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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 10/29/2009

The next cartoon superstar? Pick your favorite NEW comic strip here

By Michael Cavna

Ah, I love the smell of new talent in the morning.

Word comes from Andrews McMeel Publishing, sponsoring a contest by Amazon, that the 10 finalists have been named in the Comic Strip Superstar contest. And I must say: I'm pleasantly surprised by just how high the overall quality of the candidates is. Or, to word it more glowingly: I'd swap out at least three of these for some of the current Post comic strips in a heartbeat. Seriously.

If you'll recall, Comic Riffs wrote about the Superstar contest back in August, noting that the ultimate winner will receive an Andrews McMeel contract, a five-grand advance from Universal Uclick and "a monthly stipend for the development of 20 comic strips that will be considered for syndication."

Now, readers will have the opportunity to vote on between now and Friday, Nov. 6. But I'm ALSO interested in comparing how uber-knowledgeable and sharp-eyed 'Riffs readers will vote, as compared with how the great unwashed (and unread) will vote in Amazon's balloting. So at the end of this post, you will find a special and nonbinding Comic Riffs Poll, so you can vote here for your favorite, too.

Before checking out the links to the competing strips (below), here are a few things we should note:
1. Only NINE of the finalists are eligible for the Amazon vote. Seems young mister Kory Merrit,who submitted the strip "CounterCulture," has since signed a development deal with a different syndicate and so is ineligible to compete in this contest's final round. That said: A hearty congrats, Mr. Merrit--it's truly a good thing to be in such demand.

2. The list of finalists markedly mirrors the real-life world of Big-Time Newspaper Comic Syndicate. That is to say:
(a) Women are proportionally underrepresented (only one of the 10 is a woman);
(b) Men named "Mike" or "Michael" are proportionally overrepresented (two of the 10).
(c) The very best of these strips, in my opinion, feel utterly original in their "voice" and visuals.

3. Conspicuously, only one of the 10 cartoonists lives in a true warmer-weather clime (Atlanta.) Perhaps by holding this contest at the end of the summer, this became some sort of climactically skewed competition. Your guess is as good as ours as to why so many of the Final 10 are from such places as Wisconsin, Iowa, New England and London.

[We also note: The judges included very familiar names to 'Riffs readers: Universal honchos Lee Salem and John Glynn, as well as Lynn Johnston, Mark Tatulli and Scott Hilburn. (A fourth cartoonist, Garry Trudeau had to pull out of the judging for personal reasons.)]

So without further ado, here are links to the nine eligible cartoonists and their sample strips, followed by the unofficial 'Riffs Vote so you pick your preference here, too.

Let the balloting -- and reactions -- begin.


1. "BELLE PLAINE," by Eric Gapstur

2. "BüNI," by Ryan Pagelow

3. "EVIL TWIN," by Alexander Matthews

4. "GIRL," by Dana Simpson

5. "HEMLOCK HEIGHTS," by Todd Machen

6. "JOE 6-PACK," by Mike Floyd

7. "LIL WIT," by Andrew Paavola

8. "NUTZ N' DOLTZ," by Michael Underhill

9. "THATABABY," by Paul Trap


By Michael Cavna  | October 29, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  The Comic Strip  
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Having read all the samples, there are four comics that I would be happy to see win the prize (and in my opionion, all four are better than CounterCulture, which should consider itself very lucky to have found a publisher). Unfortunately, neither this "twiigs" poll nor the official voting page at Amazon permits a multiple choice vote. It would have been very useful to be able to submit two or even three top choices, with the prize still going to the top vote getter.

Posted by: kilby | October 29, 2009 5:10 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to vote on which comic feature should be DUMPED, and I mean WORLD-WIDE: That goddamn-awful "Mutts"! Not only is it NOT FUNNY AT ALL, but it is VERY POORLY DRAWN. It is so bad, it's criminal.

Good for Kory Merrit, but I think a name-change for his strip is in order, as I believe there is a single-panel feature already with that title, done by Maratta & Maratta.

Posted by: JPuzzleWhiz | October 29, 2009 6:24 PM | Report abuse

For those tempted to respond to JPuzzleWhiz, I would ask that you first remember the adage, "Please don't feed the trolls."

Posted by: tws1372 | October 29, 2009 7:27 PM | Report abuse

Troll or not, I agree with what JPuzzleWhiz said about Mutts. As someone in a touring acting troupe once said about a very small town, "there's no 'there' there."

The 9 selections seem rather blander than I expected, but some are better than a couple already in the Post.

There is some puzzling thinking(?) going on at the Post. Frazz is moved to the kids page because someone thinks it's for kids. Then this week's episodes are deleted as not appropriate for kids??? The lack of adult supervision apparent in all sections of the paper is getting out of hand here. Re-hire some of the copy editors and fact checkers who were let go, but that's off the subject of comics.

Posted by: olddog1 | October 30, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

I agree that there should have been multiple choices allowed, as I had to flip a coin between two outstanding strips---ThatABaby and Buni---and Lil Wit and Belle Plaine aren't too bad, either---much better than half of what the Post has now.

But as for the rest of them----bleeccchh.

Posted by: andym108 | October 30, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Even though everyone is entitled to their own opinion, it would be preferable they were expressed in civil language, and without gratuitous SHOUTING.

Normally I read Mutts direct from its own page (, because I find it worth the two-week delay to get the original black and white drawings (the version that the Post's site displays includes an icky colorization inflicted by the syndicate). I will admit that this week's "running gag" is not the best that Mutts has ever run, but I emphatically disagree that the drawings in Mutts are "poor" in any way: they are intentionally minimalistic, in a similar (but not identical) vein as Peanuts or Calvin & Hobbes were.

Those who prefer more ink and action are perfectly welcome to read elsewhere, but there is no need to go on an intolerant rant about a very carefully crafted comic. Try Judge Parker or Spiderman (I despise both, so the Mutts haters will probably love them).

Posted by: kilby | October 30, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

kilby - thank you for your very apt defense of Mutts and it's ilk. I've never understood people's desire to put down that which they don't appreciate or understand. When I don't like a comic I just don't read it.

As far as these new comics go I liked several of them quite a bit, but I didn't "love" any of them outright. I thought about that though and realized that any comic I came to love happened over time as I grew to know them well. I think that I could grow to love a couple of these.

- BüNI made me smile at the character.

- THATA BABY had some nice laughable moments.

- BELLE PLAINE was nicely illustrated, but lacking something.

- GIRL was my favorite I think because to be I saw possibilities there that I didn't in the others.

I'm wondering about the voting also as the percentages have changed quite a bit more than random voting would seem to account for since last night. Just putting it out there.

Posted by: elyrest | October 30, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Mutts is truly a keeper. Girl is not bad. would read it daily if available. Never seen it in the sites I read on-line. The others are not so good and I would skip them...but I have to admit, I recently started reading TANK again, but not every day.

Posted by: ZeldaJane | October 30, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

@ elyrest - I agree that the poll seems to be following a moving target. Perhaps this is because it is possible to view the current results *before* you vote. I'm also not sure whether the twiigs system has anything implemented to prevent non-registered readers from voting twice. It will be interesting to compare the poll results with the final vote tally (assuming the votes are released at all, even in percentage form).

The coin I flipped before voting was between Girl and Belle Plaine, and if it had landed on the edge I would have picked Büni. I enjoyed reading Thatababy, but I have doubts about its long-term survival: the artwork definitely shows potential, but a lot of the potential material has already been thrashed about in Marvin and elsewhere.

Posted by: kilby | October 30, 2009 8:59 PM | Report abuse

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