintage strips fit the 2000 "hole" for a comic strip, newspapers "stretched" the strips, making the horizontal dimension longer than it had been but leaving the vertical dimension the same. Or maybe it was vice versa, but the result, regardless—right out there for everyone to see—was that Charlie Brown's head became an oval instead of a circle. Suddenly, everyone knew that newspapers were tampering with the artwork.

          Click to Enlarge 

It continues apace, of course, but with greater sophistication. I recently compared several strips that run in both the Chicago Tribune and my hometown paper. Compared to my hometown paper, the Tribune was clearly squeezing and stretching such strips as Hagar, Cathy, and Hi and Lois. But the new sophistication was revealed in Blondie and Dilbert. The strips were 1/8 of an inch shorter in the Trib than in my paper, but the width was virtually the same. The drawings looked a little off, but not as obviously off as the oval heads in Cathy and For Better or For Worse.

 Placing my paper's strips under the Trib's on my light table, I saw that more squeezing took place at the bottom of the strip than at the top. So the lettering and the heads of the characters were almost the same in both versions; but the Trib's Dagwood, from shoulder to toe, was much shorter, a whole 1/8 inch, than my hometown paper's Dagwood. The differential increased from top to bottom. An inch down the strip, the reduction was only 1/16 inch; but by the bottom of the strip, it had leaped to 1/8 inch. Ditto Zits and others.

            Is there no end to desecration?

            Apparently not. Not in the profit-driven news biz anyhow.

And Speaking of the Trib. Don't look for anyone to be hired to "replace" Jeff MacNelly, the Chicago Tribune's editorial cartoonist who died two years ago. The Tribune is one of the nation's top editorial cartooning berths, right up there with the Washington Post, which, after only six months, replaced Herblock with Tom Toles. The Trib's spot became, after Tole's hiring last summer, the most conspicuous vacancy in the nation. The inky-fingered editorial cartooning fraternity has been waiting, not very patiently, for the Trib to act. The Trib hired a sports writer to fill a vacancy within two weeks. And they were only a little slower replacing Bob Green, the columnist who was canned for dallying with a highschool journalist a decade or so ago. But the toon slot remains a yawning hole. And it will, I suspect, remain a gaping maw forever.

            Our clue about the future of the "MacNelly Chair" at the Trib can be found in the paper's novel if infuriating approach to weeding out its comics section. Whenever a newspaper drops a comic strip to make room for another one, readers of the dropped strip write and telephone in a fury of outrage. Newspaper editors so fear this onslaught that they hesitate, sometimes for years, to fool around with their comics line-up. The Chicago Tribune, however, has discovered an almost sure-fire way of dropping strips and stifling the outcry. Their usual process for dropping comic strips it wants to eliminate may be described as "delay and defer." In a recent issue of the Comics Journal, Carl Nelson describes this ingenious albeit fiendish procedure for dropping a comic strip as outlined by the Trib's managing editor/features, Geoff Brown, at the recent convention of the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors. In effect, the process is to mislead readers in order to reduce complaint. The Trib stopped running Beetle Bailey on June 17, telling readers that a decision will be made "later" about whether to resume running the strip. "Later" has veered off in the direction of "never." The decision seems likely to be forever deferred. Thus, phone calls of complaint can be answered with "We haven't made a final decision yet." Which is true. But the strip still hasn't re-appeared in the paper. And probably never will. My guess is that the same "decision" has been made about having a staff editorial cartoonist. "We're still deciding" is a statement that can continue to be made forever. And it has the virtue of passing for the truth.

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