March 26, 2009

© 2009, Tribune Media Services, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

A Starr Is Mourned

Yikes! Art imitates life.

In a sign of the times, Brenda Starr, one of the most glamorous and adventurous fictional reporters since Clark Kent, will join the ranks of real and comic-strip journalists who have lost their jobs in the past year.

Starr, a reporter-turned-editor who has worked in her fictional newsroom since 1940, is the latest victim of the budget cuts that have hit news organizations both in the real world and on the comics page. Her furlough starts on March 28. Starr’s boss, B. Babbitt Bottomline, summed up the reason.

"I can’t afford to pay you anymore," he said.

Last October, Doonesbury’s Rick Redfern, an investigative reporter at The Washington Post, was offered the paper’s "best buyout package" after 33 years on the job. Redfern is now a blogger.

Years ago, when Starr and Redfern were novice reporters, jobs in comic-strip newsrooms lasted practically a lifetime. But with real daily newspapers rapidly dying and many going digital, job security — even in the comics — has become a thing of the past.

"Brenda Starr" was created 69 years ago by Dale Messick, who is believed to be the first American woman to draw a syndicated comic strip. After Messick retired in 1980, the comic strip was written by a series of women, including Ramona Fradon, Linda Sutter and June Brigman. The syndicated comic strip is currently penned by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich, whose own company, the Tribune Co., filed for bankruptcy protection last year.

What’s next for the redheaded Starr? Will she start a blog like Redfern or spend more time with daughter Starr Twinkle St. John? The world waits.

In the meantime, read about Starr and the history of other comic-strip characters in the Newseum’s permanent exhibit "The Funny Pages."

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