The departure of “Rex Morgan, M.D.” from The Times’ Comics pages this week has brought in more than 80 e-mails and 50 calls.
The last strip ran Saturday, and a note was published on the front page of the Calendar section that day announcing the change. It was also noted in a post on this blog Saturday, and again on the Calendar cover on Monday.
Many readers, however, missed the news and have been looking for the good doctor.
The change was prompted by the ending of “Cathy,” whose creator retired. It was decided that the KenKen puzzle would replace “Cathy,” but that meant dropping one more strip to make room -- and the one cut was “Rex Morgan.”
Among those who wrote was Dave Strickler, a research librarian who has cataloged all of the comic strips that have ever run in The Times. Strickler noted that “Rex Morgan” had been the longest-running strip in the paper, debuting in The Times on Aug. 2, 1948.
According to an article from The Times’ archives, “Rex Morgan” was one of six “new, top-rate” strips added to the paper that day to create a full page of comics, with a total of 18 strips. It was sandwiched between “Abbie An’ Slats” and “Dotty Dripple” (above). The article, which detailed other “improvements” to The Times (including printing the Sports section on green paper) concluded optimistically, “We hope you like it!”
Judging by this week’s feedback, readers did.
“How dare you take away my Dr. Rex Morgan? I look forward to it every day, and now you've removed it for a stupid math game. This is crazy,” wrote Helen Crisp of Glendora.
“There are a number of unfunny, inartistic strips that, for reasons known to you, remain on the comic page, while ‘Rex Morgan’ is eliminated? Very sad,” added Stephen Snow of Los Angeles.
“The day ‘Mary Worth’ disappeared from the Calendar section, I started holding my breath for ‘Rex Morgan.’ But to my relief, he got spruced up, married and had a child. It looked like Mary had been the sacrificial lamb and Rex was going to hold the space reserved for basic down-to-earth good advice in health and family matters. Wrong again!” said Dorien Grunbaum of Los Angeles.
Strickler, who lives in San Simeon “in the shadow of William Randolph Hearst’s castle,” as he describes it on his website, made another historical note about “Rex Morgan’s” place in The Times. “The demise of ‘Rex Morgan, M.D.’ also brings to an end the run of soap opera strips in The Times, as well as, arguably, the end of all continuity story-line strips. Continuity soaps have enthralled Times readers since at least the late 1930s.”
Strickler’s website, ComicsAccess.com, has a complete index of all comics published in The Times, beginning with the first six strips that ran on Aug. 21, 1904. Since then more than 900 strips have come and gone. Strickler’s entry for “Rex Morgan” has been updated with the ending date of 10/2/2010.
“No lament here,” he wrote in his e-mail this week. “Times change, and The Times changes with them. But the end of a fine, enduring cultural tradition should at least be noted, with a sigh.”
Photo: Part of The Times' Comics page from Aug. 2, 1948. Source: Los Angeles Times archives