Monday, July 15, 2019
Which Newspaper Strip Was Distributed by the Most Syndicates?
Here's a question (that nobody ever asked but me). What strip went through the most different syndicates? I think it might be Wee Pals. It started as a Lew Little, then became a Register & Tribune, then King Features, Then United Features, then Field Enterprises,News America, North America and finally Creators.Of course that's the sort of question that fascinates me, so there are at least two completely incurable comic strip geeks in this old world, Mark.
I thought it would be the work of a mere moment to answer the question. But then I realized that I couldn't seem to query my database directly for that information.Oh well. So I spent a few hours manually paging through the listings to come up with some information, and in the process realized that the answer is by no means cut-and-dried.
There are a few ways that a feature might change syndicates. One, obviously is that the cartoonist shops around for a better deal from a different syndicate. That's a no-brainer. Another is when a syndicate goes out of business or sells off its feature distribution to someone else. Still counts, no problem.
However, what about when two syndicates merge, like Bell and McClure did? There's a name change, of course, but does it count? Certainly in this case the McClure strips did in fact change syndicates, as Bell was the purchaser of the McClure properties, but did the Bell Syndicate strips change syndicates? This stuff can get too complex to be a fun question anymore. Starts to sound like work.
If we keep things simple and just say we'll count any old name change, how far down that slippery slope can we fall? What about when a syndicate change is when a syndicate is renamed under presumably the same management? In other words, does it count as a syndicate change when Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate changes to Tribune Media Services and then to Tribune Content Agency, or when Universal Press Syndicate becomes Universal Uclick and then Andrews McMeel Syndicate?
This can lead to a ludicrous contender like Katzenjammer Kids, which was a Hearst feature all along. You can get six syndicate changes for this feature: W.R. Hearst, American-Journal-Examiner, Star Company, Newspaper Feature Service, International Feature Service, and King Features Syndicate.
I've now gone way down the rabbit hole on this question, and all the fun is drained out of it. So to heck with all the caveats, footnotes, whys and wherefores. Let's dispense with technicalities and talk comics.
First of all, I was amazed just how many features went through six syndicates; so many that I gave up noting them. So let's go straight to seven:
Mark Trail: New York Post Syndicate, Post-Hall Syndicate, Hall Syndicate, Publishers-Hall Syndicate, Field Enterprises, News America Syndicate, North America Syndicate
Miss Peach: New York Herald Tribune Syndicate, Publishers Syndicate, Publishers-Hall Syndicate, Field Enterprises, News America Syndicate, North America Syndicate, Creators Syndicate
Tumbleweeds: Lew Little Enterprises, Register & Tribune Syndicate, King Features Syndicate, United Feature Syndicate, Field Enterprises, News America Syndicate, North America Syndicate
Word-a-Day: Chicago Times, Sun and Times Company, Field Enterprises, Publishers Syndicate, Publishers-Hall Syndicate, Field Enterprises, News America Syndicate
Steve Canyon: Field Enterprises, Sun and Times Company, Publishers Syndicate, Publishers-Hall Syndicate, Field Enterprises, News America Syndicate, North America Syndicate
A surprise entry from the olden days, with the slight caveat that there were gaps between some of these runs:
Foxy Grandpa: New York Herald, W.R. Hearst, American-Journal-Examiner, Publishers Press (C.J. Mar), Associated Newspapers, New York Press, New York Herald (again), Philadelphia Bulletin
At a count of eight syndicates we have Wee Pals standing alone, but it fails to take the crown. Here are two features that made it to the pinnacle of syndicate-hoppiness at nine syndicates:
Fred Basset: Hall Syndicate, Publishers-Hall Syndicate, Field Enterprises, News America Syndicate, North America Syndicate, Tribune Media Services, Universal Press Syndicate, Universal Uclick, Andrews McMeel Syndicate
Grin and Bear It: Chicago Times Syndicate, United Feature Syndicate, Sun and Times Company, Field Enterprises, Publishers Syndicate, Publishers-Hall Syndicate, Field Enterprises, News America Syndicate, North America Syndicate
And our Fred Basset listing doesn't even take into account foreign syndication, which in its case maybe should count, so you might call it ten syndicates with the Daily Mail.
So that's it. Now it would be my delight to throw the question open to you folks. A real comic strip fan should be able to argue this question ad infinitum. Let's rumble!
Lew Little Enterprise was still listed even in strips that King syndicated, but not the United Features ones. I guess Lew Little subcontracted to King, right?
"Tumbleweeds" probably falls in that category. It was with King Features for a few years, then after a string of different syndicates spent its final years with North America Syndicate, which was essentially just King Features with a different name anyway.
I think that Little's name stopped being seen because the ownership of the strips shifted to their authors.