Monday, March 05, 2007

Lady Reporter

EDIT: I've re-posted the strip in vertical form to make it larger and more easily read.

A few Santa Barbara bloggers have noted similarities between "the mess at the News-Press" and a new storyline in the long-running comic strip Brenda Starr.


The strip features the kind of soap opera-style arcs that I associated with the likes of Rex Morgan, M.D., Mary Worth or Apartment 3-G — none of which I can fault for any reason other than I never know what's going on in them. Much like leaving weekday Adult Swim on into the first few minutes of "Inuyasha" and understanding only that the central characters are in the middle of some life-or-death struggle, I only see these dramatic serial strips ever now and then. Usually, someone is dying or getting married or both and I'll have no context or familiarity with the characters, which makes me eventually go read something else. Clearly, someone must read them regularly, however, as they've been going on for years.

Likewise, I had not heard of the adventures of Chicago reporter Brenda Starr until Craig Smith's blog posted a note about the apparent commentary on journalism happenings here in Santa Barbara. In this new plotline, Brenda has been asked to take on an editor position at a new newspaper started by Tina Titan, a wealthy woman with no journalism experience. Tina has no business running the paper, you see, because she makes bonehead moves like re-naming it the Titan Times. Brenda immediately thinks the situation will end badly, but considers the job anyway. To Craig Smith, this sounded familiar to leadership at the News-Press, which currently has a wealthy owner whose ability to helm a newspaper has also been questioned. Other bloggers seemed to agree. Billy Calderwood, another online writer, even noted the striking resemblance of Lulu Lamour's palatial home depicted in the first panel to the exterior of the Santa Barbara Mission — a likeness all the more outstanding in that Brenda Starr takes place in Chicago, which I'd wager is not big on Spanish-style architecture or palm trees.

As this site lets you hop around through recently published Brenda Starr strips, I tried to follow the storyline as best I could. What struck me as a notable parallel between Tina Titan and Wendy McCaw was the fact that Tina's hang-out is called "Medusa Studio." I assume that name is a reference to Tina's large hair, but the mention also brings to mind the following editorial cartoon.

Originally running in the OC Weekly and later getting posted again on's SB Media Blog, this cartoon depicts McCaw as Medusa, with her wild tentacles passing out cease-and-decist orders and the like.

All this would seem to be a coincidence, however. Wanting to see if a news story was hiding at the heart of all this, I emailed Mary Schmich, the Chicago Tribune columnist who currently writes Brenda Starr, and asked if the similarities were intentional. Schmich said they weren't, sadly, and that the notion of the storyline being a commentary on the Santa Barbara News-Press didn't enter her imagination until I asked her about it. "It's funny," Schmich wrote, "But over the years I've written Brenda I've discovered that whenever I concoct characters and a plot based on vague things floating in the culture they always wind up looking as if they're about a specific person, situation or newspaper." So I guess that's a big no, despite what I thought was an overwhelming amount of evidence. (Schmich, by the way, is also the person who wrote the newspaper column praising the benefits of sunscreen, which ultimately turned into a widely forwarded email credited to Kurt Vonnegut and then the Baz Luhrman-produced song that followed. Weird, no?)

I still find this all very interesting, regardless of whether the parallels were the author's intention. Just the fact that we Santa Barbara bloggers could have even posited that a comic strip written and set in Chicago would even think of offering its opinion on our town's happenings goes to show how large this situation has gotten.


  1. Anonymous11:41 AM

    "All this, however, would seem to be a coincidence, however. "

    Are you now working for the "Department of Redundancy" Department?

  2. Anonymous1:50 PM

    Or it shows how insanely self centered we are! Hey we're bloggers right? And Santa Barbarans to boot. It goes with the territory? Thanks for the H.T...