Inside With: Neil Swaab, Creator of Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles
After 5 years of weekly comic strips, Neil Swaab’s Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles has been unceremoniously axed by the New York Press’ new editors. With a masthead that changes with the breeze, one wonders why the New York Press would drop one of the few consistent things readers look forward to in their paper. We asked Neil what the heck is going on over there and what we can do to find Mr. Wiggles a home in NYC.
What exactly is going on with the NY Press?
Isn’t that always the question? It seems like from the first day I started, that question was getting asked. The Press has gone through a series of editors upon Russ Smith’s sale a few years back. John Strausbaugh was fired, replaced by Lisa Kearns who stepped down after only a few weeks, replaced by Jeff Koyen who in turn quit after a couple years over the Death of the Pope scandal, and then helmed by Alex Zaitchik until he was fired several weeks ago and replaced with Harry Siegel. Each editor has had their own vision of the paper some more successful than others. I thought Alex’s was very successful and it’s a shame they cut him off so early. He had a smart, intelligent, and irreverent take on the paper and also had a good sense of humor and treated the contributors with respect. Long story short, the new editors have decided that after five years in the paper, my popular comic strip, Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles, didn’t fit into their vision of the paper. So they fired me. Over e-mail. Wouldn’t even bother to do it over the phone or in person which is kind of crappy to do to someone who’s helped define the paper for the past five years. Anyway, that about sums it up.
Clearly The Press is scrambling to find an editorial voice that engages anyone other than themselves. It’s well known that Gawker has put a deathwatch on the paper. Do you feel that dropping Mr. Wiggles is part of an enlightened bureaucratic overhaul with the paper’s voice? Or do you think this is just another step on its road to ruin?
I can only speculate on the real reasons the new editors of The NY Press decided to drop my comic. I knew from reading what the editor of one of my other papers referred to recently as “that pretentious, wanker manifesto” they published the first week they started, that my comic probably wasn’t going to appeal to them. Anyone who publishes a manifesto with no hint of irony probably isn’t going to get the humor of my comic. Apply that logic to the rest of what makes the paper great and you get what the paper is currently turning into.
The listings have become clones of the other papers, they’ve fired the excellent relationship expert Judy McGuire, they’ve done an interview with George Clooney (George Clooney for God’s sake!), and they actually intend on publishing poetry (again, with no irony)! I can’t imagine this paper appealing to anyone other than the guys who make it. Which is good for the editors because they’re firing everyone who’s made it great and replacing them with their friends. So they’ll all be happy at least. But ultimately it’s the readers and advertisers who will determine its success or failure. Do I think the paper is headed towards it’s demise? Not really. They’ve been saying that from the first day I started. I don’t think the paper is going out of business anytime soon.
As long as people continue to pick it up and advertisers continue to buy space in it, it’ll last. If it does go belly up, it’ll probably be more from the competition of the internet, news blogs, and craigslist than from the people at the top.
It doesn’t make much sense. Was this all just out of the blue?
It’s always a possibility when the masthead changes over because editors like to shake things up and you never know what appeals to them. And, as I mentioned above, I didn’t think my comic would be their thing, but there were no hints before the actual firing. An ironic story is that I was at a bar two nights before and ran into fellow cartoonist Dean Haspiel and he alerted me to the fact my strip wasn’t in the paper that week. Figuring it just got cut because of space which sometimes happens I joked that maybe they were firing me. I guess the joke was on me.
Has the Village Voice expressed interest? Will Mr. Wiggles find a new home in the city?
I just dropped off a package to some folks at the Voice. Hopefully they’ll be interested. I think it would be very smart for them to pick up the comic for a variety of reasons and I’d love to be in their paper, but honestly, I think the likelihood is very slim. I’ll just have to cross my fingers and hope.
Is there anything we can do about it?
Absolutely. If you enjoy the comic, then please let the editors know how you feel about this decision to fire me and ask them to reconsider. The only way it will be able to come back to the paper is if people like you let it be known that you won’t stand for it. You can e-mail the editors at firstname.lastname@example.org or Harry Siegel at email@example.com. You might also want to try Tim Marchman as well at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d care to send snail mail, the address is:
New York Press
333 7th Ave., 14th Floor
New York, NY 10001
Another thing is to write to the Village Voice and inquire about them picking up my comic and tell them how much you’d like to be able to keep reading it. I don’t have an e-mail address from them (maybe one of your smart readers will be able to provide one), but their mailing address is:
The Village Voice
36 Cooper Square
New York, NY 10003
If you can spare a few minutes, send an email or two to the editors letting them know what you think. Collections of Neil’s strips have been published in two volumes: Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles Vol.1 and Attitude Featuring: Neil Swaab, Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles (AKA Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles Vol. 2). Until Wiggles finds a new home in NYC, you can continue to read his comics here.
ADDENDUM by Neil Swaab
This interview was conducted a day or two after I was fired and I was in a pretty bad mood to say the least. What I wanted to clarify was the reason that I was fired. Or at least the reason I was told. In their e-mail, they said it was time to open up the space to give to new cartoonists. You can infer from that whatever you want. I made my own inferences based on that e-mail and the new agenda at the paper and what else was going down and that’s what I felt at the time of this interview. I won’t publicly comment on my feelings now (assume they’re bad), other than to offer up their explanation for you to make your own inferences.