CHICAGO (CN) – The widow of Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jeff MacNelly sued Tribune Media Services in Federal Court, stating that, despite its claims to the contrary, the Chicago Tribune’s parent company does not have right of first refusal to continuing MacNelly’s comic strip, “Shoe,” when the syndication agreement expires on March 31, 2008.
Jeff MacNelly created his “Shoe” comic strip in 1977 and syndicated it through Tribune Media Services in 1986. It was running in 600 newspapers when MacNelly died in June 2000. When he died, the strip was owned by the corporate plaintiff Blue Ridge Salvage Company, which consisted of MacNelly and his wife, Susan.
MacNelly’s syndication agreement with TMS was superseded by a 1995 agreement with Blue Ridge Salvage. The syndication agreement did not give defendant TMS a right of first refusal to keep the syndication rights when the contract expired, Susan MacNelly claims.
She claims the TMS refused her requests to cooperate in seeking other licensing rights for the “Shoe” strip so that, for instance, she published a 27-year compilation of “Shoe” strips through her own efforts in 2004. She claims the King Syndicate has offered her a better syndication deal, which she wants to accept. She says the TMS has no right of first refusal to the strip, and that its offers are inferior to King’s and contain punitive provisions that King’s do not – for instance, an oppressive post-termination provision that requires her to pay TMS half a year’s income. She seeks declaratory judgment.
Shoe, by the way, is a bird who edits The Tree Top Tattler-Tribune. The compilation of MacNelly’s strips was titled, “27 Years of Shoe: World Ends at Ten, Details at Eleven.”
Blue Ridge is represented by Kevin Salam with Wolf Holland & Solovy of Northbrook. See complaint.