If you saw the comics pages of the Tampa Bay Times last Sunday, you might have caught Wiley Miller’s strip Non Sequitur about bears doing Renaissance paintings.
It seemed innocuous enough. Only there was more to it.
Scrawled into the corner of the middle panel were the words “Go F--- yourself Trump.”
The words were unmistakable. And the action is indefensible.
As a result, we are dropping the comic strip. At last count, at least two dozen other newspapers are, too. Among them: the Dallas Morning News, the Chicago Tribune, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Sun-Sentinel and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. More than 700 newspapers had been featuring the daily comic strip, which Miller has been drawing for 27 years.
Miller has apologized. The syndicate that distributes his work has fallen on its sword. But this transgression can’t be forgiven. It was a juvenile act that showed horrifyingly bad judgment. We're sorry it made it into print.
At the Times, we had no advance notice of this offensive language. That fact you may argue shows a failing in our own internal process, which we will now be forced to review.
In recent years, we have relied on the syndicates that distribute our comics to edit them for tone, taste, grammar and style. They do a fine job of it. Usually. We haven’t had the bandwidth to edit the strips ourselves. Candidly, even if we had reviewed Miller’s Sunday strip, there’s a chance we might have missed it. The message was meant to be obscured. I didn’t see it until it was pointed out to me after it ran. Another senior editor didn’t either. Miller did not alert his editor to its presence.
A handful of our eagle-eyed readers did encounter the words and were understandably disturbed.
“I would like to express my serious disappointment that you chose to publish a cartoon on Sunday that was profane and deeply offensive to me,” wrote one Times reader. “How can you offer to contribute the newspaper to children in schools with this poor decision making on content. If you wish to make a political statement, make it on the opinion page, which we can ignore. It does not belong in the cartoons.”
Actually, it doesn’t belong anywhere.
Miller, the creator of Non Sequitur, explained in a statement that he had drawn the comic strip weeks in advance. He just forgot about it when he turned it in to his editors, he said.
“I now remember that I was particularly aggravated that day about something the president had done or said, and so I lashed out in a rather sophomoric manner as instant therapy,” Miller said. “I meant to white it out before submitting it.” And yet last weekend he Tweeted that he had left an “Easter egg” for his fans to find. That didn’t sound much like regret.
He also said that he has never done anything like this before and never will do anything like it again.
Fine. But an error in judgment this egregious doesn't earn a second chance.
Because our comics are printed well in advance, we are unable to remove the comic strip until Monday. On a temporary basis, we will be running the reboot of the classic strip Nancy until we figure out a permanent replacement. I like the new Nancy. The original strip was created in 1922. The reboot was launched in 2018 and places the 8-year-old main character in today’s world. It’s one of the few comic strips drawn by a woman with a female protagonist.
We welcome suggestions from you about how to move forward with a new permanent comic strip worthy of our readers. You can send ideas directly to me.
Mark Katches is the executive editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org