Pacing yourself

Even before my senescence began blooming, I enjoyed reading obituaries. The well-written ones are edifying distillations of character and action; their omissions are bolder than doomsday.

James McMeel cofounded the Universal Press Syndicate, which distributed Garry Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” and the work of numerous other cartoonist luminaries (as well as columns by Garry Wills and Roger Ebert and dozens of others). McMeel was unique at the time for granting artists complete licensing rights to their work. It made the creators rich and happy – which made McMeel happy, too.

I love this anecdote about Jim Davis, the creator of “Garfield.”

Davis first met Mr. McMeel at an American Booksellers Association convention in 1981. Mr. McMeel approached him for an autograph, brandishing a Garfield book with a contract tucked inside. But Mr. Davis had a long-term contract with United Media, which had been syndicating his strip.

“It became a running gag,” Mr. Davis said. “Every time we met he’d hand me a newspaper or something with a contract inside.” After 15 years, Mr. Davis was finally free to sign with Universal.

“The thing with John,” he said, “is it didn’t feel like business. I once did an interview and the reporter asked me why Gary Larson had retired and I was still going. I said: ‘Well, Gary works so hard and he puts so much pressure on himself. Me, if I feel that kind of pressure, I lower my standards.’ It was that kind of air that John encouraged.”

“If I feel that kind of pressure, I lower my standards.”

That is a beautiful sentence.

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