The conservative comic strip “Mallard Fillmore” has been plucked.
Bruce Tinsley, creator of the 27-year-old cartoon, said he was told this week by his syndication company that Gannett newspapers across the country simultaneously dropped the comic over two strips critical of President Biden and transgender participation in women’s sports.
“It was a big shock,” Mr. Tinsley told The Washington Times. “From what I’m hearing, it was unprecedented. My syndicate had never seen anything like it.”
He said officials at King Features, which syndicates the cartoon, said that “a decision was made at the [Gannett] corporate level, and they weren’t sure exactly why, except that they were sure it was about those two cartoons.”
The two comics ran Feb. 19-20. The first depicts Mr. Biden musing: “For too long, segregation sullied women’s sports … They were restricted to women! Thank goodness those dark days are over.”
In the second cartoon, Mr. Biden says, “I hear what you, the American people, want me to do … kill fossil-fuel jobs … devalue Americans’ labor … and help more transgender athletes beat the *@!# out of biological females.”
Certainly, “Mallard Fillmore” has been known to ruffle feathers, but Mr. Tinsley said he didn’t think the strips referring to Mr. Biden’s Jan. 20 executive order on gender identity and sexual orientation were over the top.
“I’ve thought a million times, ‘This is it, I don’t even know if I’m going to turn this in,’ ” said Mr. Tinsley, referring to previous comics. “But of all the cartoons — it vaguely centers on Biden’s doing that as his first executive order. There certainly was nothing derogatory about transgender people. It was just about what I see as a really unfair environment in sports.”
His strip has been dropped before — sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently — but he said those moves were made by local editors on a newspaper-by-newspaper basis, not by corporate headquarters in a decision affecting multiple publications.
“So I’m used to this phenomenon, I’m just not used to it coming from the corporate level,” Mr. Tinsley said. “I still don’t know how many. They said it had never happened before. it was all at once and it was a mandate from the corporation, not any individual editors’ decisions.”
The Washington Times, which publishes the “Mallard Fillmore” comic strip, has reached out for comment to Gannett and King Features.
The roasting of “Mallard Fillmore” comes with outrage rising on the right over cancel culture, the social phenomenon blamed for incidents such as Disney firing last month of actress Gina Carano from “The Mandalorian” and the Tuesday decision by Dr. Seuss Enterprises to stop publishing six books.
Mr. Tinsley said he began hearing from readers late last month about their newspapers pulling “Mallard Fillmore,” which chronicles the exploits of a politically conservative duck who works as a reporter at a television station in Washington, D.C.
The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, ran a notice alerting readers: “Effective today, we’re making a change to our comics line-up to replace the ‘Mallard Fillmore’ comic strip. We’re continually reviewing the comics we provide.” The notice did not mention Gannett.
The notice was reprinted Feb. 26 by the website Jackson Jambalaya, which remarked, “Well, well, well, The Purge continues.”
Several newspapers have run letters to the editor from readers upset with and pleased by the absence of “Mallard Fillmore.”
“Since Gannett acquired the Herald-Tribune, the leftward drift of the newspaper has continued unabated,” Jerry Saylor of Englewood, Florida, said in a letter to the newspaper based in Sarasota.
“The announcement Feb. 24 that the ‘Mallard Fillmore’ comic strip will be discontinued, while ‘Doonesbury’ remains, confirms the trend,” Mr. Saylor said. “Why you wish to alienate your readership only you understand.”
Another reader, Barbara Southward Russell of Bradenton, Florida, countered: “What a joy to read that I no longer have to start my day exposed to that mean-spirited so-called comic strip ‘Mallard Fillmore.’”
In a letter to the Indianapolis Star, Anita Sewall of Indianapolis said: “With the cancellation of the ‘Mallard Fillmore’ comic strip, you have completely stilled any conservative voice in your publication.”
Another reader, John Street of Carmel, took the news better: “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
Mr. Tinsley said the Indianapolis Star’s decision surprised him because the newspaper carried his cartoons before “Mallard Fillmore” was syndicated. He learned about the move from Gary Varvel, who was the Star’s editorial cartoonist for 24 years.
“He texted me and said, ‘You’re not in the Star, and you’ve been there forever,’” said Mr. Tinsley. “I told Gary, ‘I can’t believe it, the Indy Star.’ And then I started seeing the emails from readers from all over, and I realized something weird’s going on.”
He said “Mallard Fillmore” continues to be syndicated by King Features — “They’ve been really supportive” — and that his editors warned him that his royalty check would be significantly smaller with the strip running in fewer newspapers.
“They said, ‘We knew you would not believe it when you see your check, because this is a huge hit,’” Mr. Tinsley said.
He said he took time off last year due to a long illness. During that time, the syndicate brought in another cartoonist, Loren Fishman, to draw “Mallard Fillmore,” and that they now split duties.
Mr. Tinsley said he has gone back to creating four of the seven daily comics per week, and he drew the two Biden cartoons at the center of the controversy.
Don’t be surprised if “Mallard Fillmore” takes on the cancel culture in future comics.
“There are so many cartoons about this issue, about all the people getting canned — the Gina Carano thing, and Dr. Seuss,” Mr. Tinsley said. “I know how it feels now.”
• Valerie Richardson can be reached at email@example.com.
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