The four-week series was put into production and included with the "slicks" (the camera ready art) was a letter to the editors from Lee, suggesting that they read the story before pasting up their comic pages. If they felt they would prefer to run alternate material, a set of previously run strips had been selected to fill that space.
Within a few days of receiving the package, forty newspapers declined the series and asked for the alternate strips. Many, however, for one reason or another never read the accompanying letter (or the strips) and were taken by complete surprise when the story appeared on their comic page and their phones began to ring!
Lee had warned me that there could be some concern - but none of us was prepared for the overwhelming event that followed.
As soon as the first panel ran, both the syndicate and the newspapers were swamped with phone calls. Some installed new systems just to handle the volume. Faxes and letters began to arrive, letters to editors, to Universal Press, to me. A spontaneous, emotional outpouring of opinion flooded into the system, and became, I think, one of the most impressive and intense reactions on record to a comic strip story. A young man admitted to his friend that he was gay and a Pandora's box was opened wide. All of us were shaken.
At first, it seemed as though the response was mostly negative. Letters (that appeared to have been written in haste and rage) accused, threatened, cursed, and damned. Many, quoting elaborate passages from the Bible, included threatening and unprintable messages. "Curious thing," I thought to myself, "that these people felt they were worthy to sit in judgment of others." Some letters came as organized protests (many from people who, you could tell, had never read For Better or For Worse). Some came from people, who had been violated as children and equated homosexuality with pedophiles and thought I was in support of something that had destroyed their lives. The opposing points of view were varied, definite, and strong.
Within one week, nineteen papers had cancelled For Better or For Worse outright. Editors who decided to run the series were attacked for having the gall to do so. Those who chose not to run it were accused of "censorship." Editors and publishers were damned if they did, and damned if they didn't. They called the syndicate. Editors at Universal Press worked overtime, diffusing the anger, answering questions, calming, and reassuring these people who were being harassed, picketed, and were in the eye of a storm generated by ignorance. Those editors who wished to confront me personally were given my phone number. My phone rang constantly from 7 am to 10 pm every day. I answered all my calls. I spoke with everyone who needed to know why, what was I trying to do? Did I realize what I had done?1 2 3 4 5