John P. McMeel, Newspaper Syndicator With a Difference, Dies at 85

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Cathy Guisewite, whose appealing and often befuddled cartoon avatar, Cathy, spoke to young women caught between the heady promises of second-wave feminism and the grind of everyday life, said that Mr. Andrews had been the heart and soul of the company and Mr. McMeel the fireworks.

“Cartoonists and their syndicates are typically at odds with each other,” Ms. Guisewite said. “But John created the opposite feeling for us. John opened up a new universe for different kinds of voices on the page. His insistence that there was room for our voices made room for others, too.”

John Paul McMeel was born on Jan. 26, 1936, in South Bend, Ind. His father, James, was the doctor for the University of Notre Dame’s football team; his mother, Naomi (Reilly) McMeel, was a homemaker. He earned a degree in business from Notre Dame in 1957.

Mr. McMeel spent a year in law school at Indiana University before dropping out to take a sales job at the Hall Syndicate. He had just started working there when he met Susan Sykes on a blind date. They married in 1966.

He met Mr. Andrews on a return visit home to South Bend; still a student at Notre Dame, Mr. Andrews was renting a room from Mr. McMeel’s mother.

In the early days of Universal, Mr. Andrews’s wife, Kathleen, kept the books, and Ms. McMeel, back in New York, read submissions. When Mr. Andrews died suddenly in 1980 at 44, Ms. Andrews returned to the company as chief executive of its publishing business. She later became vice chairman of the company. She died in April at 84.

Universal rebranded itself as Andrews McMeel Universal in the late 1980s. By then Mr. McMeel had signed up Dear Abby, Erma Bombeck, Mr. Larson, Roger Ebert and Pat Oliphant, the arch Australian-born political cartoonist.

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