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December 2, 2012

Jeff Millar, 1942-2012


Jeff Millar, the Houston Chronicle film critic who wrote the comic strip Tank McNamara, died on November 30 after a four-year struggle with the effects of bile duct cancer. He was 70 years old.

Millar was born in Pasadena, Texas. He attended high school in League City where he was class valedictorian and then went to the University Of Texas. He began work at the Chronicle in 1964 as an entertainment writer, becoming the paper's primary film critic in 1965. He also wrote a humor column, and for a time covered major music-industry stories for the paper. He retired from the Chronicle in 2000.

imageTank McNamara was created in partnership with Houston-area illustrator Bill Hinds in 1974. The two were introduced by a mutual friend that knew Millar was on the lookout for an artist for an idea about a sports-related comic strip. The feature launched in 74 papers.

The namesake lead of Tank McNamara was a former major-college and NFL football player turned sports broadcaster, allowing Millar and Hinds early satirical access to the media and the sports world, two already-massive areas of American concern that have become that much bigger in the years the strip has run. Millar and Hinds have also broadened the character's appeal from a fairly one-note ex-jock barely suited for media work into more of a reliable everyman. The strip itself would often drop its lead for days if not weeks in favor of direct satirical depictions of sports figures and athletes, even using other fictional cast members as the gateway characters.

Tank was a solid performer pretty early on in its syndication run, and today has approximately 300 clients, some of whom run the feature on their sports pages. It is also a reliable performer on-line, including the Chronicle's own site with its aggressive comics section. Tank may be best known in some circles at this point for its attention-getting, reader-generated "Sports Jerk Of The Year" promotion. The future of the strip is unknown.

Millar also launched a second comic strip, Second Chances (1996-2000) based on two supporting characters from Tank McNamara (Tank's neighbors) and his own experience with a second marriage. That was also in partnership with Hinds. Millar wrote a novel in the late '70s, and at least three of his plays were produced. He wrote until the month of his passing.

Millar is survived by a wife, his ex-wife, three sisters, two brothers, a stepdaughter and a step son, and two grandchildren. Services are scheduled for December 8.

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