WHETHER TALKING of a TV show or a comic strip, it’s not a word you want immediately associated with your creation:
From illness to sabbatical, there are numerous reasons, naturally, why comic creators resort to reruns, In the former case, for instance, Ray Billingsley has allowed repeat “Curtis” strips to run this year while he has recuperated from a reported illness; his feature is scheduled to return with original strips in mid-November. And in the latter case, Garry Trudeau has run “Doonesbury Flashbacks” since June, as he takes a sabbatical to work on his new Amazon Studios show, “Alpha House”; his Pulitzer-winning strip is scheduled to return with originals in mid-November, as well.
Then, though, there is the strange case of “Get Fuzzy.”
United Feature Syndicate launched the strip to quick popularity in 1999, as the tales of single ad exec Rob Wilco and his talk-happy pets (Bucky Katt and Satchel) soon appeared in hundreds of papers. Within several years, creator Darby Conley was receiving praise from his peers — he won the National Cartoonist Society’s Newspaper Comic Strip Award in 2002 — and Stephen King hailed “Get Fuzzy” as “the funniest comic strip on planet Earth.” Several of Conley’s many book collections even landed on the New York Times bestseller list.
But then, more and more, the repeats began to creep in.
That is all especially relevant now, at least to Washington Post readers, because as of next week, “Get Fuzzy” will no longer appear on its comics pages. (The vacated space will be inherited by the Danish strip “Wumo.”)
“ ‘Get Fuzzy’ was chosen [to drop] because the percentage of new material to reruns was painfully low,” Post comics producer Donna Peremes tells Comic Riffs. “It had also dropped [significantly] in our polls from 2012 to 2013 — perhaps a reflection of the fact that so many of the strips were reruns.”
Some “Fuzzy” fans cried “foul,” noting that such strips as “Classic Peanuts” — creator Charles Schulz died in 2000 — are always in reruns. Why single out “Get Fuzzy”?
One comparative factor, Peremes notes, is popularity — particularly as measured by select reader polls that The Post conducted this year and last. For 2013, “Classic Peanuts” is in the top-5 among daily comics carried by The Post, and second among the paper’s Sunday comics. “Get Fuzzy” is toward the bottom of the pack — and showed a significant year-to-year decline.
Peremes notes that expense also plays a factor; different strips can command different pay rates from newspapers, of course — and “Get Fuzzy,” whose client list has exceeded 400 papers — is hardly a low-rent strip. As Peremes wrote on Wednesday’s comments thread on the matter: “Get Fuzzy” “costs a lot more than many strips” and, “we were paying for reruns probably more than half the time. That just didn't seem fair.”
(Conley’s syndicate has provided The Post with no specific reason why “Get Fuzzy” has a high rerun rate.)
Like other syndicates, Universal Uclick — which now distributes “Get Fuzzy” — must consistently weigh creators’ needs and desires to run repeats against reader tolerance for enduring the deja-vu strips.
“We certainly get that editors and readers can get frustrated with reruns,” John Glynn, president and editorial director of Universal Uclick, tells Comic Riffs.
“At Universal, we do our best to try and tell our creators all the potential negatives involved with reruns,” Glynn explains. “And maybe most importantly, that space in the comics section is not easily won.
“But it's even harder to get back after a cancellation."
Now, “Get Fuzzy”has just one more market it must try to win back, one original strip at a time.