'Momentous' Event in the Syndicate Biz: People Are Talking about the Impact of and Reasons for Garfield's Impending Switch from United to Universal

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People are talking about the impact of and reasons for Garfield's impending switch from United to Universal

How significant is the imminent divorce between "Garfield" creator Jim Davis and United Media?

"I think it's one of the most momentous events in the history of newspaper comic strip syndication," Creators Syndicate president Rick Newcombe said.

Davis will be the most successful cartoonist ever to leave a syndicate when the separation is finalized by the end of next month (E&P, April 9, p. 46). His 16-year-old comic appears in more than 2,400 newspapers worldwide and has spawned a huge licensing empire.

The "Garfield" departure will drop UM from second to third or fourth in the ranks of feature distributors, several syndicate executives said.

They added that Universal Press Syndicate, once it starts handling "Garfield," will move from third to second in size behind King Features Syndicate. One executive thought that 24-year-old Universal may become as big as 79-year-old King.

King has twice as many features as Universal, but the latter syndicate has some of the hottest comics, the wildly successful Andrews and McMeel book company, and more. Revenues of the two syndicates were not available.

Tribune Media Services president David Williams, whose syndicate is third or fourth in size, noted that it's hard to rank feature distributors these days because many have ventured outside side traditional newspaper syndication. In TMS' case, this has included development of various electronic products.

A couple of people expressed surprise that Davis would move "Garfield" to Universal or any other syndicate. They thought that the cartoonist's 48-employee Paws company, which will handle "Garfield" licensing and promotion, also would distribute the comic.

"Why bother with a syndicate?" cartoonist Wiley asked. "He already has the client list."

The "Non Sequitur" creator, who uses only his middle name, noted that all Davis and Paws would have had to do was print the strip and mail it.

"I was actually kind of hoping he would take on the whole feature himself," the Washington Post Writers Group cartoonist added. "That would have opened up a whole new area of syndication. "

Davis said he never seriously considered having Paws distribute the "Garfield" comic. He noted that the Indiana company has plenty of other things to do and that syndicates are experts in dealing directly with newspapers.

The "Garfield" cartoonist called Universal late last year to discuss the possibility of coming aboard, syndicate vice president/editorial director Lee Salem said. Davis said his reasons for approaching Universal included his longtime friendship with syndicate president John McMeel and his respect for Universal's lineup of features and Andrews and McMeel division.

Davis and Salem did report that "Garfield" books will continue to be published by Ballantine. …