Stop the presses! Brenda Starr, the fictional, globetrotting reporter who has headlined her own comic strip for more than 70 years, is facing her final deadline.
The syndication company Tribune Media Services announced today that "Brenda Starr, Reporter" will appear in newspapers for the last time on Jan. 2, a victim of its writer and illustrator wanting to move on, and of the economic forces battering newspaper comic strips.
Such an ending once would have been unthinkable for Brenda Starr, who always managed to escape from one tough bind after another.
At the height of her popularity in the 1950s, the strip appeared in more than 250 newspapers around the world. There were two Brenda Starr movies. And in 1976, when Brenda finally married the mysterious character Basil St. John, President Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty, even sent their congratulations.
But it's been a tough year for comic strips in general, and for red-headed, comic strip icons in particular.
Many newspapers have been reducing their comics pages to save money, squeezing some long-running strips and the writers and artists responsible for them. At the same time, hand-drawn strips are having trouble competing for the attention of people reared on xbox and Nintendo.
"Little Orphan Annie" ended an 86-year-run in American newspapers earlier this year. By the end, the number of newspapers carrying the strip had dwindled to 20. And in October, Cathy Guisewite pulled the plug on her strip, "Cathie."
Brenda Starr's demise came after Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich, who has been writing the strip for more than 25 years,and illustrator June Brigman, who drew Brenda for 15 years, decided they wanted to move on. "There's sadness about stopping, but no regret and ambivalence," Schmich told The Tribune. "It came to me really clearly that I was done… I don't think the character is dead. But the comic strip in this form is."
The director of marketing for Tribune Media Services, Jan Guszynski, acknowledged that economics played a role in the company's decision not to find a new team to continue writing and drawing the strip.
"We, as a syndicate, took a good look at it," she said. "In its current form, and given the number of newspapers it is in, we chose not to go forward."
"Brenda Starr, Reporter" now is carried by about three dozen newspapers around the world, including the Boston Herald and the Chicago Tribune.
Brenda was the creation of Dalia Messick, who wrote under the pen name of Dale Messick and based Brenda's looks on the actress Rita Hayworth. In 1940, Brenda was a rarity: a career woman at a time the comics pages were dominated by men.
Brenda worked for the fictional newspaper The Flash, and was an intrepid reporter who juggled work and romance. She always got the story – and, often, the guy.
In 2009, Schmich wrote a storyline that had Brenda furloughed by her newspaper, a fate encountered by many real-life journalists. And now, Brenda will be gone for good.
Which means there is one cliffhanger left: How will the end come?
The last panels of the strip "Annie" saw that red-headed heroine kidnapped – leaving the door open to a revival of the strip down the road. Guszynski said there will be no such comeback for Brenda.
"It has been discussed … there will be finality to it," Guszynski said. "I do not anticipate it will be as open ended as 'Annie.'"