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A third of Universal's comic artists take vacations every year

Cartoonists who draw 365 comics a year can always send their characters on vacation, but what if they want time off themselves? They can either get ahead in their work or -- if they're with Universal Press Syndicate -- take advantage of vacation benefits.

In 1995, Universal began offering breaks to comic creators on its roster for at least five years, with the syndicate providing reruns to newspapers while cartoonists are away from the drawing board. Eight years later, six of Universal's 18 eligible artists take vacations regularly -- using the maximum four weeks allowed per annum.

"It provides a welcome respite from schedules that are sometimes very harried and demanding," said Universal Executive Vice President/Editor Lee Salem, adding that four others took time off at least once, mostly for family emergencies.

Among those using the vacations (and not just in the summer) are "Doonesbury" creator Garry Trudeau and "FoxTrot" creator Bill Amend. Why do they value them?

"Family, family, family," replied Trudeau. "You can't imagine what a difference it has made for my kids, and especially my wife. I'm more present on vacations, not working at night or early morning, struggling to make a working week seem invisible to them. Some creators find it easy to get ahead and thus have no need for breaks; I'm not among them."

Amend said: "I've been doing the strip for 15 years all by myself, and work on things like my books, Web site, and e-mail nearly every weekend. ... Add to this that I don't get holidays or sick days off, or any of the normal breaks from work regular folks enjoy. My suspicion is Universal's vacation policy has kept me out of the loony bin!"

One reason for the policy was to give comic creators an option others had. "So many syndicated columnists were already taking vacations," Salem said, adding that "anyone who is syndicated and works at a newspaper -- editorial cartoonists and columnists-- already gets vacation time."

Another reason was the hope cartoonists who took regular short breaks wouldn't get exhausted enough to need long ones. Universal cartoonists who took leaves of absence in pre-vacation years included Trudeau, Gary Larson ("The Far Side"), and Bill Watterson ("Calvin and Hobbes") -- with the last two later retiring. Since then, no Universal artists went on sabbatical, though it's hard to know if this is due to the vacation option.

Trudeau, for one, doesn't see the exhaustion connection. "The sabbaticals have never been about burnout, but about taking advantage of other opportunities that appeal to me," the cartoonist said, noting he used his first hiatus (lasting 20 months) to work on a pair of theater projects, and his second (10 weeks) to focus on a film script.

Relatively recent comics usually run during breaks. "Originally, I thought it would be fun to use very old strips," said Trudeau, "but the change in style and the dated situations made it seem jarring."

Only a few papers still balk at publishing (and paying for) repeats, but "even that number has declined," said Salem.

Amend said Universal has done a good job explaining to newspapers that "cartoonists are people with families and lives, and occasional breaks from work are healthy."

Salem said: "For us, it was the right thing to do and I'm glad we did it. The policy is a sensible way to recognize that the creative responses to the demands of the cartooning profession vary from person to person."

Trudeau said he can't understand why other syndicates haven't followed Universal's lead, especially since most newspapers accept vacation reruns. "For me, it's a quality-of-life issue," he concluded. "We're no longer treated like a public utility -- producing 24/7/365 -- and the policy has made for some happy campers."

See "Syndicate World" (http://www.editor for a longer version of this story, news about Ann Landers' sucessor, and other content.
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Title Annotation:Universal's comic strip authors use vacation time
Comment:UPDATE ON GIVING CREATORS A BREAK.(Universal's comic strip authors use vacation time)
Author:Astor, Dave
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 14, 2003
Previous Article:PAN-AM HIGHWAY.

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