'Gasoline Alley' Controversy in D.C. Area: The Washington Post Is Paying for but Not Running the TMS Comic, Which Means the Journal Newspapers Can't Run It Either

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|Gasoline Alley' controversy in D.C. area

The Journal Newspapers (JN) of Virginia and Maryland have been unable to buy "Gasoline Alley" since the Washington Post dropped it because the Post has retained rights to the strip.

A number of papers "warehouse" comics to keep their competitors from getting them or to have the option of eventually publishing them.

The Post pulled the daily and Sunday "Gasoline Alley" this winter as part of a major revamping of its Sunday comics section (see E&P, February 23). Thousands of Post readers complained about losing "Gasoline" and "Mark Trail," but only the latter strip was reinstated (see E&P, March 23).

Meanwhile, JN asked Tribune Media Services if it could buy "Gasoline" to run five days a week in the Alexandria Journal, Arlington Journal, and Fairfax Journal and Prince George's Journal of Maryland. TMS respondent that it couldn't, at least for the time being.

So residents of the District of Columbia and the surrounding region have been unable to read "Gasoline" in any paper since February.

"It's not fair," declared JN features editor Bob Menaker. "I think it's kind of like restraint of trade."

Menaker said the Post apparently is not doing anything illegal, but added that he is still somewhat puzzled at the paper's action. Menaker observed that the Post would probably lose no more than a "blip" of its circulation if "Gasoline" came to the JN dailies and that the Post is paying for something it is not running at the same time that it is trying to reduce costs.

Post assistant managing editor Polly Povejsil told E&P this February that the paper had revamped the Sunday comics to attract younger readers but also to save money during the recession. The section was reduced from 14 to 12 pages.

It is not known how much the Post pays for "Gasoline," but the amount is a lot more than what JN would be charged. Syndicates base their feature rates on the size of newspaper clients, and the Post is more than five times as big as the approximately 150,000-combined-circulation JN dailies.

Both the Post and JN have run various TMS comics for years.

Menaker said JN would like to buy "Gasoline" because "it is one of the few good continuity strips around." He noted that the comic "has a certain charm about it" as well as a "real history" dating back more than 70 years. Menaker added that "Gasoline" is distinctive in that is characters actually age.

As much as it wants "Gasoline," JN is not planning to sue the Post over it. Menaker said this would involved spending too much in legal fees for the sake of one comic.

The JN dailies did publish a May 30 story about the Post's retention of "Gasoline," but Menaker stated this was done more because of the "interesting" nature of the situation rather than in the hope that public pressure would cause the Post to reconsider.

While Menaker noted that JN would have been happy if readers of the article phoned the Post to demand that "Gasoline" be released, he added: "What's 50 calls to the Post?"

The JN features editor said it is always possible that the Post will eventually give up the rights to "Gasoline," but he observed that interest in the comic among some D.C.-area readers could fade by then.

Menaker said the Post is also warehousing two other comics JN might be interested in - "Miss Peach" by Mell Lazarus of Creators Syndicate and "Steve Roper & Mike Nomad" by John Saunders and Fran Matera of North America Syndicate, which also distributes "Mark Trail" by Jack Elrod.

Povejsil told E&P June 6 that the Post originally retained the rights to "Gasoline" while it waited to see what reader reaction would be to the comic's dropping.

A February 23 Post story stated that the pulling of the strip "drew a torrent of emotional responses" from "Gasoline" fans, "particularly older readers. …