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FoxTrot to End Daily Production of Comic

By Eric Harrison
HOUSTON CHRONICLE


HOUSTON

FoxTrot, the popular comic strip that runs in more than 1,000 newspapers, 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 1988, 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.”

Aaron McGruder, Bill Watterson, Berkeley Breathed, Garry Trudeau and Gary Larson also have all either taken sabbaticals or ended their strips altogether, citing the grueling pace and challenge of maintaining originality and quality as factors in their burnout.

McGruder, who created Boondocks, ended his strip in March for what was supposed to be a six-month hiatus. He had already handed drawing duties to a substitute artist while devoting time to developing an animated TV series for the Cartoon Network. The strip has now officially been canceled.

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.

Breathed started the trend.

“I had to quietly, secretly, threaten the comic pages’ first walkout in 1989” to gain ownership of Bloom County’s copyright from Washington Post Writers Group, Breathed said in a 2001 interview with The Onion’s A.V. Club. “It had never been done before.”

A Houston native whose Bloom County became only the second comic strip — after Trudeau’s Doonesbury — to win a Pulitzer Prize, Breathed ended the strip in 1989, at the height of its popularity. Opus, his current strip, appears only on Sundays.

FoxTrot, The Boondocks, The Far Side, Doonesbury, and Calvin and Hobbes were all distributed by Universal, which since taking on Doonesbury in 1970 has attracted the most envelope-pushing cartoon features.

Cartoonists are retiring their strips now because they can, because they own them. And because maintaining the quality of strips such as FoxTrot, Doonesbury, and Calvin and Hobbes isn’t easy. These aren’t gag-a-day strips.

In addition to the daily dose of humor, there’s character development, narrative arcs and, in the case of Doonesbury and Boondocks, the struggle of staying topical.

Watterson ended his wildly popular Calvin and Hobbes in 1995, he has said, in part to avoid the inevitable drift into “halfhearted repetition” — the fate of many long-running comic strips.

Larson retired The Far Side the same year. Earlier, he had taken a 14-month leave to travel and study jazz guitar. He had drawn more than 4,000 cartoons since the cartoon went into syndication in 1979. Since “retiring,” Larson has made animated films and published books.

Lee Salem, president of Universal Press Syndicate, dangled the possibility of FoxTrot popping up later in another form, such as animation. “In addition to Sunday newspapers, we may see FoxTrot entertaining us in other kinds of media platforms,” he said in a statement posted on the company’s Web site.

A spokeswoman for the syndicate wouldn’t confirm that plans are in the works for a FoxTrot movie or TV series, saying only that it’s “too early” to discuss it.

Amend, she said, is “not doing interviews” and Salem didn’t care to elaborate on the statement.