December 07, 2006
RIP, "Foxtrot"

Yet another popular comic strip artist is planning an early retirement.

FoxTrot, the popular comic strip that runs in more than 1,000 newspapers - including the Chronicle - will end daily production Dec. 30, as its creator joins the growing list of cartoonists to grow weary of the daily grind.

Bill Amend, who created FoxTrot in 1998, will continue to write and draw the Sunday strip.

"After spending close to half of my life writing and drawing FoxTrot cartoons, I think it's time I got out of the house and tried some new things," he said in a statement. "I love cartooning, and I absolutely want to continue doing the strip, just not at the current all-consuming pace."

That date has got to be a misprint, unless Amend is the greatest child prodigy the cartooning industry has ever produced. I feel sure it's 1988, but am too lazy to look it up.

In earlier generations, the lives of comic strips seemed endless. After the original artists died or retired, successors continued the strips. That was because the characters and titles were owned by syndicates, the companies that distribute comic strips and other features to newspapers. The syndicates had the right to fire creators and replace them at will.

That began to change - at least for the most popular and powerful cartoonists - in the late 1980s.

You know what? I think that's a good thing. I mean, I hated to see Bloom County and Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side disappear, just as all right-thinking people did. I wouldn't put Foxtrot in their league, but it's been a good strip for a long time, and I'll miss it. But if getting a bunch of the handed-down, one-joke dinosaurs off the comics page were part of the bargain, I'd take it. There's more turnover on the op-ed pages than there is on the comics, and the ossification that kind of stodginess promotes is just as pernicious in the Style section. A regular dose of fresh blood, and a wider recognition that all good (and mediocre) things must come to an end, would serve the funnies well.

Now, I understand that artists like Berke Breathed and Gary Larson could afford to retire because they owned the full rights to their strips, meaning they got the boodle from book sales and whatnot once the weekly paychecks stopped coming. But look, there's gotta be a half dozen or more strips on the Chron's pages that are "drawn" by people who've been deceased for years. Dik Browne and Hank Ketchum and Jeff MacNelly and the like don't need the money any more. Let's give someone else a chance to be the next Watterson or MacGruder. It's only fair, and we the reading public will be better off for it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 07, 2006 to Society and cultcha | TrackBack

You didn't even mention the most egregious example - Peanuts - where they are merely recycling Classic strips.

Posted by: Charles M on December 7, 2006 12:24 PM

Charles M - I wouldn't actually mind the "Peanuts" reruns if they were replaying the best of the strip. But with the exception of the Sunday strips (which are unquestionably from the best of what Schulz did), the Chron runs his latest stuff, which is nowhere near the top of his game.

Interestingly, I had thought for a long time that Universal was sending the same mediocre late-edition "Peanuts" comics everywhere. It was when I visited my folks in Portland and saw that the Oregonian was running strips from a different (and far better) era that I realized this was not the case. If you're gonna rerun "Peanuts", for Pete's sake why not go with the cream of the crop? Some day I'm gonna make Kyrie O'Connor explain that one to me.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on December 7, 2006 12:58 PM

I remember when Fox Trot came on the scene in 1988 just as Bloom County was ending its run. It's been one of my favorites ever since.
I agree that there is far too much dead wood on the comics pages, but I don't mind reading "classic" strips particularly when I wasn't able to read them the first time around. I'm particularly enjoying reading Classic Lil Abner strips from the 40's and 50s over at and I wish they would do the same with some other classics like Pogo and Alley Oop.

Posted by: Mike Thomas on December 7, 2006 3:32 PM