Thursday, September 03, 2015


Obscurity of the Day: McGonigle of the Chronicle

When Garry Trudeau put Doonesbury on a long hiatus starting in January 1983, it started an all-out war at the syndicates to see how many of Trudeau's newspaper spots they could poach. Some existing strips got catapulted into the national conscience, like Bloom County, and at other syndicates new strips were developed that they thought would fit comfortably in a Doonesbury-shaped newspaper spot.

Editorial cartoonist Jeff Danziger and impresario Lew Little got together to enter the sweepstakes, and Danziger came up with what seemed like a natural. Set a strip in a newspaper office, where politics could be on center stage at all times. Populate the strip with a long list of characters, just like Doonesbury. When you want to comment most directly on current events, have characters sitting around watching the TV news.

The strip seemed like a natural for the Doonesbury-starved newspaper reading public. Lew Little presented the strip to the Field Newspaper Syndicate, and they evidently agreed that McGonigle of the Chronicle was a winner. The strip debuted on August 1 1983 in a modest but decent number of client papers.

My thinking is that Danziger's strip was a little too scattershot out of the gate. With a list of recurring characters numbering over a dozen, readers needed a scorecard to keep them all straight. Whereas Doonesbury's cast had grown organically over time, Danziger was presenting the whole first, second and third strings all at once. It also certainly didn't help that the Field syndicate was bought out by Rupert Murdoch in 1984, putting the strip's distribution and marketing in flux.

When Trudeau brought Doonesbury back in September 1984, there was an inevitable culling of the herd. Although McGonigle survived the initial attack, the wounds eventually proved to be fatal. The strip was ended on November 24 1985.

PS: while researching this post, I came across information that Danziger also has two local strips to his credit -- Out In The Sticks and The Teeds. If anyone has some definitive info on these (where they appeared, running dates) I'd sure like to hear from you. I have ordered a copy of what I gather is a Teeds reprint book ("Teed Stories") and hope that might shed some light.


Perhaps another reason this strip didn't keep going was it never really got in many papers to start with. I can see the thinking, Danziger is very much a political cartoonist, on the left side, so you'd think he might fit into Trudeau's spots. Sometimes though, he could be far too aggressive about it, and sometimes just offensive. I always thought he was out on the fringe as far as being mainstream media material. It's acinch Murdoch wasn't exactly thrilled with him either, but having no sales made it easier to let McGonicle go. Incidentally- I don't know when the Sunday ended but i have files up to 29 December 1985. The daily definately goes until 18 January 1986, with an actual wind down story and finis strip.
Thanks Mark -- do you happen to recall the paper that ran the strip to your end date?

It's hard to gauge number of papers who ran a strip, of course, but my general impression has been that McGonigle started with a pretty healthy client list. If I had to take a wild guess, I'd estimate 75 papers at least.

In addition to Doonesbury's return cutting into Danziger's list, I wouldn't be surprised if the rapidly advancing Bloom County poached more than a few of its spots.

My notes say Out in the Sticks ran in the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press and "another Vermont paper".
The Teeds, originally titled Teed Stories, ran in the Barre Times Argus and MAYBE in the Rutland (Vt.) Herald.
The dates I have are really iffy.
Out in the Sticks was around 1984 MAYBE,
while Teeds dates from the 70s and 80s to at least January 20, 2008.
No sources for any of the above, and take those dates with more than a grain of salt.
If memory serves, the strip ran in the San Francisco Chronicle under the title "McGonigle of the Comical." A running plot was McGonigle's crush on his short-fused editor Suzie (seen here dealing with a bumper sticker placer). They had a first date; a few months later (presumably for the benefit of new readers) they had ANOTHER first date.
I used to love McGonigle. I used to read it in the Miami Herald.
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