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COMIC-STRIP FOLK AIDING NEEDY AGAIN

Times Staff Writer

For the second consecutive year, the nation’s comic-strip artists are teaming up with the USA for Africa Foundation on Thanksgiving Day to attempt to raise both money and consciousness over the issue of hunger.

Informally calling itself “Comic Relief,” the loose coalition of several dozen cartoonists range from “Doonesbury’s” Garry Trudeau to “Hagar the Horrible’s” Dik Browne. As they did last year, participating cartoonists will devote their strips to anti-hunger themes.

(A Home Box Office television comedy special broadcast last March under the title of “Comic Relief” is a separate project from USA for Africa’s comic-strip project, though the stated purpose of both charitable efforts is to benefit America’s homeless and hungry.)

A collection of last year’s anti-hunger comic strips was recently published by Henry Holt & Co. as “Comic Relief.” About 15,000 copies, listed at $5.95 apiece, have been shipped to the nation’s bookstores. Half the profits of the 94-page book will go to the Century City-based USA for Africa Foundation, according to Henry Holt editor David Stanford.

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The original artwork for last year’s comic-strip panels toured J.C. Penney stores last spring as part of a Hands Across America exhibit. Since Nov. 10, 164 of those panels have been on exhibit at the United Nations in New York and were to be auctioned off Tuesday, all proceeds going to USA for Africa.

Stanford said there are no immediate plans to publish a collection of this year’s comics crop, but did not rule it out.

“It’ll be interesting to see what they do this year because they’ll see the book and say, ‘Gee, I was serious and so-and-so was funny’ or, ‘Gee, I was funny and so-and-so was serious’,” Stanford said.

The foundation has enlisted the aid of three newspaper publishers and three press syndicates to urge an estimated 2,000 U.S. newspapers to supplement the comic pages with ads on Thanksgiving, urging contributions to USA for Africa.

“Not that many papers ran the coupon advertisements last year,” said Stanford. “About 100 smaller papers did, but not one major urban paper did. Even so, they (the foundation) raised about $50,000.”

Foundation officials hoped to hedge that problem this year by enlisting metropolitan daily publishers in the Thanksgiving Day Hunger Project Committee. They include New York Daily News publisher James Hoge, Denver’s Rocky Mountain News publisher Ralph Looney and Oakland Tribune publisher Robert Maynard.

Universal Press Syndicate, United Media and King Features also were represented on the committee.

Though Stanford believes this may be the last year for a united cartoonists’ effort, the cartoonists themselves are not so sure.

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“I think people are going to take turns at being co-chairmen every year,” said Lynn Johnston, the Canadian artist who pens the “For Better or For Worse” strip.

Along with “Garfield” creator Jim Davis and “Beetle Bailey” artist Mort Walker, Johnston coordinated this year’s effort. Though an exact count of how many comic strips will follow the anti-hunger theme won’t be known until Thursday morning, most cartoonists have agreed to participate, Johnston said.

“The Reuben Awards (an annual cartoonists’ award banquet) in the spring is the only other time we ever get together on things,” she said.

She said that the anti-hunger drive has demonstrated the collective power that cartoonists have to “make a statement” and suggested that other themes might be undertaken in the future by the nation’s cartoonists.

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“Since this began, other people have decided we could use the comics for other statements, such as no smoking,” she said. “Maybe we’ll get everybody together on Grandparents Day, for example.”

Money raised from Comic Relief will augment the $15 million that USA for Africa’s Hands Across America project has already netted for the relief of homelessness and hunger in the United States. Last week, the foundation announced the first grants from the Hands Across America fund totaling $576,665 for various anti-poverty and anti-hunger projects in this country.


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