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Garry Trudeau urges ‘stick with print’; webcartoonists react

Doonesbury asks what happens to comics if newspapers go away?

Saturday’s Doonesbury attempted at humor at the current state of newspapers by asking “what happens to comics if newspapers go away?” The strip left the 2nd and 3rd panel blank with the characters stating, “stick with print, folks. This doesn’t have to happen” in the last panel. You can read reader reaction on Doonesbury’s site.

Many webcartoonists took on the question of what happens to comics if newspapers go away by posting the Doonesbury strip with inserted images from their own web comics. Most were well done, but Scott Kurtz depicted one of his characters farting in the blank space of the strip. Adam Manley created a collection of those strips along with his opinion:

Now, I love Doonesbury. I also love newspapers. I don’t want print media to go away. That said, saying it’s the only way (especially for comics) is just plain insulting, and reeks of elitism.

All due respect to Gary Trudeau, whose work I adore and respect, but this strip represents an archaic, narrow-minded, elitist mindset.

Community Comments

#1 John Weber
February/5/2013
@ 10:16 am

Yeah, Garry, it’s not like YOUR OWN COMIC APPEARS ONLINE or anything. I’d be sad too, but then I remembered that all the best comics are the ones my paper doesn’t carry anyway. (Lio, Retail, Gil, Ink Pen…)

#2 Jim Lavery
February/5/2013
@ 10:57 am

I don’t think he’s addressing web comics at all. He’s addressing the ages old cultural experience of reading comics in a newspaper by the general public. If and when newspapers disappear the general public will not experience comic strips the way they used to and in fact most will never see them again. Newspapers are declining because people are seeking their news online (as well as other sources), but they are NOT seeking comics online. Comic Fans, yes, readers of this site, yes, but NOT the general public. The general public enjoyed the comics as part of the newspaper reading experience. The comics were already there and they got to them in the course of devouring the paper. Now with online news consumption the general readers experience is fragmented. Links of headlines are mostly clicked on due to the “hotness” of the story or the personal interest to the reader. Such news consumption is nibbled on gradualy throughout the day whenever there’s time to “check in”. Comic strips just are not in the mix of the general public’s drive-by news absorbtion.

Cartoons are still loved by people across the board but they are generally accessed serendipitously where they’re then enjoyed and shared–which, to be honest, is how they were experienced in newspapers. But at least they were contained right there in the whole package, but the two are divorced now. The trick in trying to revive the cultural comics experience is to somehow appropriate the serendipitous nature of comics consumption, that is take advantage of that aspect of that medium and find a way to get comics in front of eyeballs of those who don’t necessarily seek them but love them when they find them.

#3 Steve Skelton
February/5/2013
@ 10:58 am

Say what?? To be syndicated today most likely means working your a$$ off to get into 25 papers, which will pay about $10 per week for a new feature. Split that with the syndicate, and you might make $12,000 a year doing a job that requires about 35 hours a week minimum. I am not out to mess with anybody’s dreams, but print comics are a great way to work yourself into poverty.

#4 Jim Lavery
February/5/2013
@ 11:07 am

Steve, you’re right, but that speaks to the state of the market today, not the experience reading comics has been for people over the years.

#5 Steve Skelton
February/5/2013
@ 11:09 am

True, Jim. I was looking at from the cartoonist’s perspective, which is not what this article is about. If the artist can’t make a living doing it in print, then the print model will die. More coffee!

#6 Steve Skelton
February/5/2013
@ 11:12 am

And how I wish it weren’t true! I love my newspaper in the morning.

#7 Donald Rex Jr.
February/5/2013
@ 12:29 pm

turn turn turn

#8 Stephen Beals
February/5/2013
@ 12:32 pm

I love newspapers, but I have to go back to the early 90s to remember a time when they were my go-to source for comics. I don’t think that’s my fault. Today, I can’t tell you what has the benefit of being printed and what doesn’t, even when I’m reading a comic on a syndicate website.

The only way I really think I can support Doonesbury (which I also love) or any other comic is by buying a book.

#9 Mike Cope
February/5/2013
@ 12:36 pm

I think it’s clever that Trudeau used the word “feel” and not “see,” even though he set the gag up with “Take a look.”

The fact that some cartoonists are interpreting this as a personal slight seems like egotistic overreaction.

After all, Trudeau was specifically speaking to comic fans that were reading his comic via a printed page. He was drawing attention to the state of newspapers and how their demise *could* affect his own livelihood.

He didn’t say, “Stick with ONLY print.”

But hey, thanks for overreacting and drawing everyone’s attention to a great cartoon commentary.

#10 Stephen Beals
February/5/2013
@ 12:54 pm

Yeah, that’s about how I felt, Mike. I wonder if it’s bostering just a few subscribers not to cancel.

#11 Howard Tayler
February/5/2013
@ 12:56 pm

Regardless of what Trudeau was or wasn’t TRYING to say, what he actually SAID was a straight-line, and a dozen webcartoonists delivered a punchline that was much funnier.

If you don’t find it funny, that probably means it’s a great joke. The best jokes usually don’t play to the whole audience.

Look around. Who’s laughing? Who’s not? What does that mean?

#12 John Read
February/5/2013
@ 1:02 pm

Mike and Stephen, you are correct. Web cartoonists who think Trudeau is dissing their comics are too quick to judge, and obviously lack any knowledge of Doonesbury history. This from the Doonesbury ONLINE site: “The strip is nothing more than a simple gag about the state of newspapers. It was intended for the readers of the 1,100 daily and Sunday print editions that publish the strip. While understandably sentimental about his roots in print media, GBT was an enthusiastic, early adapter to digital platforms, creating three different CD-ROMS (1995), a web-based motion-capture video project (Duke2000), a milblog (2006), e-book editions of his anthologies, and of course, this website, launched in 1995, long before most webcomics were created. He first wrote about the social impact of computers, a favorite topic, in 1972.”

#13 RYAN BROWN
February/5/2013
@ 1:09 pm

Steve’s take is exactly why I have completely given up on any syndicated comic strip endeavor. Print syndication was a viable dream to chase about 20, 30 or 40 years ago but obviously not now. And webcomics aren’t a place (yet?) where you can profit enough to earn a comfortable living. So, working a full-time job now I have to ask myself is it really worth it to continue to spend hours drawing comics when there isn’t any tangible dream to chase anyway? My logic tells me no.

Maybe one day I’ll have a change of heart. I guess one day.

#14 Howard Tayler
February/5/2013
@ 1:22 pm

@Ryan:

“And webcomics aren?t a place (yet?) where you can profit enough to earn a comfortable living.”

I’m earning a comfortable living. Others are too. Many others are not. How is this different from syndication, where some make a comfortable living, and many others do not?

It’s always been a steep power-curve, with a tiny percentage of the aspirants actually making a living, and an even tinier subset of that group garnering fame and fortune. This curve holds true in almost every creative endeavor, from prose to pedagogy, art to acting.

We’ve beaten that particular horse beyond death. It’s not even fit for carpaccio at this point.

#15 Steve Skelton
February/5/2013
@ 1:35 pm

Webcomics are the new frontier. Call the shots, post tomorrow’s cartoon just hours before deadline, sell books and other merchandise without splitting the profits. Another great thing about webcomics as a cartoonist, is you can choose to do your cartoon 5 days a week instead of 7. And that can make a big difference in your weekly schedule. Some post 3 days per week, but I personally think that is shooting yourself in the foot. The most difficult ramp up in doing a webcomic is attracting readership. A webcomic without an audience is not going to make a dime, so you have to figure out a way to find an audience. And that is why getting syndicated today can still be a good thing for a cartoonist.

#16 Mike Peterson
February/5/2013
@ 1:38 pm

I don’t remember TV producers getting their undies in such a twist over Hollywood’s attempts to keep the film industry from being swept under by the new medium.

#17 Mike Cope
February/5/2013
@ 1:39 pm

@Howard: I think it’s wonderful that other cartoonists were able to use Trudeau’s cartoon to creatively contrast and compare their own styles and sense of humour, but as you said…

“The best jokes usually don?t play to the whole audience.”

… The fact that these other cartoonists didn’t “get” Trudeau’s cartoon is what I’m laughing at.

#18 Craig L Wittler
February/5/2013
@ 2:06 pm

It may help to put the strip in the perspective of the whole week’s series of strips, in which a storyline was interrupted by two of the “Gen X” characters doing the always-unpopular “Mailbag” feature, but with tweets instead of paper mail or even email, then having the “Old Generation” characters kick them out and take over… so this likely was never intended to represent Trudeau’s attitude, but just that of a couple of fourth-wall-breaking 40-year-running characters.

Still, I interrupted a weekend of work on designing my own site about cartoons & comics (for which I acquired the awesome domain “tooned.in”) to make my own personal response, pasting together over two-dozen of my favorite webcomics in a 1000px by 1200px space before realizing that if I included ALL my favorites, I’d be working on it all week. Interestingly, two of the above commenters’ comics made the cut (Hi Stephen! Hi Howard!)

http://tooned.in/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2013/02/doonesburychallenge2.png

#19 Jim Lavery
February/5/2013
@ 2:10 pm

It is ultimately ironic that in the strip Zonker is answering a question in a newspaper panel that was digitally tweeted. I think GBT knows what he’s doing.

#20 Stephen Beals
February/5/2013
@ 2:35 pm

How nice, Craig. I’m always flattered to be in good company. I’m reading all of this on my phone. Comics are still too small :)

By the way, this reminded me that I still have the 1995 Doonesbury anniversary disc. I need to dig that out and see if it still works. I remember thinking it was the coolest thing at the time.

#21 RYAN BROWN
February/5/2013
@ 3:02 pm

@Howard:

“It?s always been a steep power-curve, with a tiny percentage of the aspirants actually making a living, and an even tinier subset of that group garnering fame and fortune. This curve holds true in almost every creative endeavor, from prose to pedagogy, art to acting.”

–Yes, but at least in those creative endeavors you very commonly see examples of them almost daily which gives you stronger hope that it can be more realistically attained. There are no threats to the professions of teaching, writing or acting. They are all here to stay. I can’t say the same about newspaper syndication.

#22 Howard Tayler
February/5/2013
@ 8:46 pm

@Ryan: Apples and oranges there at the end. Acting, teaching, and writing are broad careers. Syndicated cartooning is very narrow.

Writing humor colums for the syndicate is a fairer comparison to syndicated cartooning. I don’t know from acting, but I’m tempted to compare syndicated cartooning to vaudeville.

The point being that cartooning is not being threatened. Cartoonists are still working, and they’re collecting money from a broader audience than ever before. If the syndicate model dies, or fails to evolve to be profitable under new distribution mediums, that’s just the small tragedy of “people out of work,” not the cultural disaster of “we lost an entire art form.”

Oh, and if you’re serious about “no threat to the career of writing,” you haven’t been following the kerfluffles introduced by, of all things, the Web and the Kindle. Same kettle of fish, different fish market.

#23 Donald Rex Jr.
February/5/2013
@ 9:35 pm

Is Doonesbury the one with the giant sandwiches?

#24 Joe Engesser
February/6/2013
@ 11:38 am

Funny and to the point, Garry!

#25 Geoff Depew
February/6/2013
@ 12:33 pm

I feel weird, because I went back two days in the strip, where he pulled out the ‘newer characters back in the bucket, original ones take over’ card, then a joke about relevance, and then this one. I thought he was poking fun at some other newspaper cartoonists who act as if webcomics were the worst thing ever, and the fact that some comics seem stuck in an unchanging limbo.

But maybe that’s just me.

#26 Donald Fox
February/6/2013
@ 1:26 pm

Even if I wasn’t reading newspaper comics I wouldn’t be reading the Dresdan Codak. I mean if I wanted to (I don’t) I couldn’t, it hardly ever updates. Its apples to oranges but those in glass houses really shouldn’t throw stones. A lot of webcomic artists are just as narrow minded and elitist as syndicated ones.

#27 Howard Tayler
February/6/2013
@ 5:46 pm

@Donald: I can’t argue against the elitism thing. It’s a fact. It exists everywhere. And basing it on, of all things, a business model and a distribution method, rather than, oh, say, ART AND WRITING seems pretty silly.

Even basing it on art and writing is fraught. Elitism is how you stop learning important things.

But whether or not you like Dresden Codak is beside the point. Lots of people do, and Aaron Diaz is making a living at it. His art blows mine so far out of the water I forget what water is, but somehow I’m making a living at this too. THOSE are the salient points. We’re making a living without newspapers and without syndicates. If newspapers vanish, we’ll still be here (assuming newspapers vanish for reasons other than, say, nuclear winter, or H1N1.)

#28 Kurt Griffith
February/6/2013
@ 10:46 pm

Gary, you’re one of my inspirations as an artist and designer. But you’re being a bit dismissive about the insanely deep pool of talent represented by webcomics. So a little pushback is fair play.

Love ya, man!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/31787152@N04/8451618095/

#29 Mike Flugennock
February/7/2013
@ 8:27 am

B’wah ha ha ha ha ha hah. What will happen to comics when newspapers go away? Give us a huge break, man. When newspapers go away, comics will be published on the Web. Trudeau needs to get over himself.

Y’know, I used to be a huge “Doonesbury” fan when I was a young teenager in the early ’70s, but “Doonesbury” stopped being relevant long ago.

Trudeau used to do pretty edgy stuff, making progressive statements and taking righteous stands on Vietnam and other issues at a time when taking those positions was really tough to do.

Nowadays, though, “Doonesbury” has gotten to be like the comic-strip equivalent of NPR — bland, predictable Establishment Liberal fare.

Anyway, I learned long ago that I couldn’t depend on mainstream daily newspapers to give any space to the kind of views that I and others like me air in our work. The Internet was a godsend to people like myself and Carlos Latuff and Brian McFadden. If big-city print dailies all disappeared tomorrow, I wouldn’t notice.

Besides, it’s not like newspapers have done the comics a big favor, lately — y’ever see how big the daily strips are printed in a modern big-city daily? Walt Kelly’s wife and son tried to continue “Pogo” for a while after Walt died, but gave up because even back then, daily strips were being printed so tiny that any drawing style like Walt Kelly’s was all but ruined.

Same with the Sunday comics. Bill Watterson had to fight tooth and nail to get a halfway decent sized space to properly draw “Calvin & Hobbes” instead of the measly third of a page that even the best-known strips are confined to.

#30 Jason Demeter
February/8/2013
@ 11:11 am

I’m not a cartoonist. I’m not even an artist. I’m part of the general public. I used to read comics in newspapers, but I’ve been exposed to more comics through the internet then I ever was through newspapers. I imagine that sort of exposure is why even classical newspaper strips can be found online.

Several people have claimed that he’s not talking about webcomics, but I think that’s being a little disingenuous. The question was ‘what happens to comics if newspapers disappear?’ and his response is a blank space, with the intended implication being that there would be no more comics. This is supported by the ‘feel how empty your life has become?’, because that emptiness would only occur if comics do not exist anywhere. So, while he may not be directly talking about webcomics, his attempted claim that without newspapers there would be no comics certainly isn’t true.

I also think that the article’s line “Most were well done, but Scott Kurtz depicted one of his characters farting in the blank space of the strip.” is a bit of a low blow. Some people think fart jokes are hilarious, and just because the author doesn’t think so doesn’t mean it wasn’t well done.

#31 David Stanford
February/8/2013
@ 4:43 pm

As the Duty Officer at Doonesbury.com I thought I’d share the following, which I posted on our site in response to the Blowback comments on the February 2nd strip:

Sometimes things really are what they seem. I checked with the home office, and the strip is nothing more than a simple gag about the state of newspapers. It was intended for the readers of the 1,100 daily and Sunday print editions that publish the strip. While understandably sentimental about his roots in print media, GBT was an enthusiastic, early adapter to digital platforms, creating three different CD-ROMS (1995), a web-based motion-capture video project (Duke2000), a milblog (2006), e-book editions of his anthologies, and of course, this website, launched in 1995, long before most webcomics were created. He first wrote about the social impact of computers, a favorite topic, in 1972.

#32 JLG
February/8/2013
@ 5:22 pm

I am amazed that web cartoonists are interpreting the strip that way. Give me a break.

#33 JLG
February/8/2013
@ 5:33 pm

@Mike Flugennock:

It’s one thing to not find Doonesbury funny or interesting, but people who describe it as “irrelevant” continue to boggle my mind. I have never understood how people can think this. Trudeau, in fact, is one of the MOST engaged people on the comics page. He consistently stays on top of a changing world—and far beyond politics, which feature much less heavily in the strip than they used to, in fact. He always keeps up with new trends, new developments and new societal changes, and he manages to do it all without looking like he’s even trying hard.
Like I said, taste is subjective and it’s one thing if you don’t think Doonesbury’s funny anymore. But “irrelevant?” Sorry, but that’s self-evidently untrue.

#34 Mike McKeenan
February/8/2013
@ 8:46 pm

I’m with you JLG. ANyone who thought this was Trudeau actually advocating print is pretty simple-minded.

Which, unfortunately, qualifies so many …

#35 Dawn Griffin
February/9/2013
@ 11:11 am

I simply took it as “stick to getting your news (and therefor comics) in print”, because, well, Trudeau is speaking for himself, and he’ll obviously benefit if people do exactly that. As will the newspaper comics readers who don’t want the (print) comics to go away. These people, like others have mentioned, probably don’t even read webcomics, know they exist. Not to be overly judgmental (as I know there’s exceptions), but generally people who still read the comics in the paper… still GET a paper… aren’t the type to read webcomics.
So, I’m not jumping to any conclusions here. I don’t think there’s any hidden or underhanded statement.
Sure, it could have been nice for the webcomic community to have Trudeau say “oh, well, there’s webcomics then! go read those!” but think about it… he’d be undermining himself and his career. I doubt anyone expects him to do that.

#36 John Read
February/9/2013
@ 6:58 pm

David (#30), I’m guessing you did not read the posts before yours, since you shared the same quote I did (#12) regarding Garry’s feelings about digital comics.

#37 Mike Peterson
February/11/2013
@ 4:24 am

Oh, dear. Now he’s telling everyone to stop buying Playboy. He’s set on destroying the print market for men’s magazines!

http://www.gocomics.com/doonesbury/2013/02/11

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