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Universal Uclick to launch Wumo to over 100 papers
I’ve been a long-time fan of the Danish webcomic Wulffmorganthaler by Mikael Wulff and Anders Morgenthaler, so I was excited to learn it was being launched as a syndicated comic here in the US under the title Wumo. The feature has been on the web since 2002 and runs in several papers in Northern Europe. Universal Uclick will launch it into American Newspapers in November of this year and already boasts of a client list of over a 100 newspapers.
The strip’s launch is significant for a couple of reasons. This is Universal’s first launch since 2010 and the client list number is much larger than what one would expect in this economic climate. I talked with Universal Uclick President John Glynn about the new launch.
AG: How long has Wumo been on your radar for acquisition and when did you approach Mikael and Anders about bringing the strip the US – or did they approach you?
JG: We’ve actually been following Wulffmorganthaler for a long time. They were one of the very first comics on Comics Sherpa. And as an individual, I’d always been attracted to its gratuitous use of sex, violence and bulbous eyes, but I’d never thought it could work in North American syndication. Because we’d thought it was too much for most North American newspaper audiences and the editors who buy comics. Then last year, we’d started talking about doing a GoComics-only deal and when we went through the archives, we realized there was a lot of great stuff that would work in any newspaper.
AG: With the soft market and Universal Uclick’s already deep catalog of comics. Why try to launch a new strip now?
JG: We hadn’t launched anything since “Thatababy” in Fall of 2010, so it was time. Also, I think the market is better than most people think. We hear very public stories of papers that aren’t doing well, but as I read the call reports from our salespeople on the road, there are a lot of newspapers who have gotten past the dark days of 2008-2009 and whose outlook might surprise people.
AG: Will you only be handling the North American syndication or do you have more global distribution rights?
JG: Mikael and Anders and their team did a great job of selling the comic into Scandinavia and parts of Northern Europe, so any market they were already belongs to them, but we’ll handle the rest of the world.
AG: Of the 100+ papers that are buying Wumo, how many are in the US?
JG: 104 of 105 of our wonderful paying customers are in the U.S. to this point (Tokyo is the lone international client). But we’ve not introduced it to our international agents and salespeople yet. We’ll do that at a sales conference this October.
AG: A feature launching in 100+ papers – is this a sign that newspapers are loosening their wallet for comics?
That’d be great, wouldn’t it? Like I mentioned earlier, I think people would be surprised how well some papers are doing, especially in the middle and smaller markets where there’s not a lot of competition from other news-gathering sources. With Wumo, the amount of editors buying the comic on-the-spot (vs. taking to committee or asking for a few weeks to review) has been unlike anything we’ve seen since the launch of Lio and/or maybe The Boondocks.
Taking nothing away from Wumo, I think it helps that we have not launched anything since we took over UFS in June of 2011. But in our defense, we were getting acquainted with a roster of features that more than doubled our existing syndicate roster and included more than 50 comics. We do plan on resuming a regular launch schedule and we have some really interesting things in development that we’ll take out at a more regular pace.
For what it’s worth, I’m encouraged and excited that really smart dudes like Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett are investing in newspapers. When I first got to Universal in 2000, I read newspapers would be completely gone by 2005 … now that doesn’t mean we’re planning on massive or even significant growth from the print clients, it just means that rumors of their death were a bit exaggerated … or off by a decade or two or four …
AG: Wumo’s humor has historically been over-the-top. Kind of like South Park or Family Guy humor in newspaper comic form. The samples online are much tamer and more in line with American newspaper sensibilities. Has it been hard to rein in Mikael and Anders?
JG: The range of Mikael and Anders is pretty impressive. They do stand-up, direct live-action films, create, write and produce full animated series, run the largest humor site in Denmark, raise and kill sable for their pelts, etc. … so once we outlined the guidelines/borders of what an editor would object to, they knew what to do.
It may seem like a technicality, but we don’t view this comic as “Wulffmorganthaler” we view it as “Wumo.” They are different comics with different sensibilities that look an awful lot alike. But we will be editing this comic as we would any other comic that runs through our workflow, and it will adhere to the taste standards that North American editors are accustomed to.
AG: How have you addressed any concerns about any cultural or language/translation issues due to its Danish origin?
JG: It’s definitely a different edit than a comic from a North American cartoonist, but our editors have done a great job helping with wording and adjusting the dialogue to North American sensibilities without losing its international appeal. Plus their lead editor here– Lucas Wetzel — speaks German and your readers might be interested to know that Germany , like Denmark, is also a country in Europe.
AG: How much of the Wumo strips are original and how much is culled from their archive of material?
JG: 60%-80%? That’s a guess though. A lot of it has been published before, but what the exact percentage of comics that have been run online or actually in European newspapers, I’d have to ask them. For what it’s worth, I laugh harder at reruns of “Mr. Belvedere” now than I did when they originally aired.
AG: The samples on UU’s site didn’t include any Sundays. Is this only a daily feature?
JG: Sundays and Daily. The Sundays will look a lot like the dailies.
AG: At what point can we expect you being referenced somewhere in the comic?
JG: The guys told me that the word “Glynn” in Danish means “wearer of tight slacks” so they insisted that they want to wait till the context is right and not force it.
Wumo launches on November 4.