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Posted at 2:15 PM ET, 10/28/2009

The Post's 'Doonesbury' shrinkage: winning the Battle of Inch-On

By Michael Cavna

'DOONESBURY' (UPS)Enlarge Image

For the good of cartooning, we'll take even small victories. And by small, we mean a mere 7 picas wide.

When The Post rolled out its print redesign this month, "Doonesbury" -- relocated to Style's Page-2 and untethered from the "Reliable Source" layout -- suddenly shrunk by more than a half-panel in width. As Comic Riffs noted here last week, the incredible shrinking strip had reached the visual tipping point for some readers: It was now too much of an eye-chart chore to read pleasurably, if at all.

Immediately I wondered about the long-fabled "No Shrinking 'Doonesbury' " rule, and some readers did, too. Didn't Garry Trudeau have some kinda Shrinkage Limit Clause to protect against this sorta thing?

So last week, Comic Riffs asked Post management about this. The reply: We're not likely to agree to such a condition, in this day and age.

So next I turned to Universal Press Syndicate, which distributes "Doonesbury." Top executive John Glynn told Comic Riffs: "Yes, we do ask that newspapers run Doonesbury at the largest size they possibly can. In relation to most other comics, Doonesbury relies heavily [and brilliantly] on language to get its points across."

Glynn continued: "A few years ago, we contractually required that the size was to be a minimum of 44 picas, but with the transition to smaller web widths, we realize that newspapers cannot always oblige and we've dropped that requirement."

So last week, "Doonesbury" was running in Style at about 34 picas -- well below the former requirement. This week, however, "Doonesbury" has been restored to its pre-redesign width of about 41 picas. And for that, Comic Riffs is pleased.

Cartooning, like baseball, can be a game of inches. We print readers will take every pica we can win back, in the name of America's other more-than-a-century-old pastime.

By Michael Cavna  | October 28, 2009; 2:15 PM ET
Categories:  The Comic Strip  
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Next: Calling all comics readers: To save 'Frazz,' what strip should we send to KidsPost?


Why is Post online re-running hte Toggle series this week? I think it's a good rerun, but I'm wondering if Trudeau requested the rerun? I know that 'toonists sometimes need to go on vacation too, but who picks which week is being rerun? Particularly with the Toggle storyline where it is now...

Posted by: capecodner424 | October 28, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

At what point do you plan on taking up the loss of "Frazz" from the Kids' Post page (even though it deserved to be back on the Comics page, 7 days a week)

[BLOGGER'S NOTE: >> NotDoc: Been working on it this week -- you'll find a blogpost about "Frazz" first thing Thursday morning. Thanks for asking. --M.C.]

Posted by: NotDoc | October 28, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

For those who aren't up on their lead-weighted units, the seven-pica difference translates to roughly 1.16 inches (just under 3 cm).

I dimly recall that before Doonesbury fought its Size Wars, there was also the (Washington) Star War fought over Doonesbury. The comic jumped ship to the Star, then when the Star folded in 1981, Doonesbury finally came back to the Post, with plenty of entertaining acrimony on all sides as long as the circus lasted.

Posted by: kilby | October 28, 2009 5:15 PM | Report abuse


Time, Inc. bought the Star with the intention of revamping the failing paper into a morning competitor for the Post (in 1978, I think). They later acquired a stake in Universal Press Syndicate, which syndicates Doonesbury. Time was desperately trying to save the Star, and since popular strips could still help to boost circulation back then, the decision was made to move Doonesbury to the Star. The Post was outraged, of course, but it was a done deal, and resulted in the irony of what was probably the most liberal strip in the country being printed in DC's conservative newspaper.

Posted by: rashomon | October 29, 2009 12:25 AM | Report abuse

rashomon: Thanks!

I had forgotten the syndicate ownership details, but I do remember that once the Post's contract had been terminated, and the Star was rejoicing over their "triumph", the Post simply dropped Doonesbury prematurely, not wanting to run multiple weeks of additional advertising space for the Star's ad campaign. Once the new contract started, the Star ran a special section to catch up on the strips that had been skipped during the hiatus.

It all became meaningless very soon thereafter, of course. I never missed the Star back then, but (as a kid) my primary dissatisfaction criteria was the second-rate comics page. In view of the rabid propaganda that passes for "reporting" at the Times, there's perhaps a reason to miss the Star now.

Posted by: kilby | October 29, 2009 3:25 AM | Report abuse

The Star did have Pogo (my parents' main reason for taking it) and later it was the home of the mighty Oliphant.

Posted by: rhompson | October 29, 2009 4:18 AM | Report abuse


Second-rate comic sections seem to be inevitable at number two newspapers. My understanding is that syndicates charge newspapers based on their circulation, so they always aim for the bigger paper first, effectively giving the big papers first refusal on any new strips.

I lived in Colorado Springs as a kid, and my parents took the local paper, the Gazette. Unfortunately, since Colorado Springs was considered part of the Denver media market, it was the number THREE newspaper, after the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post. Talk about a lame comic section...

Posted by: rashomon | October 29, 2009 12:55 PM | Report abuse

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