In the comic-strip business, a zombie strip (also known as a "legacy strip") is one whose creator has died or retired, but which continues to exist with new editions in publication. The strips are taken over by others, often relatives of the originator. Zombie comic strips are often criticized as lacking the "spark" that originally made the strip successful.
Reasons and criticism
The usual reason for continuing a strip as a zombie is to keep the profitable business or franchise going, preserving a number of jobs and allowing future generations to enjoy the work in a new form. Both the creator's relatives and the strip's syndicate stand to make significant money in royalties. In the early days of comic strips, it was commonplace for a strip to be taken over by successors once the original cartoonist died; one of the earliest high-profile cartoonists to reject "zombie stripping" was George Herriman, who decreed that his strip Krazy Kat not be continued after his death. (Herriman, along with his strip, died in 1944.)
The practice of continuing a zombie comic strip is commonly criticized by cartoonists, particularly younger ones in the new generation, including Bill Watterson and Stephan Pastis. Pastis addressed the issue in his strip, Pearls Before Swine, in 2005. Mark Tatulli also commented on zombie strips in his strip Liō in 2010. and in 2013. After an incident in which United Feature Syndicate secretly retained the services of superhero comic artist Al Plastino to continue the comic strip Peanuts in case of an interruption, Charles Schulz, author and creator of Peanuts, requested that his strip (which, in contrast to most comic strips today, he drew completely on his own with no assistants of any kind) not be continued by another cartoonist after his death; Schulz's family (as well as Universal Uclick, which currently holds the strip's publication rights) has honored his wishes. Peanuts instead is seen in reruns under the banner Classic Peanuts.
The principal criticism directed toward continuing a zombie strip is that the replacement cartoonist is seen as generally less funny or less inspired than the creator ("still stumbling around decades after their original creators have retired or died"), or that the new cartoonist does not have the same style of writing or understand the characters as well. The death of the cartoonist and the strip's succession into zombie status thus is akin to the concept of "marrying Irving" or "jumping the shark", in that the strip never returns to the quality or popularity it had during the run by the original cartoonist. An additional criticism is that continuing such strips prevents newer cartoonists from entering the business by filling newspaper space that might be devoted to new strips. However, in some cases, the new head cartoonist has often been the assistant of the former, as Dennis the Menace, after Hank Ketcham's retirement, was developed by his former assistants who have taken over. Often the new cartoonist has developed the strip over a few years. As another counterpoint, zombie strips can also provide proving grounds for unknown artists to prove their worth with an established brand; Jerry Scott began his national career as author of the zombie strip Nancy (and was given the artistic freedom to draw the strip in a style much different than his predecessor) before launching his own strips, Baby Blues and Zits.
Zombie strips include Adam@home, Andy Capp, Blondie, Dennis the Menace, B.C., The Wizard of Id, Frank and Ernest, Hi and Lois, Hägar the Horrible, Dick Tracy, Rex Morgan, M.D., Mary Worth, Prince Valiant, The Family Circus, Shoe, Spy vs. Spy, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, and Ginger Meggs. Now-defunct strips that were zombies for a time before being discontinued include Terry and the Pirates, Little Orphan Annie, and Brenda Starr.
Lying somewhere in a gray area are strips that still have an association with their original author but receive significant assistance from others. The most widely known example of this is the widely syndicated Garfield, which was created and is still managed by Jim Davis but is currently written and drawn by the large staff of Davis's corporation, Paws, Inc. Another example would be Hi and Lois as Mort Walker, the original writer, still supervises his sons Greg and Brian, the current writers, at his Connecticut based studio (Mort and Greg likewise split duties on Mort's other creation, Beetle Bailey). However, the original artist Dik Browne had died and his son Chance took over. These strips are still associated with the original author and remain under his or her exclusive creative control, but are no longer written and drawn exclusively by the original content creators.
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- "Liō", March 12, 2010
- "Liō", April 3, 2013
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- E.g., Zombie comic strips, The Straight Dope Message Board, June 2, 2009.
- Van gelder, Lawrence (June 2, 2001). "Hank Ketcham, Father of Dennis the Menace, Dies at 81". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-09-17.
- Suellentrop, Chris (June 11, 2004). "Why we don't hate Garfield". Slate. Retrieved April 30, 2008.