'Garfield' Creator to Leave United Media

Article excerpt

Jim Davis is buying the rights to his cartoon cat, which soon will be syndicated by Universal Press

ONE OF THE two most widely syndicated comic strips in history is leaving United Media.

An agreement has been reached in principle for cartoonist Jim Davis to acquire full global ownership and rights to his "Garfield" property. Terms were not disclosed, but sources indicated that Davis is paying UM at least $15 million to $20 million.

Universal Press Syndicate will syndicate the 16-year-old "Garfield," which appears in more than 2,400 newspapers in 83 countries.

Paws Inc., a 48-employee Indiana company founded by Davis in 1981, will handle all promotion and licensing. "Garfield" products are marketed in 69 countries by more than 350 licensees.

The comic also has spawned 33 best, selling books as well as a popular Saturday morning series and prime-time specials on CBS-TV.

The parting from UM, announced April 6, is expected to be finalized before the end of next month'

"There's still a lot of paperwork to do," said Davis, who noted that negotiations began last summer and continued past the March 15 expiration date of his UM contract.

Why did he seek ownership of his property and to leave UM? In the 1980s, when cartoonists' rights became a big issue in syndication, Davis stated publicily on at least one accassion that he was satisfied with UM owning his creation.

Davis, 48, said he became more interested in ownership as the "Garfield" property grew and his philosophy about how to best run the business evolved.

The cartoonist added that he wanted "long-term stability" for his comic during a time of flux at E.W. Scripps Co.-owned UM. Since 1992, UM's TV Data and Pharos Books divisions have been sold, UM's syndication division (which includes "Garfield" distributor United Feature Syndicate) was almost sold to Time Warner and numerous management changes have been made. .

Davis did say he ultimately would have sought ownership even if things had been calmer at UM, noting that it was a dream of his "to take control of my own destiny."

He added, "No one is more committed to Garfield's success, more attuned to his unique potential or more able to achieve it than the people at Paws."

Commenting further about UM, Davis said, "There was never a major falling out. There were little differences in philosophy and how to go about the business. . . …