Why is there scarcity of media coverage of the comic strip universe?

Yesterday I received an email from Dominic Bonacci, one of the planners for the upcoming Comics Symposium sponsored by the Lakeland Community College asking for my opinion on why there is a lack of media coverage of comic strip industry. With his permission, I’ve posted his email below along with his questions. I’ve inserted my responses and invite you to add your comments. I would ask, that if you leave a comment, that you add your name. If you’re from a syndicate, or are a syndicated cartoonist, that you add that too so Dominic can cite you properly should he choose to include anyone’s response.

I assist in the production of the annual Lakeland Community College Comics Symposium and occasionally write essays on the topic of comic strips.
I am considering an essay on the topic that although comic strips are a major source of entertainment, with a passionate fan base, publishing implications and a huge audience there is no regular, mainstream coverage of the comics industry.

There is your coverage, a few on-line sources and blogs (such as the Comics Curmudgeon) and Dave Astor’s coverage on Syndicates for Editor and Publisher but that is all. Yet there are plenty of columnists covering other aspects of the entertainment industry such as movies, books, collecting, television and even niches of aspects such as Soap Operas.

1) Why do you think that is? Do you think there is a market for a syndicated column covering syndicated comic strips?

I’m not sure why it couldn’t be done – perhaps the issue has been that nobody has tried it. The closest I’ve seen is Joel Pett’s Toon-Op that runs weekly in the LA Times. Pett’s column/editorial basically recounts what the major news stories of the week and how various editorial cartoons tackled the issue. That seems to be a feature exclusive to the LA Times.

That said, there are some inherent hurdles to such a feature. The first one is that the column may touch upon many comic features that the subscribing paper may not carry. I’m pretty well versed in the comic strip universe, but would it be engaging enough for my mom? Would she care about the fuss of a Boondocks hiatus if her paper didn’t carry the feature?

Another point is most columns are distributed through a syndicate. Would one syndicate want to market a column that at times talks about the popularity of another syndicate’s feature?

Lastly, cartoonists are bottom tier celebrities – their names may be known, but they can walk down most streets anonymously. There are no marquee events in the industry. A feature launches without little or no public fan fare as all the marketing is directed at the editors and not the public. Nobody knows who the best and worst dressed cartoonists are because they usually work alone in their home. The bottom line is there is no sex appeal in the industry.

2) Do you think there is any validity to the idea that the Syndicates are notoriously unfriendly to fan inquires? It seems they are not inclined to respond to general inquires and thus bloggers are left to rant on offer opinion without the balance of the artists/syndicates comment or reply.

I’ve never tried to communicate with a syndicate as a fan, so I can’t speak to that claim. I can say that as a “blogger,” I have had good response and relations with the syndicates whom I’ve contacted for clarification, information, spot art and the like. Perhaps it’s because they recognize that the Daily Cartoonist exists to promote news related to the comic strip industry and not a blog site to complain about the features I don’t like.

3) Is most existing comics coverage merely a product of press releases issued by Syndicates and compilation publishers?

Press releases are a small part of the news published on the Daily Cartoonist. Most of my news is generated from articles written in various newspapers throughout the U.S. I would say in general terms when I read stories in various newspapers – many will run an AP version of a press release – but if the paper is going to make any changes to their line ups, they usually will write something about the new features. Plus there are a few engaging cartoonists that are making noise – Aaron McGruder’s feature moved into television and rumor of a movie in the works. So there are some newsworthy stories being generated to cover the movers and shakers in the industry.

4) Do you know additional good sources of comics coverage?

Most other sources that I’ve seen cover the wider world of comics to include comic books, animation, web comics, manga, graphic novels, etc. That was one of the reasons I created the Daily Cartoonist – I wanted to read about cartooning news specific to cartoonists whose work appeared in the newspaper.

5) How did you get started?

I was an editorial cartoonist for a small newspaper back in the 90s. I left the cartooning field about six years ago when my wife and I were told we were expecting triplets – I simply needed more income than my newspaper job provided. Last fall, I decided to start working on getting back into cartooning. I knew editorial cartooning opportunities were scarce and getting more so. I knew the internet industry was eating the newspaper industry’s lunch. As a means of learning about the future of cartooning in the newspaper world – I started the Daily Cartoonist. The Daily Cartoonist has accomplished what I set out to do with it. It has turned into a personal daily source of inspiration as I read about what the men and women of the industry are doing. I have some new features that I hope to add in the near future, but it will always strive to be the definitive daily news source for the cartooning industry.

7 thoughts on “Why is there scarcity of media coverage of the comic strip universe?

  1. Alan,

    I am by far the handsomest cartoonist in the world, so I am dismayed when I hear that there is no sex appeal in the industry.

    I think part of the reason comics get little press is that the audience for comics is either very young, or very old, and neither group is prone to be excited by the idea of celebrity. They care about the characters… not the creators.

    The other problem is that the only familiar faces in cartoons are cartoon characters. We don’t have any famous actors to trot out in front of the press. And cartoons give crappy interviews.

    That said, your site is a step in the right direction, and one I have come to rely on for news.

    All the best,

  2. It most likely doesn’t get much press these days because there are no comic strips that really stand out. The comic pages have lost most of the giants (Shulz is dead, Larson and Watterson are retired) and what remains are mediocre new strips and tire old ones.

    The syndication editors need to re-examine the choices they’ve made over the past 5 or so years.

  3. Your web site is great, I read it regularly.

    I think there are a couple of other issues that deter coverage of the comics. When I was president of the National Cartoonists Society we tried an outreach effort to features editors to invite them to our convention and introduce them to the cartoonists, we were surprised that there was little or no interest among the editors. The comics were and are viewed as a burden by most newspapers ? the readers get angry when there are changes or when comics disappear, and editors have little or no control over the content on the comics page. Also, comics are perceived to generate no income, because there are typically no ads on the comics page. We found the attitude among editors about the comics to be that comics are an obligation and a burden. I?m not surprised that editors have little interest in trumpeting features in which they have little interest.

    Another issue is the aging demographic of newspaper readers. Older fans are less valuable to the media than younger fans. Twenty and thirty year old users of the internet are the demographic that newspapers have lost and would love to reclaim ?internet users tend not to read newspapers, or comics. There are not many strips like The Boondocks, that target non-traditional newspaper demographics (younger/minority). Look at the media success The Boondocks has had with this untraditional demographic, compare it?s 300 newspaper list ? when comics like the Family Circus and Blondie have between 1000 and 2000 papers.

    You would think editors would learn from this, but they don?t ?they don?t want the controversy of edgy features on the comics pages that can generate angry mail from their elderly readers.

  4. I think part of the problem is that there’s a Catch-22 about coverage of cartoonists. Nobody cares about cartoonists because there’s no newspaper coverage of them. But there’s no newspaper coverage of them because nobody cares.

    Our local papers (Seattle Times & Seattle PI) provide next to no coverage of comics. Even though “The Boondocks” runs in the PI, they have yet to run anything about McGruder’s hiatus. The Seattle Times has omitted some episodes of “Prickly City” with no explanation or follow-up.

    The only way to find out about comic strips is to head for the Internet.

    Are there stories here? You bet–the syndicate artists who covered for Rob Harrell makes for a great human interest story. And some cartoonists ARE celebrities–just show up at a Scott Adams signing sometime (but show up early if you want to get in).

    By treating comic strips as the ugly stepchild, newspapers make for a nicely self-fulfilling prophecy. And by keeping ancient strips whose creators have died (physically or creatively) does nothing to attract new readers.

    (Although the first Robert is off-base. Look at Frazz, Get Fuzzy, Sherman’s Lagoon, Sheldon, and Boondocks and quit whining about “the giants” being gone.)

  5. I don’t believe I’m too off base when I say the “Giants” of the comics are gone. I exaggerated a little granted, but there are few names left that actually draw a crowd. Scott Adams is one. The names you mentioned above are relatively new and do not have the universal appeal like Watterson, Larson or Shultz. They do have decent strips but their appeal is to very limited groups.

    I agree with Daryl about the editors (” ?they don?t want the controversy of edgy features on the comics pages”), but what do they have to lose? Readership is way down because there is simply nothing in the newspapers that makes people think “hey, I better get the paper so I can read so and so”. If you have a quality product people will buy. Stop the whining about the internet taking away readers. Improve the product.

  6. I take exception to Guy’s outlandish comment!
    Quote he, “I am by far the handsomest cartoonist in the world”.

    Without question, that title belongs to me. I would even throw in “sexiest”.

    Guy, please check you information before making such egregious claims.

  7. Actually, Mr. Tatulli I’m the handsomest cartoonist ever known.

    Unfortunately I’m not famous. I’m so critical of my own work it hasn’t been seen by more than a handful of people. I’m working on getting a thicker skin so I can take it when people tell me I stink.

    (I’m joking, I’m actually kinda homely. But I am the sexiest and I am critical of my own work)

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