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