Amy Lago Amy Lago, who has assembled an impressive career as a syndicate comics editor, having edited Charles Schulz while she was at United Feature and Berkeley Breathed while at her present perch at Washington Post Writers Group, knows whereof she speaks when it comes to irate readers and what irates them. “We know that any time religion is mentioned, any religion, it’s a warning flag to readers,” she told Tom Spurgeon, who was interviewing her in September 2007 for Busted! the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund magazine. “It’s as if they become primed and ready to be offended,” she continued.

BloomCountyMuslin Spurgeon had been prompted to interview Lago when several newspapers who subscribed to Breathed’s Opus strip had declined to run one or more of the Sunday strip’s episodes in which a character, a somewhat dizzy bimbo as I recall, adopted radical Muslim behavior and attire. Muslims — some of them — don’t take kindly to being depicted in the comics, and it comes as no surprise, then, that some of them were offended when a dizzy bimbo adopts the outward accouterments of their religion. Because comic strips are usually funny and make people laugh, a dizzy bimbo Muslim impersonator in the funnies might easily be interpreted as a rude attempt by the newspaper business to make fun of Islam. No one likes their religion laughed at. And lately in this country, as in most European countries, newspapers have religiously avoided publishing cartoons with Muslim or Islamic references in them because Muslims — some of them — when they take offense have been known to start lobbing explosive devices at the offenders

You have to be pretty fast on your feet if you’re a comics editor for a syndicate, and Amy Lago qualifies. She told me once of a time that Charles Schulz produced a strip over which a warning flag flapped. In it, Peppermint Patty, for some reason or another, warns the African American kid, Franklin, that he needs to modify his behavior or “Your name will be mud.” Having faith in Schulz’s unerring sense of humor, Lago let Franklin the strip loose into the world of raging newspaper readers, and, sure enough, one of them was offended. To connect “mud” — i.e., “dirt” — to the color of someone’s skin is probably, in certain circles, racist. And a reader phoned Lago to protest the slur. Lago responded with confounding alacrity, summoning up an explanation of the origin of the expression “Your name is mud.” Mudd is the name of the doctor who treated a fugitive John Wilkes Booth for a broken ankle that the latter acquired while assassinating Lincoln that night in Washington’s Ford Theater; and ever after, the name Mudd has been associated with someone who manages to destroy his reputation (in Mudd’s case, quite innocently, he being ignorant of how Booth broke his ankle). The irate phone caller was somewhat comforted by this information. I’m sure, judging from her usual performance, that Lago could have calmed the caller without invoking Doctor Mudd, but when she told me the story, it seemed to me an object lesson in how useful odd bits of trivia can be — and how fast on your feet you must be, how resourceful, to be a successful comics editor in the syndicate world.

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