Robot 6

Walt and Skeezix put on hiatus

Walt & Skeezix, Vol. 2

Walt & Skeezix, Vol. 2

One of the critical jewels in Drawn and Quarterly’s crown in recent years has been their ongoing collection of classic Gasoline Alley strips by its creator, Frank King. Three fat volumes, spanning 1921-26, have been released so far, each one winning its share of accolades.

All that seems to have come to a halt recently and there hasn’t been any mention of a fourth volume in any of D&Q’s recent catalogs or press releases. The reason? According to this Comics Journal message board thread, apparently Tribune Media has threatened to sue the company if they continue with the series. Here’s a statement from publisher Chris Oliveros, courtesy of Kevin Greenlee:

“Technically we have not ended the series and hope to somehow continue it. Sales are not a problem, but rather Tribune Media. They are threatening to sue us if we continue, despite the fact that, according to our lawyer, the material we are reprinting has lapsed in copyright. Even though the law appears to be on our side, we cannot afford to go into any lawsuit against a large corporation. We’ll wait and see…

Thanks for your interest and support,

Chris Oliveros
Drawn & Quarterly”

Later posts in the thread suggest that a fourth volume is in the planning, so let’s just hope this is a temporary setback.



That’s too bad. This public domain and copyright issue is a pain as of late. There has to be a universal board when it comes to copyright. Look at Popeye right now. Drawn and Quarterly is doing justice to a series that Tribune Media thought nothing of it till Chris made some serious coin. Penny pinching the little guy. It’s disgusting. I don’t blame Chris for holding back. Why don’t they work with Chris and they will be better for it in the end. Chris has done so much for the comic strip industry of forgotten cartoonists, we all gain by his constant search of great material to reprint and also new ones. It just leaves a bitter taste in the mouth when Tribune Media thinks they own the body of materail of any cartoonist. Greed once again.

I manage licensing for Tribune Media Services (TMS). I’m not sure where “tone” gets his info that “Tribune Media thought nothing of it till Chris made some serious coin.” I tried very hard to work with Chris on Gasoline Alley, attempting to negotiate a deal that would be fair to both of us and offered Chris a much better deal than I had at the time or now with ANY publisher. He refused to negotiate, saying that part of the material was in the public domain and he didn’t need our cooperation or permission to publish. The way this has been positioned here and on other blogs and boards makes it appear that we popped up after the fact. Totally false.

I’m also not sure why Chris said last summer: “Sales are not a problem, but rather Tribune Media.” I haven’t been in contact with him for years and have never sued him or threatened to sue him over what he is currently publishing. I did let him know in an exchange of lawyer letters several years ago that I would take any necessary steps to protect our trademarks (e.g., Gasoline Alley) and the copyrights that we do retain, but he believes that doesn’t prevent him from publishing public domain strips under the “Walt & Skeezix” title and it certainly hasn’t deterred him so far. So if it is not sales, and I can tell you it is not Tribune Media Services, I’m not sure what’s holding him up.

FOR THE RECORD – It is not and never has been our intent or practice to withhold publication and distribution of the classic strips we own or represent. As an example, look at the series being published by IDW — the complete Dick Tracy, Terry and the Pirates and Little Orphan Annie. They are superb! I believe IDW does a much better job than ANY other publisher in the market, which is why I work with them. Dean Mullaney, who puts them together (Terry and Annie and starting this year, Tracy), goes to great expense and effort to track down the best images, digitally clean them up and through his vast knowledge and research create vivid and fascinating front matter. The material he has created on Terry is stunning! It is no accident that Terry won an Eisner this year. I’ve also gone through other, smaller publishers to get out items I haven’t been able to interest the bigger guys in — like Dondi and Leonard Starr’s Mary Perkins On Stage in paperback format. So please, buy them all and keep the series going, but don’t say that we’re holding back publication of the classics!

And as for the “greed” comment, these reprints are not a financial driver for TMS compared to other licensing deals, far from it. They’re a labor of love for me and a way to keep these fabulous properties alive for TMS, and we will do any reasonable and fair deal with a reputable publisher to get them published. From a business perspective, publication only enhances our trademarks and properties, so it would be stupid of me to sit on them for a few extra dollars. In fact, I won’t make significant money until I’m able to take some of these properties to film and TV . . . please stay tuned because I’m working very hard on that one!

Finally, I would really, really like to publish complete reprints of other TMS classics — Smokey Stover/Nuts ‘n’ Jolts/Spooky the Cat, Brenda Starr, Winnie Winkle, Rick O’Shay, etc. But to date publishers tell me that there’s no market for them — “can’t sell comics about women” (Brenda), “not well known enough” (Smokey), etc. I don’t consider the publishers to be “greedy” but they do need confidence that sales will justify design, printing, staff, marketing and distribution costs. It is those costs and the sales prospects, not TMS’ small royalty, that prevent more of these classics from getting published. If any publisher thinks these properties are economically viable and wants to discuss it, I’m willing to deal.

This little war between Tribune and Drawn and Quarterly is very important in my opinion. I agree with you Steve that there are many properties that are not viable to publish because as the factors listed by you. I think the greater debate is copyright and what exactly can a publisher do and not do after they elapse, especially if the said publisher is from another country. This gray area is only a pain for you and Chris. All the facts are not on the table right now between Tribune and Drawn and Quarterly. What you want to make public between you and Drawn and Quarterly is your business. Now that’s it’s out in the open, I think it should be resolved. A body of work was published and now the fan will suffer because of some bickering. I understand Chris why he does not want to tackle Tribune, but it’s the fan that suffers once again. Can’t you guys just get together and talk about this again? So it failed before. Try again. Who is the bigger man at the end of the day. The fan. Think about them. You have to admit as much as the strips you listed, Gasoline Alley is not Peanuts. Those days are long gone. Not that I want to devalue and strip from Tribune. These strips at one time had power to bring a smile to readers. Now it’s all about money. Steve I am entitled to my opinion, good or bad, I am a fan and I think there is greed involved on many many levels. If publishers and syndicates show us that it is not the case, then there will be more trust. Walt and Skeezix is a testament of American history as are some strips from that era. I understand your company’s protection of the strip, but government rules have made this property available to all to do what they want. Once that is regulated properly we can all enjoy time capsules like Walt and Skeezix.

Steve thank you for your comment, in the spirit of your labor of love, I share your passion too. Out of my own pocket I publish a newspaper/magazine about comics for 20 000 kids. A tough market. Go figure comics for kids is a hard sell. It’s a passion. Either way emotions can get the best of people, including me. It can be easy to hide behind a handle names. If you disagree with me you can email me. Let’s all work together. If not we suffer as a society on all levels. As this forum is open to you and me, it is open for all, including Chris. I think people want to hear from here. His silence is not a good thing, but I respect the man for what he has done in the past for comics.

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