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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 08/26/2008

The Riff: Where Cartoonists Go to Die in The Post...

By Michael Cavna

As near as anyone can tell, it is by freak occurrence and in no way by design. Yet somehow, it is quite tidy in its cosmic, comic segregation. Namely: Nearly all the dead guys are buried in the same corner of The Post's funnypages. Call it the Drew Morgue.

The Post, for those who've never seen the paper's print edition, runs three pages of comics (those pages are not wall-to-wall comics, mind you, as the space also houses puzzles and the readers' Holy Grail that is the Horoscope). And the majority of those comics have real living-and-breathing creators, even in a few cases where the strips are flat-lining creatively. Yet on one half-page and change, six of the 11 strips were created by cartoonists who have since gone to the Great Inkwell in the Sky.

It's Legacy Lane -- as if The Post deliberately devoted one part of the abbey to Poets' Corner.

Snoopy has lived on in reruns for eight years now. (UFS)
Enlarge Comic

Here lie "Blondie," "Classic Peanuts," "Dennis the Menace," "Frank and Ernest," "Hagar the Horrible" and "Mark Trail." In some cases, kin of the creators have taken up the mantle and the quill pen; in others, the line of artistic succession was otherwise laid out before the creators died.

The son of the original creator, Chic Young, worked with his father for a decade on the strip. (KFS)
Enlarge Comic

As this hard-won real estate seemingly stays in the "family," we wonder whether nearly every cartoonist squatting on a syndicated gold-mine will draw their strip till the dip pen must be pried from their cold, dead drawing-hand. And casting our eyes across The Post's pages, we ask: Is there no one who will surrender a seat on the comics bench before death kindly stops for he or she?

We roll this question around in our skull like a Magic 8-Ball, and only one name appears quickly in the little bubble-window: "Berkeley Breathed."

Will he one day leave the nest before the pulse of inspiration grows fainter? (WPWG)

When we met Breathed for the first time earlier this year, he spoke of Opus with parental affection, yet at times it sounded as if Berkeley's boy is all grown up now, nearly ready to fly the empty penguin nest. Perhaps Berkeley was just fatigued after a book tour, but since then, we read his strip's word balloons as if they were trial balloons. Is Opus floating slowly, slowly toward the big sayonara? (We put this question to Berkeley's editor, Amy Lago. Her reply: "We've received no official comment from Berkeley.")

We have no idea who will retire next from the pages, but we do know this: If anyone is savvy enough, or potentially restless enough, to walk away while his work -- let alone himself -- still has a powerful creative pulse, it is the ever-gifted Mr. Breathed. After all, he's done so twice before.

By Michael Cavna  | August 26, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  The Riffs  
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How come the authors of the good strips are the ones who retire? Why do the writers of Strips I'd Rather Never See Again seem to go on and on and on and on and ?

On another topic, I guess Watch Your Head has some new outlets, since they're re-introducing the characters. I may save these for future reference.

Posted by: f2 | August 26, 2008 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Another example of a truly wonderful strip that ended while it was still in its top form was "Calvin and Hobbes."

Posted by: Andrew | August 26, 2008 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Single and Looking recently went out, in a really cool way...although they still run the old strips.

Posted by: wdc | August 26, 2008 11:32 AM | Report abuse

I thought the last major strip re-location was done with the idea that the ones at the very end, close to the obsequious "KidsPost", were the least edgy and most kid friendly, to placate the hysterics of the coddling, letter writing parents (the kind who would suffer the vapors at the mere sight of Det. Heidi Roberts of Judge Parker)...?

Posted by: JkR | August 26, 2008 11:33 AM | Report abuse


It's because the really good strips are the ones whose creators put a lot of effort and creative energy into them. Eventually they just run out of steam and either throw in the towel (like Bill Waterson and Gary Larsen did), or they go on autopilot and the quality suffers (like happened to Charles Schultz in the 1970s with the endless Snoopy and Woodstock strips). Producing a daily newspaper strip is a really hard way to make a living if it's done with a continuous commitment to quality.

Posted by: fudd | August 26, 2008 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Are we reading the same strip? "Will he one day leave the nest before the pulse of inspiration grows fainter?" Opus? Bloom County went downhill and had lost any spark before Breathed quit the first time. Then Outland or whatever that botch job was called. Now Opus is limping on past glory. Put it out of its misery and just cancel it.

Posted by: SteveH | August 26, 2008 12:19 PM | Report abuse

The only appropriate response to SteveH above:

(Sticks tongue out)


Posted by: JkR | August 26, 2008 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Bill 'n' Opus '08!

Posted by: Meadow Party Rules! | August 26, 2008 12:56 PM | Report abuse

In the latest storyline in "For Better or Worse", Elizabeth is getting married and Gramps had a heart attack on the morning of the wedding.

Elizabeth is wearing her grandma's wedding dress and now plans to visit grandpa in it.

I bet $$$ old gramps will see her in the dress, say something about love and go to the big Tim Horton's in the sky.


Posted by: Dan | August 26, 2008 1:03 PM | Report abuse

I wish more comics, and TV shows for that matter, would go out on top like C&H or Seinfeld, instead of crashing and burning a long, painful death like Garfield or The Simpsons. I think both instances have to do with deep personal attachment and love for the medium. Some people are afraid to let it go, while others are afraid to let it get mediocre.

Posted by: Jesse | August 26, 2008 1:32 PM | Report abuse

I'll disagree about the Simpson's. It may not be as good as it once was, but I'll take it.

Garfield is, what I meant to say, in a totally non-judgmental way, was that Garfield is not suitable to my current taste...

Posted by: JkR | August 26, 2008 1:44 PM | Report abuse

It's all so subjective, it's pointless to argue about it. What is boring dreck to one person is comfort food to another. What's cutting edge to someone is just easy and arbitrary humor to someone else.

To throw in my two cents, though: Blondie continued to grow commercially and creatively when Chic Young officially passed the torch.

And I'd put Peanuts up against at least 85% of the rest of the comics, even after its "creative peak" in the 60's.

Lastly, I see a lot of ageism in people's comments about strips by older creators, and about readers who would prefer to see their favorite strips than the younger people's. Not cool.

Posted by: Lee | August 26, 2008 1:56 PM | Report abuse

at 1:03pm Dan bet $$$ that in an upcoming "For Better or For Worse", "...old gramps will see her in the dress, say something about love and go to the big Tim Horton's in the sky."

Particularly since "FBoFW" essentially ends at the end of this week on Sept. 1 (it will become reruns like "Peanuts" is) that seems a probable last few days, even if it is a bit of a cliche, even call it a lazy plot choice.

Posted by: Dan's Right | August 26, 2008 2:56 PM | Report abuse

My first thought on the FBOFW line was that Grandpa would die before she got to the hospital, but that would be too... cruel? edgy? sad? for the strip.

Considering history, I think Gramps will die but he'll die saving a new, younger grandpa who'll take his place for the rest of the strip. :)

Posted by: f2 | August 26, 2008 3:07 PM | Report abuse

"I think Gramps will die but he'll die saving a new, younger grandpa who'll take his place for the rest of the strip."

What does it mean that I was far more moved at the death of Farley than I will be when Gramps finally kicks the bucket?

Posted by: SteveH | August 26, 2008 3:56 PM | Report abuse

WRT FBoFW (the Internet: the abbreviator's BFF), keep one word in mind: Farley. The old dog managed to rescue April from drowning before his heart gave out. I don't know if Lynn Johnston will do anything as Dickensian for Gramps's kickoff, but I wouldn't be surprised.

Hmmm; obviously, FBoFW will be one of those enduring strips mentioned above because it's covered some heavy topics and done a good job of it. As I said before on another topic, it'll be like watching "M*A*S*H" reruns, where you can enjoy it even though you know word-for-word what's going to happen. "OK, this is the arc where they introduce a learning-disabled character" "This is the arc where Lawrence comes out of the closet" etc.

Posted by: Daniel J. Drazen | August 26, 2008 7:01 PM | Report abuse

fr Dan:

>...I bet $$$ old gramps will see her in the dress, say something about love and go to the big Tim Horton's in the sky.<

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Grandpa Jim has seen Elizabeth and Anthony in their wedding clothes, and it was lovely. FBOFW is a great comic strip and I will miss it VERY much. I cried (along with countless others) when Farley died.

Posted by: Alex | August 27, 2008 9:52 AM | Report abuse

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