Are legacy strips stifling the funny pages?

There’s a story over in the Wall Street Journal about the competitive nature of the comic pages. The article focuses how hard it is for editors or the public to let go of older, legacy features.

Generally, a strip has to end or be dropped by a paper in order for a new one to join the lineup. But much to the chagrin of young artists and writers eager to make their mark, a fair amount of the comic-page real estate is taken up by what they view as old, tired artists and writers — in some instances, long departed ones. Charles Schulz, for example, died in 2000, but his progeny Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus and Snoopy continue to cavort through the funny pages, their antics billed as “Classic Peanuts.” Detractors might say stale Peanuts.

59 thoughts on “Are legacy strips stifling the funny pages?

  1. Congratulations on the media mention, Alan. Reading an article like this is an interesting experience while you’re currently submitting to the syndicates.

  2. Have you ever noticed that the papers that write the most articles on comics are those that don’t carry comics? The New York Times seems to have one every few months, about the cultural importance of comics, etc., while papers that actually carry comics rarely write about it, other than when they’re conducting one of their moronic “reader polls”.

  3. The mantra of “can’t break into the comics page for all of the old legacy comics” is getting tired itself. Cartoonists today have far more opportunities to see their work published than they did just 15 years ago — there are now avenues other than newspapers. The staying power of some of the oldest comics comes from the ability to create timeless characters, characters that people enjoy seeing day after day. With so many of today’s comic creators focusing on topical subjects rather than solid characters, it is no wonder they can’t break in. Many of those legacy strips were created with publishers working with in-house cartoonists to create entertainments for their newspapers, and their best concepts have stood the passage of time. On the timeline of comics’ existence, it is really only a fairly recent phenomenon that artists have owned rights to their strips. Syndicates’ ownership of classic characters is like DC’s ownership of Superman and Batman and Marvel’s ownership of Spider-Man… no one’s out there calling them legacy comic books and saying they can’t be written on drawn by anyone other than their creators. It all comes down to what readers want to see.

  4. “a fair amount of the comic-page real estate is taken up by what they view as old, tired artists and writers”

    Regarless of one’s views on the legacy debate, this sentence seems a little harsh to me. I agree to an extent that older strips in reruns do hurt new cartoonists with new ideas. But to call an artist old and tired seems insulting to me.

  5. Let’s also remember that newspaper readership is in continual decline. New cartoonists might not find real estate in print, but we find more and more readers online.

  6. “It all comes down to what readers want to see”

    I didn’t see Jeff’s post until after I had posted my comment. I agree with THAT statement 100%!

  7. Garey, Here’s a little tidbit of info about the story and why some parts might sound harsh. I was contacted back in September by the author and interviewed more or less on the pulse of the newer cartoonists – were they frustrated with the number of legacy features that were blocking newer features from gaining more papers, etc. It was pretty clear to me by the way the questions were asked that the author had a clear bias (or angle) and was fishing for a quote to confirm this view. I mentioned that newer features such as Pearls Before Swine, Lio and the recently launched Cul de Sac were proof that new features can gain papers/readers, but like all markets a product has to be better than what’s currently offered if it’s going to knock someone off the shelf (or comic page in this case).

    I don’t know the chronology of who she interviewed, so maybe she came up with this angle after talking to some of the other interviewees or maybe she started with a premise and simply found the sources she needed to confirm her bias. I don’t know, but by the time she got to me, it sure felt like the latter.

  8. “…taken up by what they view as old, tired artists and writersâ?

    This could be said about the columnists virutally every newspapers carries, yet editors never hold columnists (or anything else in the newspaper) to anywhere near the scrutiny they do comics.

  9. Not to sound like a broken record, but I still believe the wave of the future for your industry is outside of newspapers. There has to be a model whereby cartoonists band together to market their products. Your syndicates have done a horrendous job of advertising your work. It is going to be encumbent on the artists/writers to let others know you exist, and that you are fun to read! Don’t you people have a union or something? At a minimum, there should be a common web site that advertises what is available to read. It could also include what new books are coming available. The “Daily Cartoonist” is a wonderful site, but it shouldn’t be Mr. Gardner’s job to advertise for the industry. I have bought dozens of books by you folks in the past several years. If I relied on my local newspaper to give me info about those strips, I would have only bought books about Dilbert and FBOFW. A common web site might be a good way to let the world know you exist. Then they can decide if they wish to subscribe to your syndicate, or pressure their newspaper to carry your strip. Just my two cents.

  10. “Not to sound like a broken record, but I still believe the wave of the future for your industry is outside of newspapers”

    It doesn’t have to be, though. The future of newspaper readership lies the hands of newspaper editors. You constantly hear that the average newspaper reader is bordering on senior-citizen status. How about updating the content a little bit to draw in a younger crowd. I’m not a professional in the department of newspaper publishing. All I know is that reading a newspaper is generally a drab experience. There has to be ways to improve that with appearance and content that will speak to younger audiences.

  11. … Yes, newspaper readership is in continual decline. Who wants real estate in a dying product with limited distribution? The Web is vast.

    … It SHOULD all come down to what readers want to see. Unfortunately, from my experiences — and I’ve been on the front lines of the newsprint world — most of the people at corporately run newspapers don’t care what you want to see, they want to tell you what to see. No wonder newspapers are dying, eh? Alan’s experience in talking with the reporter who he felt had a clear bias and was fishing for a quote to confirm their view is a clear example of what I mean.

    … Gasoline Alley is the one legacy strip that doesn’t have to be old and tired. Frank King designed his strip to live forever, to tell stories of new generations of the Wallet family. When the current artist took over, he introduced some new ideas and new characters to mix in with the aging members. However, I believe it’s the syndicate that has kept this one from being fresh for some time now.

    … Syndicates are businesses whose priorities are making money for themselves. The comic creators are merely manufacturers of the products the syndicates sell to turn a profit. A creator’s ideas for new strips are only good as long as a syndicate believes it can make profit off of the creator’s product.

    … Newspapers ARE trying to updating the content a little bit to draw in a younger crowd. However, the “senior citizen” readership generally doesn’t like and complains about the new features. And the younger crowd sees newsprint as an antique delivery system, so it doesn’t matter how many “young” features they add, ’cause they’re not going to be seen. Hard copy newspapers would be better to offer more for the readers that currently have and die with them, while their ownership needs to focus on providing content for newer delivery systems.

  12. I live just outside of Portland, OR. For the past two and a half weeks, I’ve been getting a newspaper thrown in my yard everyday. I thought it was a mistake, but then I saw the guy across the street picking up several and asked him about it. They’re throwing them to him, too. We never asked for them. We aren’t paying for them. And neither one of us is even opening them!

    I guess this is some sort of desperate move by The Oregonian. I have no idea, really, what they’re up to. But I’m not happy about getting these papers. It’s no different from them throwing trash on my lawn, as far as I’m concerned.

    I don’t want your bloody paper!

    I’m actually surprised I’m so angrily against getting it. I used to pay for the thing and actually read it. It was just a few years ago that I gave it up. So I’ve had to stop and think why I don’t have any desire to read it now.

    And here’s what I came up with. Everything I’ve wanted to find out about, I’ve learned online. I don’t want their day old stories. And I sure don’t want their liberal bias that colors every page, not just the editorial section.

    Printed newspapers are a MASS medium. We’re no longer a mass audience.

    Sorry, Oregonian, but I don’t want you bloody paper! Even free.

  13. I used to be one of those broken records who harped on about legacy strips and their hindrance to newcomers. I’m softening on that position a bit. I think the newspaper business is what it is and won’t change anytime soon. Creators really have to start looking to other avenues to develop their readerships. I’m still submitting strip ideas to the syndicates, but syndication isn’t as important to me as it once was, mainly because I see my reader demographic as one that’s not really reading ‘dead tree’ papers.

  14. The problem isn’t necessarily with so-called “legacy” cartoons, I could name one world famous strip which has been taken on by a team and which is actually better than it was under the original guy.
    I’m not against the principle of taking on a feature after the creator has retired or passed on, as long as the next generation is as good or better than the previous.

    What I have no time for is the maintenance of a tired and irrelevant formula, usually by the relatives, but not exclusively, of the original creator. These features are generally unread, unrepresentative, old-fashioned, unfunny and irrelevant shelf-filler for the syndicates. They give cartooning a bad name.

    However, if one of these dire time-servers actually features in over 500 papers, why would the syndicates be anything other than happy to keep it there? It’s pulling in a fee x 500 and that’s business.

    The syndicates stewardship of the newspaper comics business over many decades has been a disaster for strip cartooning as a profession, but that’s business too. The syndicates are NOT in the business of advancing cartooning as an art form or a profession, and cartoonists should realise that before they start complaining about so-called legacy strips.

  15. R. C. Harvey’s column in the latest Comics Journal (#286) is about legacy strips. He quotes Mort Walker defending the practice as survival of the fittest and saying he had to fight his way onto the funny pages.
    Amazingly Harvey makes the disclaimer after Walker’s statement that “we might point out that the competition “Beetle” faced in 1950-51 did not include any legacy strips.” A fallacy I’m surprised Harvey makes.
    A perfunctory check finds Mort’s new strip going up against
    Clare Briggs’ “Mr. and Mrs., continued by Folwell and Hoover
    Sidney Smith’s “The Gumps”, continued by Gus Edson
    Paul Terry’s “Scorchy Smith”, continued, (and improved) by Noel Sickles, but in 1950 by Rodlow Willard
    De Beck’s “Barney Google”, continued by Fred Lasswell
    and the list goes on.
    The earliest legacy strip I can think of is Gus Dirks’ Bugville.
    When Dirks died in 1903 Paul Bransom continued the strip. So legacy strips have a 100+ year legacy (ha ha) in comic strip history.
    And then there’s Doc Winner who, in 1950, was carrying on H.H.Knerr’s “The Katzenjammer Kids”; who had continued that not as a legacy strip but as a owner/creator quarrel. Those were also numerous.

    Also want to join in the chorus that the Hart Family is doing a great job with “B.C.” these days. Though I’m not really a proponent of legacy strips, I’m just saying.

  16. A simple visit to Lambiek tells us that:
    “Ellison Hoover was an American cartoonist of the early 20th Century. Hoover drew the daily strip ‘Mr. and Mrs’ (originally created by Clare Briggs) between 1930 and 1947. The texts were by Art Folwell.”

    Presumably the strip finished in 1947?

    Beetle Bailey didn’t start until 1950, that’s three years later.

    “Beetle Bailey (begun on September 4, 1950) is a comic strip set in a United States Army boot camp, created by Mort Walker.”

  17. Scorchy Smith was apparently an adventure strip like Steve Canyon, hardly the same market as Beetle. It had already hit hard times, with a succession of artists after Sickles.

    Wiki tells us an interesting story:
    “In the fall of 1936 Sickles researched Scorchy Smithâ??s circulation, information that the Associated Press never shared with their artists. Estimating that the strip was running in 250 papers across the country, Sickles determined that the syndicateâ??s monthly take approximated $2,500 a month, of which he, as scripter and artist, received $125. Sickles asked for a raise and when it was refused he quit cartooning to become a magazine illustrator.”

  18. …and on the Gumps:
    “Sadly, just after signing this contract in 1935, Sidney Smith was killed in a car accident (he was driving a Rolls Royce). His assistant Gus Edson took over, and though he did a fine job with the strip, there was a certain magic missing. So while the hi-jinx and hilarity continued for nearly 25 more years, the popularity of the family steadily declined.”

    The Gumps was gone by 1959, so when Beetle came on the scene, the Gumps was on the way out, with Edson living in Italy and developing other projects.
    In other words, editors in those days paid attention to the strips that were making enough money from a few papers to keep their creators in Rolls Royces! When they ran out of puff, they got the flick.

    How different these stories are to the present day legacy strips, propped up artificially by editors apathy, dying on the vine, unread and irrelevant, but still occupying their shelf space. Changed days indeed.

  19. “propped up artificially by editors apathy, dying on the vine, unread and irrelevant,”

    I’ve said this before, and I think these recurrent legacy-bashing fests are tiresome, but I do think that it deserves to be pointed out yet again that just because you don’t read a feature and just because you think it’s tired and irrelevant, that doesn’t mean everybody does.

    Editors aren’t apathetic. They know that if they pull these strips, countless readers will revolt.

    Why should editors fill their comics section with features that are meant for people who don’t read their newspaper? Especially when it means pulling the features that their readers enjoy?

    “Younger features” will draw younger readers. Baloney. That’s a myth. That’s not going to be enough to save newspapers.

  20. Malc wrote:
    “Presumably the strip finished in 1947?
    Beetle Bailey didnâ??t start until 1950, thatâ??s three years later.”

    “Mr. and Mrs.” continued, by Kin Platt, until 1963. But you are right about Hoover not on the strip in 1950, Platt began drawing it in 1947.

    Malc wrote:
    “Scorchy Smith was…hardly the same market as Beetle.”

    But going for the same territory.

    Malc wrote:
    “…the Gumps was on the way out.”

    But still a legacy strip with more papers than
    Beetle’s initial 12 papers.

    Malc, as I said, those listed were only a portion.
    Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Hoban’s Jerry on the Job,
    Fera’s Just Boy/Elmer, Segar’s Popeye, and more.
    Then there were the strips whose creators were alive but had moved on, leaving their strips in other hands. Like Ahern’s Our Boarding House,
    Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Secret Agent X-9, and Jungle Jim, Siegel and Shuster’s Superman, Whittington’s Aunt Fritzi, and, of course, so many more.
    When Rudolph Dirk’s left to report on the Spanish-American War he left his Katzenjammer Kids in the hands of others, and the Yellow Kid by Luks is another example.
    This is not something new, it has been happening in three different centuries now.

  21. “â??Younger featuresâ? will draw younger readers. Baloney. Thatâ??s a myth. Thatâ??s not going to be enough to save newspapers.”

    Maybe not, but adding overall content (other than comics) aimed at younger readers WOULD draw them. Updating/expanding the comics section to include both legacy and new strips would help to KEEP them.

  22. Btw, I don’t think there is a single cartoonist here who wouldn’t like to provide for his or her family after their demise. It’s not like cartoonists get fat retirement accounts. If you create immortal characters what’s wrong with them being immortal?

    Legacy or no legacy. That’s not the real issue. Even if there were no legacy strips, there would still be this belly-aching that there isn’t enough room for cartoon talent.

    How many syndicated strips are there that are being created by the original creator? Somebody figure that out and then compare it to the number of comics that are in the average newspaper.

    You’ll see there there still isn’t enough capacity to fill supply via newspapers.

    If you want to be a working cartoonist who can earn a living from your art, it’s going to have to come from innovation that has nothing to do with newspapers.

  23. “??? The comics section already includes both legacy and new strips.”

    Correct. My point was there’s no problem with mixing legacy and new strips. Legacy strips do nothing to damage the printed comic industry. It’s the REST of the content in most newspapers that’s keeping away the younger crowd.

    I still don’t think the innovation lies in the hands of the artist from a marketing standpoint. Let me rephrase…it SHOULDN’T lie in their hands. A syndicated artist injects so much time and energy into just producing his/her creation. There should be a little common sense from a marketability standpoint on the web. They’re getting it wrong on the internet too. It will continue to falter as long as the big boys give the strips away for free on the web.

  24. Well, Mike, I think my company has it right. We’re launching next year. Any cartoonist will be able to participate, including newspaper cartoonists, if their syndicate allows them to. I’ve talked to Lee Salem about it, and he’s willing to keep an open mind about it. Of course, he’ll have to check out our site first.

    It’s a grand endeavor. It’s going to take many months of development from many people and good developers are in short supply right now. And I don’t even have all the funding I need yet. But exciting things are happening. By the end of next year, there should be another way for cartoonists to make money like nobody has ever seen before. My goal is for top talent to make enough money to live in, so they don’t have to keep a day job.

    So, believe me, innovation is coming, and not from newspapers and not from the syndicates. If waited for them to act, the art form wouldn’t survive.

  25. “Itâ??s the REST of the content in most newspapers thatâ??s keeping away the younger crowd.”

    I certainly agree that legacy strips are only part of a larger problem, i.e. that 90% of content in the funnies pages is garbage. I’ve often said (and will continue to do so) that if newspapers had the guts to pull most of their comics pages, no-one would give a hoot after the first three weeks to a month or so of knee jerk response.

    In fact newspapers ARE coming round to that view, we are reading about cuts and reductions in size daily.

  26. After reading all the posts in this topic thread and thinking about them a while, I am left wondering. Is it REALLY legacy strips that have many people grumbling, or is it the state of the industry itself, which is in an obvious state of flux, that is the real source for all the grousing?

  27. Ad sales for U.S. print newspapers was down $870 million this past quarter. Ads for their online ad sales rose $134 million. That means a net loss of a whopping $736 million.

    What does this mean? It means that print newspapers are losing advertisers to other media, and not just their online version of the same paper.

    It also means that newspapers are in very serious trouble. The total they got from print newspaper ads for the quarter was $10.9 billion, and from online sales just $773 million.

    The industry is spinning it to say that their ad spend is off just because the economy is slowing. But that can’t possibly count for the full decline, because other media are reporting record growth in advertising. Google, for example, has increased their share of total online advertising over 5 percentage points and now they have over 40% of the entire online market and are raking in billions of dollars every quarter.

    Can you imagine what will happen if print newspapers continue to lose 9% of their ad revenue every three months? These legacy arguments will become moot real quick.

    Last week, Gannett’s USA Today said it’s going to cut 8.8 percent of its editorial staff. Ouch.

    Scott Adams may have been right, after all, about his prediction that print newspapers could cease to exist within four years.

  28. There is no need for papers to be in decline the way they are, they just need to demonstrate to customers that they have something unique to offer, something that can’t be found on the Web or in other papers.

    That lets cartoon features out, obviously, because they are syndicated, i.e. they are not unique to one paper, and most (if not all) are available on the Internet for nothing!

    Newspapers are now undeniably carbon copied clones of each other, sourcing their news from the same outlets, running the same ads, the same articles and the same opinions.

  29. “There is no need for papers to be in decline the way they are, they just need to demonstrate to customers that they have something unique to offer, something that canâ??t be found on the Web or in other papers.”

    Exactly! Content content content.

    And with the way the state of the internet is these days with free content and easy access, I really don’t think there is money to be made on web cartooning as much as there is from a cartoon merchandise perspective. I think there are people out there who are already getting it right from the web perspective. You lure readers in with great cartoon content. Hook them. Then get them to buy your merchandise. Who is going to pay for a comic strip if they can browse somewhere else and get it for free. That’s the conundrum. Perfect example of this is the recent “experiment” that Radiohead pulled with their latest album.

  30. Remember, though, that more than half of the people who downloaded the Radiohead album opted to pay nothing.

    AND it was out on the Bittorrent sites within minutes of release, too, even though you could still download it (probably faster) legally for free!

    I think the answer is to use your content to bring people in, and get them to buy stuff from you. I nearly made as much in book and merchandise sales these past six months than I did in syndication royalties, and it probably won’t be long before the two lines on the graph cross.

  31. Great comments, Mr. Witmer. Cartoonists need a new model if they want to maintain or expand their industry. I like your idea of hooking someone on your strip, then having them buy your merchandise. Does it have to be book form? How about an e-book?
    I’m not sure how the Houston Chronicle and Seattle P.I. reimburse their cartoonists from their websites. Do cartoonists make less from having their strip on-line as compared with in a hard copy paper? If so, why? (Pixels seem cheaper than newsprint.)
    Ms. Douglas seems to have a new vision of where cartooning needs to go to be viable. Time will tell if this is successful, but at least the effort is being made! Good luck!

  32. Dave … E-books have the same shelf life as anything else that’s currently digital (audio, graphics, video). Once one person obtains a copy, everyone can have a copy for next to nothing.

    One option would be for the syndicates to design proprietary software that will only allow content to be accessed through a subscription device (ex. wireless e-paper).

    Unfortunately, cell phones are too small for comic strips to be enjoyed effectively, plus they work too much like our traditional computers with respect to their abilities to retrieve, store, and (most importantly) SHARE data. The subscription model will only work if you can control both the access to AND sharing of information.

    It sounds ideal, but if you think about that last sentence, it also has some scary implications. For this reason alone, I doubt that anyone would ever dare to “buy into” this idea with respect to newspapers and the funnies.

    Still, it’s already been attempted on iTunes with the AAC (“protected”) audio format, however, users download these files to devices that can store, share, and modify (ie. convert) AAC’s into a “free” format (ex. MP3).

    I’ve been thinking about this sorta stuff for quite a while. There ARE solutions, but most sound more like “science fiction” … at least, for now 🙂

  33. Thanks, Dave. I really think people are going to like what we’re doing. Time will tell.

    “cell phones are too small for comic strips to be enjoyed effectively”

    Mike, I don’t agree with you here. Look at my blog. I’ve posted an example of a cell phone cartoon that Ted Nunes created for me from a gag panel he did. Many cartoonists did great work for cell phones. Our problem was that the tech guy didn’t come through with a workable application. That’s one of things we’re going to correct.

    We’re going to be doing online AND mobile cartoons.

  34. This is probably a little self-serving, but trust me, it’s topical, too. 🙂 At Comics Coast to Coast, Justin Thompson and I went to the San Diego Comic Con this past summer and interviewed several big web cartoonists who are out there making a living at what they do, including Howard “Schlock Mercenary” Tayler, Rich “Diesel Sweeties” Stevens, Wes “You’ll Have That” Molebash, and Lex “Kid Beowulf” Fajardo. We asked mostly about how they create their books, their merchandise, and the business model that’s currently out there for cartoonists on the web. Mostly it’s what Mike Cope said…your comic is a loss leader used to drive traffic to your site so you can sell your t-shirts, books, etc. Howard Tayler talks about his fan base of about 40,000 people, so if he can get 5-10% of them to buy a $20 product, he’ll be able to make a reasonable living. It’s a ton of work, and you have to have a head for business (which sadly, most of us arteeests don’t have), but it seems to be possible. A lot more possible than the slim chance of being syndicated and getting into more than a handful of papers…most of which will probably be gone in 5-10 years anyway!

    Berke Breathed told us “the day of the millionaire cartoonist is gone like the horse and buggy,” but maybe the cottage industry cartoonist who makes $50,000 a year is very possible. Who wouldn’t want to keep a roof over their head and get to draw their cartoons? We obviously need to look beyond syndication, and most anyone starting out today has already embraced this fact.

    Here’s the Comic Con interview:

  35. An excellent cartoon, Dawn … No argument there.

    I saw on your blog that you “don’t like having to scroll on comics.” Scrolling is the result of several factors including a display’s overall screen size AND image resolution. This is one reason why cell phones are not suitable for the traditional comic strip.

    Comic strips are a piece of cartoon art that you can stand back and appreciate at as a whole. Yes, they can be presented in pieces, but that is not the same. Comic strips require a cartoonist to take into consideration the balance of the overall composition (ex. the flow of action from panel to panel, each panel’s size and pacing … much like a Pointillist would stand back and look at their painting).

    The example that you provided is more like a picture book that you manually turn the pages of, or a limited frame animation (almost like watching a storyboard presentation). I’m not saying it’s no good … It’s just not a comic strip.

    Ironically, where you don’t like to scroll, I prefer not to click in order to see what happens next. There’s much to be said about allowing the reader’s eyes to freely move at their own pace. Interactivity (or time delayed presentation) INTERRUPTS this experience 🙂

  36. Mike, I want to get away from all the categorizations. We’re calling them “cartoons.” That’s it. Comics strips, gag panels, comic book pages, editorial cartoons, caricatures, wordless illustrations, and even animations. It’s all cartoons to us.

    It will be interesting to see how many people use the full space we offer, probably 725 X 725 pixels. I suspect most artists will continue with the two newspaper formats, hoping they’ll be able to be picked up by newspapers someday.

    But there will be those who experiment with the space and do new things, and no they won’t necessarily be “comic strips,” but I don’t see anything wrong with that. In fact, I’ll encourage getting away from the preconceptions. Whatever you want it to be, it can be, within the maximum space allowed.

    But now Alan is going to get onto us, because we’ve strayed too far from the topic at hand. So back to the legacy discussion. 🙂

  37. The conversation may have strayed, but at least it’s still on the topic of cartooning and nobody is e-mailing me complaining about what someone else said. I call this a win. Carry on.

  38. Well, then, okay. Thanks, Alan. I’ll respond to Tom, then.

    A lot of people like the model of giving away your cartoons for free in order to build an audience so you can make money in other ways. Hugh MacLeod and Nina Paley push it, for example. It’s worked well for them, and more power to them.

    I personally don’t think it’s the answer for 95% of cartoonists. Like you say, it requires business skills and business desire. Most cartoonists just want to draw.

  39. Well, Dawn, I wish I could make more money off my strip, but the fact is that no one (and I do mean no one) is going to publish my strip in a newspaper, and there isn’t a very large market, yet, for the pay services for comics on-line. Thus, I (and most webcartoonists) rely on merchandise and ancillary sales.

    It’s not a perfect model, but it’s one that works for now. When you are ready to announce a better one, we will be all ears.

  40. I believe it was in a Dilbert strip that something was said to the effect of “Do you hear that sound? It’s a paradigm shifting without a clutch.” Sounds like we’re just in that time between the old guard of the newspaper syndication model, and trying to figure out the new world ahead of us. I know that in my various interviews and emails with younger cartoonists, they all have great respect for the guys who came before, but many of them have absolutely not concern about trying for syndication. They’d rather blaze new trails and have their small loyal audience following their every move than shoot for having millions of people ignore them on a shrinking comics page. Can’t says I blames ’em. 🙂

    I do think that the bottom line is this…is has NEVER been easy to get syndicated, and those odds are still stacked ridiculously against the best of us out there, so that hasn’t changed. But what has changed is that a small group of enterprising individualists, such as Schlock Mercenary, xkcd, and PvP have managed to carve out nice little niches for themselves, and even start their own little empires by taking on a lot of different media and merchandising. I agree with you, Dawn, that the problem is 95% of us wacky cartoonists don’t want to do more than put ink to paper, so it’s not for everyone, but the great success stories in all sorts of businesses are the ones who DO take control of their destinies and try to sail those waters. (I’m speaking of others, of course, as I have spent my life riding from job to job on a very small modicum of skill. 🙂 Maybe it’s the age of mini-syndicates? Groups of artists banding together to support and drive one another? (See “the Panel Mammals” for what I suspect might be the model for such a thing.) Who knows. Now, excuse me…I have to fill out the forms to refrigeration school. I hear there’s money in that. 😉

  41. The Panel Mammals are throwing down the funny consistently. Legacy strips aren’t really stifling the funny pages. It’s all the ads that are eating up the space where there used to be comics.

  42. I’ve used the term “legacy strips” as much as anyone so I’ll take my fair share of the blame, but the damage isn’t necessarily being done by those who have taken over dead or retired peoples’ strips. In the doing down of cartooning, some of the worst culprits are the original creators who are also the best paid, because their work was originally bought in a time when strip cartooning WAS a well paid profession, even if you could only command less than fifty papers.

    Their handmaidens in this crime are the syndicates.
    It’s all very well for well established cartoonists to say “look, I’m here on my pedestal, it’s up to you to knock me off. If you do, I’ll applaud you”.

    Them’s brave words for a one eyed fat man. Fact is, there’s absolutely NO tennis court available for the new guys to take on the old pros on the tour. There’s NO forum for me to put my strip up against anyone else’s to see which the public prefers.
    If there were, I and other pros interested in developing new strips would have something to strive for, and half the present comics lineup WOULD be knocked off their pedestals.

    I’m not saying every legacy/ancient strip is without appeal, I’m saying most are there because no-one’s actually noticed they’re up past their bedtime.
    If a syndicate decides to appoint a new cartoonist to take over an existing strip, neither editors nor audience knows or cares.
    There are only three large syndicates, and therefore only three gatekeepers into the strip cartooning world. That’s a fact of life in strip cartooning for a mainstream audience, and that’s a fact of life even for someone like me who lives in Australia, because our papers buy US strips.

    Today, I walked past a newspaper shop and was tempted to go in to buy Saturday’s fat issue, full of inserts, pullouts and supplements.
    Then I thought, “why the hell should I? I can read all the news on the paper’s web site without having to dispose of the crap.”
    The comics page SHOULD have been the thing that brought me into the store and SHOULD have persuaded me to buy the paper.
    Maybe a well-written column by my favourite writer might have had the same pull, but to be honest the standard of the feature writing is even worse than the comics.

    Maybe there IS a brave new world for comics on the internet, but I don’t believe the best model has been found for it yet. Maybe that is a debate we SHOULD be having as the age of newspaper comics nears its end.

  43. I don’t know about debate, but I’m all for cartoonists having more conversation.

    Those of you on Facebook are probably familiar with the events calendar, where you can create an event and people can sign up for it. We’re going to be doing the same thing for cartoonists.

    We’ll have “Caffeinated Cartoons” where you can meet with other cartoonists and comic fans at a Starbucks, Cafes, Denny’s etc., and “Cartoonists on Tap” where you can do the same thing at a local pub.

    Here in Portland, we have several nice pubs that offer meeting rooms where you can even hook up a computer for slideshows. My company will provide materials and if enough people signup to attend, maybe even a staff person can come out and meet with you.

    The idea is to talk about what’s working and what isn’t, vis-a-vis the platform that we’re providing for you. It’s also to encourage, support, and inspire each other. Much can be done online, but there’s nothing like getting face to face. It will all be informal. You and those around you can decide how often you want to get together, where, and the subjects you want to talk about.

    We will have one formal event every year, our “Brew Ha Ha” where people come to Portland from all over the world to meet up for panels, workshops, beer tasting, standup comedy, and our annual awards ceremony. I’m hoping for it to always coincide with Platform, the Internation Animation Festival that started here this year. It was a fabulous week. I think having the opportunity to go to their events and ours, too, would be sensation.

    Regarding all this “old and tired” talk, I think it’s the syndicate’s fault for allowing cartooning to become such an isolated profession. Cartoonists slave away at home, up against terrible deadlines. It’s made some of them batty, frankly. There is little to no opportunity to go out and charge the batteries, inspire the mind, and gather humorous fodder. You’d get “old and tired” fast, too!

    Syndicates don’t typically create opportunities for their cartoonists to get together with each other and with fans. I think that’s a mistake. I want our cartoonists to be social, to have fun, to get feedback. That will make them saner and happier artists and their work will reflect it, IMO.

  44. I’ve harped on this before, so pardon the broken record aspect to it…but the syndicates should have a much larger convention presence, especially the San Diego Comic Con. If they want to reach out to a younger audience, follow in the footsteps of Hollywood and set up a big booth there and show off your wares. I think a big corner booth that the syndicates could share and divide into four or five sections would be a huge hit. Have cartoonists there signing books, slide shows of the various cartoons from each syndicate going on, discussion groups in on of the conference rooms…I just can’t imagine this is SO cost prohibitive that it’s not possible. Hundreds of thousands of people pour through that Con, and I guarantee meeting some big time comic strip artists would be huge draw. Reach out, people! Testify! Whooo! (I feel like I’m evangelizing…might as well get into it. The Comic Con Gospel according to Thomas…)

    Does anyone agree with this, or am I being a little too Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney “My dad has a barn! We could put on a show!” ?

    P.S. Dawn, that event in Portland sounds amazing…that is EXACTLY the kind of community and support we should be seeking. If I had two dimes to rub together, I’d be there!

  45. Tom, I’ve worked hard to create a business model that will allow talented, hardworking cartoonists to make enough money so that they can do such things as go to our Brew Ha Ha (hey, it will be a business expense! grin), and also allow my company to make enough money so that we can provide help here and there to some people, most probably to people overseas who will have a lot more expense getting here.

    Speaking of overseas, this is something I’m really excited about that I’d like to get cartoonists’ feedback on. I’ve always felt very strongly that cartoons could be the world’s best ambassadors. Yes, political cartoons can be divisive, even start massive riots across several countries! But what most cartoonists do is find humor in simple everyday things. I’ve always said that cartoon panels are like little windows looking into real life. And if we could look into the life of other cultures and they could look into ours via humble comics, I think we could all come closer together.

    To that end, we’re going to be creating a tool that will allow your cartoons to be translated into many different languages. There could be an number of translators, and some will do a better job than others. The idea will be to overcome idioms that make getting the joke difficult. And it’s fine with me if they change names and such to reflect the local region.

    So there will be some change to your writing. As long as it is in keeping with the spirit of the original, that’s okay. If they change it to make it say something opposed to what it originally said, then that will be deleted.

    Of course, this will all be optional. If you don’t want your work translated, that’s fine. I think many people will, because it will extend your reach and can increase your income. I hope most will embrace the idea. I think it will be very powerful.

    Personally, I can’t wait to see what cartoonists around the world do, and I’ll be very pleased to be able to read them English.

  46. Tom, you’re right, that’s what syndicates should do if they want to attract a younger audience. But they don’t, they want to attract newspapers. It is newspapers that want to attract a younger audience; don’t get the two confused.

    There seems to have been some point about 20 years ago when syndicates stopped caring about the end user. Syndicates of today really only seem to be interested in their first tier customers — newspapers, websites, publishers, and whoever else they can sell to, and then after that who they can license their properties to. On the surface, you can’t blame them, because that’s who writes checks to them, but things won’t change until they start thinking about the comics reader again — if they do change.

  47. Jeff…you’re right about the fact that it’s really the newspapers that need and want to attract younger users. I guess in my naive litte way, I see a trickle down effect…if the syndicates show up at Comic Con and get hundreds of thousands of new, young eyes on their product, it should help create some buzz, some demand, some notice. Movies wanted to reach that ever-desired demographic of teenage boys, so they took a look at all the buzz coming out of various comic cons…I’d love to see that happen for newspapers.

    Maybe newspapers could put out a special “texting edition” of their newspapers to attract kids. “How r u? Pres Bush’s BFF sez hi. Gr8 news.” 🙂

  48. Don’t get me wrong, Tom, I agree that syndicates SHOULD do what you outlined, I’m just saying that for some reason that decided to stop caring about end-users. The movie industry is still concerned with “box office” and that’s driven by individual ticket sales. The closest comics syndicates have come to caring about end users in years has been to set up the subscription websites, just to get a little more gravy off of their properties. You would think, though, that they’d care enough about their properties to put some investment back into them, but it’s rarely the case. When they do, they seem to miss the mark in a wide way.

  49. It’s amazing how similar this argument is to the way the radio industry (my other longtime job) is structured.

    I used to get into many, many arguments with a Program Director years ago, who insisted that the only business radio was in was that of delivering listeners to advertisers. I countered that in order to have listeners to deliver to those advertisers, we had to deliver programming to attract the listeners.

    That’s the funny way the comics business is set up. Papers need to deliver readers to advertisers. Comics are one of the ways they attract those readers. Syndicates need to attract papers to carry their product, yes, but they also have to cultivate readers loyal to those strips, who will pick up a paper BECAUSE a strip is in it.

    People WILL go out of their way for a very good comic. Back in college I used to go into town every day to pick up the Bradford Era because they carried Walt Kelly’s Pogo. Likewise, after the Philadelphia Inquirer dropped it after I came back from college, I drove 20 miles each day to the nearest place I could buy the Newark Star-Ledger for the same reason. Of course, if I wasn’t aware of the existence of Walt Kelly’s Pogo I wouldn’t have gone to those lengths.

    Also, granted, those were days before the World Wide Web, too, so maybe it’s a little different now.

    Still, how many people are aware of what’s on the comics page nowadays? How many people would go out of their way to read a strip on a given day?

  50. Pab, I think your comparison is a good one on many levels. Radio was also predicted to die a terrible death. FM went from PBS and classical music to all music formats, AM went mostly to talk. All are selling even though they are almost totally restructured and re-directed in terms of their audience. I think papers will do the same. Eventually their content will change to attract readers. I think comics could be part of the answer, but I think it’s clear most of them do not agree. It would seem as papers drop staff that syndicates are already the format they need to buy content.

    So which choice would you go with:
    a) papers fade away entirely,
    b) become a smaller version of what they once were
    c) eventually adapt and become vital again
    d) all of the above
    e) none of the above, or
    f) a jar of almonds???

  51. We will have one formal event every year, our â??Brew Ha Haâ? where people come to Portland from all over the world to meet up for panels, workshops, beer tasting, standup comedy, and our annual awards ceremony.
    There’s a ghostly voice in my crib whispering, “pour cold beer and they will come”. Hoping Sparky magically appears and not Shoeless Joe…

    Syndicates donâ??t typically create opportunities for their cartoonists to get together with each other and with fans. I think thatâ??s a mistake. I want our cartoonists to be social, to have fun, to get feedback. That will make them saner and happier artists and their work will reflect it, IMO.
    I read a few toons online now because of having “met” the cartoonist at ToonTalk or here. Meeting the perp behind the ink can make you root for a feature.

    And I agree with Tom R. in questioning why there can’t be a larger syndicate prescence at Comic Con’s. Isn’t it good business to advertise where your audience is? Good for the web cartoonists that are already doing this.

    Why don’t a group of syndicated cartoonists get together themselves and do this? Is there any clause in their contracts prohibiting this?

  52. > Meeting the perp behind the ink can make you root for a feature.

    Excellent point, Eric!

    I worked for a small winery for a few years. We did all the events we could, because when people come and meet you and talk about how you do things, and you show them around, etc., then they connect with you. They go back home to whatever state they came from and tell all their friends to try your wine, beaming about how they know you and saw it all firsthand. They call periodically and order more wine shipped to them…you send them photos and newsletters about the new harvest…

    I like that. That’s the best marketing there is, because it’s built on genuine human connection.

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