Julie Larson takes Dinette Set to self syndication

Julie Larson, creator of The Dinette Set, has left Creators Syndicate to pursue self syndication. Through an email she tells me:

I decided it was time to go solo, I can probably sell just as well as a syndicate, especially when it’s one’s own property. I know its going to get #1 priority. It’s a tough time and I hope to weather it.

In an interview with Peoria Journal Star she mentioned that her decision as in part due to the disparity of pay between newspapers and their websites. She said that when the Seattle Post-Intelligencer closed her income from that paper dropped from $375 for a month of our Sundays to only $40.

She also mentioned that her panel will be archived on Creators website.

50 thoughts on “Julie Larson takes Dinette Set to self syndication

  1. My favorite quote from the article:

    â??The Internet is the monster that ate reason, a thief in the night that turned loyalty to a 150-year profession into a homeless shadow of itself,â? she said. â??There needs to be a way to compensate cartoonists fairly or there will be no more comics.â?

  2. @Tony – Great comic strip today!

    There needs to be a way to compensate cartoonists fairly or there will be no more comics.

    Could also read:

    There needs to be a way to compensate journalists fairly or there will be no more journalism.

    “They” seem to be working on it.

  3. â??There needs to be a way to compensate cartoonists fairly or there will be no more comics.â?

    This has nothing to do with the Internet. Comic rates famously haven’t changed since the early 1970s. Then, the median wage in America was about $11,000. A cartoonist could make that with 50 papers. Today, that $11,000 doesn’t go quite as far.

    Cartoonists have seen this coming for decades. As far as I know, cartoonists have never asked for a rate increase.

  4. From the article:

    “Comics like â??Perry Bible Fellowship,â? â??Amazing Super Powersâ? and â??Nedroidâ? just seemed so much funnier, better and more interesting than anything I found in the newspapers,â? he said.”

    But…Perry Bible Fellowship was…in…newspapers…mostly.

    @Other Ted, True, Newspaper syndication rates haven’t gone up. Jay Kennedy once showed me a King Features rate card from 1940 that was the same as now. But Internet rates are much, much lower than print newspaper rates.

    We need thugs. With guns. To threaten editors. That’ll work.

  5. “But Internet rates are much, much lower than print newspaper rates.”

    @Ted: Something you recently mentioned about the “value” of e-books vs. printed books comes to mind here 🙂

  6. I used to work at a radio station back before PvP. I was called into a meeting about buying ads inside of buses because I would most likely be creating the ads if the station decided to go that route.

    The ad guy refused to make a big pitch. He said he didn’t have to pitch anything to us. Bus advertising had the highest rate of people reading the ad instead of skipping it because they literally had nothing else to do. They were a captive audience. They had nothing else to do on their commute but read the ads inside the bus. (this was in 1996 before everyone had the internet on their god damn phones).

    Newspaper comic strips are the same way. Nobody picks up a paper to read the comics. They read the comics cause they’re in the paper they already purchased for other reasons. Newspapers subsidize syndicated comic strips. And something like Dinette Set will never survive online. It’ll never survive without being subsidized.

  7. @ Ted Rall. I think you just sparked the next Cohen Brothers movie.

    Where I get my car serviced, the comics are always in the mens bathroom stall, draped over the handicapped rail. I was told that was the easiest way for the mechanics to share the paper.

    If that doesn’t tell you how important comics are, then by golly I don’t know what does.

    I wish Julie all the best.

  8. Scott Kurtz said:

    “Nobody picks up a paper to read the comics.”

    Most of the people I know who still bother with a dead tree newspaper do so specifically for the comics, and seldom even look at the rest of the paper because it’s already yesterday’s news by the time they get it.

  9. Kids still read the comics in the newspaper, but they don’t buy the newspaper. The key for papers is finding out how to provide a unique product that adults will buy.

    The key for cartoonists is finding a way to find new readers and then selling those readers other stuff.

  10. Ever make a newspaper ad and have it printed next to a comic strip?

    You can have starbursts, loud explosions screaming low prices …. doesn’t matter. Guess where your eye goes?

    Comics are a definite plus for newspapers and if they’re not ghettoized on one page advertisers benefit because a reader will linger close to their ad.

    And if your ad for the all new Lincoln MKZ is printed next to Dilbert in the Business section, people will read Dilbert first. So I hear.

  11. Hmm…you guys seems pretty convinced that people buy papers to read comics. If that’s the case, then what’s the problem? I mean, why is Dinette Set having so much trouble?

    She mentions a rabid fan base twice in her article. If they’re so rabid, why won’t they buy the paper?

  12. I think comics are just one of the reasons people buy the paper.

    Sports, local coverage and editorials are other reasons. If your local paper sucks in one or more of those areas (like my paper) you don’t buy it.

    One of the papers I do ads for is the Charleston Gazette in West Virginia. I get copies mailed to me. If I lived there (and I sincerely doubt I ever will) I would definitely subscribe to that one. They seem to know their city and respond to what readers want. Shock of shocks, they’re not owned by Gannett.

    They do something weird on Saturdays and publish an extra page of comics.

    No one comic is going to make me shell out money for the paper. It’s a collective thing.

  13. “She mentions a rabid fan base twice in her article. If theyâ??re so rabid, why wonâ??t they buy the paper?”

    How did your newspaper experiment turn out? Does that mean your fans aren’t rabid?

    She’s in a tough spot, Scott. Why pile on?

  14. “No one comic is going to make me shell out money for the paper. Itâ??s a collective thing.”

    Yup. The idea of comics selling newspapers is based on tales of the Yellow Kid, which took place in an era when

    1. Never mind “no Internet” — there was no television and no radio. Movies barely existed. Comics were a much larger piece of the fun-entertainment pie.

    2. There were (at least) two competing papers in town, with political partisans loyal to one or the other and the great mass of folks undecided. A good comics selection could be the determinant. (They didn’t have sports sections — what little sports news there was got clumped in one spot.)

    As CB notes, a good community paper can remain vital to readers, and a good comics page can be part of that. The problem now is that newspaper companies were bought up by stock swappers and speculators and the majority of papers are no longer run by people who give a damn about newspapers. There is a slight swing back to serving readers, but you’ve still got a lot of cluelessness out there, particularly about use of the Internet.

    In any case, the days when comics sold newspapers were brief and are over. Now they are part of a package, and those who make newspapers aren’t assembling a very attractive package anymore.

  15. â??She mentions a rabid fan base twice in her article. If theyâ??re so rabid, why wonâ??t they buy the paper?â?

    I’m not getting from her statements that her fans don’t buy the paper. They do.

    I’m getting that she thinks her syndicate has not sold her feature to ENOUGH papers to make her any money. It sounds as though her issues are with her syndicate for putting her strip on the web for free, thus making papers feel it is not worth it to them to invest any $ in adding it to their content.

    I remember when King Features dailyink came out in 2006, there were newspaper editors that were furious that King was putting features online and “undercutting” papers. Those editors totally missed the point that King was doing just the opposite of other syndicates and actually putting their strips behind a paywall which was doing papers a FAVOR.

  16. Mrs Larson mistakes ‘loyalty’ for the complacency of newspaper editors who will keep mediocre fare like The Dinette Set going (and let’s face it, this strip is the very definition of comic milquetoast) rather than take a risk on something new strip and face a few angry phonecalls or letters.

    The entire synidicated strip industry seems to be built on ‘if it ain’t broke why fix it’ which is why strips like Dagwood/Prince Valiant and BC still exist instead of dying with their creators or being phased out over time. The same mindset is also hurting the comic book industry which now has characters saddled with 50 years of continuity and are becoming increasingly hobbled by it (witness DC and it’s Infinite Final Crisis disaster) where every story arc dare not change the status quo (Hal Jordan is Green Lantern… again).

  17. It’s time to stop looking backwards and start looking forward. If comics no longer serve the purpose of selling newspapers, then I guess it’s time to find a new purpose. Recently my cartoons have been appearing on plasma screens around the world in office buildings, doctors offices, airports and taxi cabs…my cartoons are being used to attract attention to the clients’ messages. That’s just one example of find a new purpose, beyond the newspaper business model.

    Tomorrow Apple will probably launch a revolution in e-publishing. If we start reading our newspapers on iPads or iSlates, space limitations of print may soon be a thing of the past. Could this bring a return to large, beautifully illustrated comic strips? (Strips you can only get in the electronic version.) Maybe readers will start downloading their Daily Ink comics from iTunes each week? It doesn’t take a lot of coffee to get your mind reeling over the possibilities.

    I hope I don’t get spanked for being an optimist….

    Randy G

  18. Countless marketing studies conducted by newspaper companies and trade associations have proven that comics are one of the top reasons–usually first or second–that people buy newspapers. That’s an indisputable fact.

    It’s also a fact that doesn’t counter these truths:

    First, people buy newspapers because they’re a package (they’re proto-aggregators). You can cancel a specific column or comic strip and the paper won’t notice a decline in circulation. There are hundreds of other reasons to read the paper. What does drive people away is the sense, over time, that there’s less and less in the paper and the quality of what remains isn’t as good as it used to be,

    Second, a comic strip can have loyal fans yet still fail in syndication. Readers don’t matter. Editors matter. If 100 editors like a comic strip, it’s successful. The opposite is true. Of course, editors tend to like strips that do well with readers. But not all of them. When I worked at United Media, 9 Chickweed Lane was an Internet phenomenon, consistently one of the top-rated strips at Comics.com. But editors at print newspapers didn’t care for it and it didn’t run in many papers. The opposite is true about editorial cartoonists–those who remain are wildly popular with editors, who value them. So they stay. Even if readers don’t particularly care, especially online. (I realize this is an argument in favor of Scott’s pro-Web position. Whatever. It happens to be true.)

    Third, newspapers won’t buy a strip if a syndicate’s sales force doesn’t push it. One of the major problems with syndication sales is the “shotgun” approach. If a salesman sells three features to an editor, he gets commissions and praise. He doesn’t care if they’re a crossword puzzle, a column or whatever. A sale is a sale. One approach I suggested at Unitedâ??but was shot downâ??was to analyze each strip for targeted sales. For example, Secret Asian Man should have been pushed harder in cities with high populations of Asians. Or if a cartoonist grew up in a town, that paper should be approached with a view toward promoting the hometown girl made good. Etc.

    The problem is that the Internet doesn’t reward quality any more than print newspapers. A lot of the best online-only or online-print comic strips do miserably. A lot of the most popular comic strips are spectacularly bad. Sometimes this is because good cartoonists don’t make good marketers; more often, online success relies more on choosing a topic that will attract advertisers (like video games) than readers.

    Thugs. My money is on thugs.

  19. Randy’s right. The ascent of digital tablets/slates as a new medium for magazines and newspapers could hold the answer for cartoonists and journalists. I’m feeling optimistic, too.

    Cartoons/comics are never going away—people enjoy them too much. How they REACH people is changing, and we have to be as patient as possible to see how it shakes out. In the meantime, that may mean a decline in income for some of us.

  20. Hah, that quote kills me. The Internet is destroying comics? If anything, it’s helping comics grow; a place where people can go to read a comic strip that has a cast that’s something other than a nuclear family and talking pets, and a punchline that’s something other than a pun.

    But I understand the frustration. I’m still pissed that computers put all those typewriter repairmen out of a job.

  21. @Ted (and anyone who can answer) – Is anybody asking the people who sell cartoons to online publishers what the market is actually looking for? And if so, where is that information available?

    The strip panel cartoon is a very specific format that was developed to fit the specific layout of the printed newspaper. I have doubts that online buyers/publishers really want the same thing where the entire format is so different.

  22. “I have doubts that online buyers/publishers really want the same thing where the entire format is so different.”

    I wouldn’t be so sure about that. In developing my own websites I have had to factor in all the different sizes of screens my site will be viewed on, as well as how much bandwidth my material takes up. I actually still know some folks who have dial up. The current compact comic strip format still translates easily to many delivery systems without scrolling (iphones excepted) and there’s a lot to be said for that. Plus – people often are drawn to that which they are already used to.

  23. I wish Julie luck & great success!!!

    PS: I personally would stick with the syndicate (a shameless hint to Creators about considering me for the vacant slot)

  24. The studies that I’ve seen indicate that people’s “favorite part” of the newspaper is the comics section, yes… but those marketing polls aren’t asking the right questions. “Favorite part” is not the same as “the reason I buy”.

    A better question, which I haven’t seen in any study, would be “would you still buy the paper if it had no comics in it?” I suspect the answer for most people is yes. People buy the newspaper for the NEWS. The bottom line is, if the comics page wasn’t there, would it hurt newspaper sales? And so far, from what I’ve read, the papers that have cut down the comics page haven’t noticed drastic change to their circulation. That’s a much more accurate indicator than a marketing survey. And if the comics page isn’t perceived as essential, it’s going to continue to be a potential target for cuts.

  25. I don’t always agree with Ted’s positions, but what he says makes a lot of sense, and I can’t but think that Ted Rall was the one editor in newspapers that really could have changed things for the better, and the “ol’ establishment” just couldn’t realize how good his ideas were.

    And no doubt – thugs all the way.

    As for the internet and comics – there is more free access to comics now than I have seen in my whole life. The thing I find so cool about the internet is I can find great stories that *aren’t* the same superhero from 50 years ago with the same old stories, or the same formula being pushed and pushed.

    I also agree that the root of Julie’s problem is that the strip is not very good. Maybe that’s why editors weren’t pushing it in the first place.

    But if she has a true rabid fan base, maybe they will support her. You don’t need millions of fans, you just need enough to make things work, depending on how successful you want (or need) to be.

  26. Man, I want to see this “thugs” idea played out:

    “Who ARE you people?”

    “We’re from the syndicate. We want our cut, you know, for keeping your readers happy.”

    “Get outta here!”

    Advancing, the thugs put on black gloves. “Gasoline Alley says hello!”

    “I was just kiddin’ fellas. We’ll drop Garfield! Did you hear me? We’ll …. AAAAAAH!”

    Fade to black.

    I miss the Sopranos.

  27. @Tom Wood: “But I understand the frustration. Iâ??m still pissed that computers put all those typewriter repairmen out of a job.”

    No one is saying that the Internet can be uninvented. Or that it’s not cool.

    But you can’t consider these issues by only looking at one half of the perspective: the consimer’s.

    No doubt, from a consumer standpoint, these are halcyon days for comics. All the timeless classics, plus tons of cool new stuff that never saw the light of newsprint before, all free.

    The problem is, it ain’t sustainable. Like the housing bubble, the Internet Creativity Bubble can’t last. The most talented writes won’t keep blogging for free. The most talented comics creators, of whom perhaps only 50 are really good in the whole country, won’t keep drawing for exposure. We’ve already seen good artists flee for more remunerative pastures.

    So unless we come up with a model that puts money into creators’ pockets, comics are going to start sucking. Hard.

    P.S. A lot of people think word processing killed literature. Typewriters were a pain in the butt; they forced writers to be economical. Literary fiction has gotten more pretentious and longer-winded, at least in part because it’s easier to crank out 600-page books than it used to be.

    Every technological improvement causes problems. A friend of mine did her grad school thesis on the decline of the American porch. People stopped hanging out on their porches when TV came along. A sense of community was lost. Alienation abounded. Divorce rates skyrocketed.

  28. My buddy is a travel blogger. Probably one of the most popular (everything-everywhere.net), and he’s been talking to a lot of people in this business.

    He says that the same thing that’s happening in comics is happening with travel writers. Everyone wants to consider themselves a writer and not a publisher. And Gary says you have to start thinking like a publisher.

    Whether it’s good or bad, right or wrong, I think the days of cartoonists considering themselves artists is over. You HAVE to start thinking like a publisher of independent media or you’re going to end up like the Dinette Set.

    I think all this fighting and arguing is just systemic of the awkwardness caused by this shift in the industry. 5-10 years from now, once everyone’s either changed or died off, it’ll seem really stupid we ever fought about it.

    Don’t be excited about the tablet. Be excited about the content partnerships possibly attached to it and start thinking about if you’re work is good enough to have a presence there and how you can make that happen.

  29. @Ted – You missed me, that comment was from Dan Long.

    @Scott –

    Donâ??t be excited about the tablet. Be excited about the content partnerships possibly attached to it and start thinking about if youâ??re work is good enough to have a presence there and how you can make that happen.

    I think that’s exactly right. There’s a demo of a Sports Illustrated tablet-based magazine floating around. It appears to me that the form factor will lead to lots of thumbnail images that are interactive. Small popups that play on top of the main page.

    Question – Who is selling/buying the material that will appear in those popups?

  30. That tablet demo is here:


    Right now that is vaporware, it’s all vision/concept stuff. But I agree it’s very interesting and leads you to think about how you can make yourself appealing to the people who are going to provide content for such devices.

    They make it seem as though content is provided specifically for that device, which means it has to be paid for somehow.

  31. I’m not sold on the tablet as a publishing medium. If its anything like the iPhone, it will have wi-fi. On top of sinking 400 dollars on the machine, I can’t imagine the average comic reader paying a monthly fee for an “app”, when they can just access comics.com from the tablet’s browser. Just a thought.

    And I used to buy the Seattle Times every day just to read Sally Forth (and to help start my wood stove). Once I realized it was on the ST website, I stopped buying a paper as much. I guess that makes me a horrible person LOL.

  32. @ Randy,
    Can I borrow a couple of wheelbarrows of your optimism? It’s pretty refreshing….

  33. “I canâ??t imagine the average comic reader paying a monthly fee for an â??appâ?, when they can just access comics.com from the tabletâ??s browser. Just a thought.”

    @Jesse: That’s PRECISELY what I’ve been thinking about all of this hype too!

    A tablet with pressure-sensitivity would be a GREAT tool for cartoonists to create their cartoons with, but I already have an iPod Touch and laptop which can browse the web wirelessly at home and on the road.

    What does a READER need a tablet for (vs. any other internet-ready device), when their primary role is to READ comics??

    A fair and honest question.

  34. Thanks to Randy for pointing me to this discussion. Wheelbarrows of optimism are what is needed. We’re in the funnies business…and we are all publishers, writers, artists, and marketters.
    Onward, ContentProviders!!!

  35. Maybe we should all be wearing hats like Guy wears…to remind us that we are all pioneers on new frontiers of cartooning.

  36. Regarding optimism and cowboy hats …

    I realize that my “What does a [comics] READER need a tablet for …” comment above doesn’t sound optimistic. Believe me when I say that I’m looking VERY forward to learning more from Apple’s much anticipated announcement. In fact, I plan on watching it right here on my nice big iMac screen.

    My sincerest hope is that it will open doors so that digital content is regarded as having value. A new Apple device with comic apps that require readers to pay for content will go completely against the traditional webcomics business model.

    I don’t want to over-exaggerate this too much, but Scott Kurtz could be the Neo that many cartoonists have been waiting for. Because if HE can wear one of Guy’s cowboy hats, I’m sure others will follow 🙂

  37. Going back or to, or touching upon the original topic, the problem I see is that the syndicates are still distributing the same old “classics”. (go to King Features comic page and tell me I’m wrong) They need to modernize the comics section with comics created by younger artists.

    The daily commute and office jobs are now being filled by young professions. Maybe if the syndicates took a chance on something that hasn’t been around since the 1950s and was more tied into the pop culture ideals that these young and hopefully new newspaper readers are accustom too then in my opinion they would be making a step in the right direction. They would be helping the papers and themselves.

    I’m tired of flipping too the “funnies” and seeing “Cathy”, or “Marmaduke”, or god forbid ” The Family Circus”. No one in their 20s, 30s, or 40s wants to read that and I’m sure they are not laughing at it.

  38. Dinette Set! oh no! Are we really talking about the Dinette Set?!
    Needless to say I’m not one of the rabid fans, but to it’s credit this strip has miraculously been around since 97. As far as leaving the syndicate..I don’t think it’s wise for the weakest of the brood to go wondering off into the wilderness.

  39. a number of years ago i emailed julie wilson and asked her why she left king features she stated they were not pushing her strip so on to creators she then sent me an email to buy dinette set merchandise

  40. “Maybe we should all be wearing hats like Guy wearsâ?¦to remind us that we are all pioneers on new frontiers of cartooning.”

    Does the hat on my avatar’s Shatner mask count?

  41. Haaa!! I always thought it was Jason Vorhees under that hat.

    Isn’t funny how this same tired old conversation keeps circling the drainpipe around here?

    I don’t remember who said it, but I agree: Artists need to start thinking like publishers (or find a publisher with a brain in their head).

  42. Good luck to you, Julie!

    Like Taco Bell often says, cartoonists need to start thinking outside the bun. What does that mean? I have no idea. My buns have nothing to do with it, I’ll tell you that.

  43. Julie’s strip was a weekly panel for 10 years or so prior to the daily Dinette Set, so it’s a feature that’s been around for at least 20 years.

    When I started at my first weekly paper in 1990, a now-defunct and much-missed rag in Cleveland, I was also the art director. I didn’t select the paper’s cartoons, but I did deal with all other aspects. And I remember she did indeed have a loyal following. When the editor tried to drop her strip they got enough complaints that it was brought back!

    Of course, that was back in the “golden age” of weekly papers, back when those wretched rags actually cared about readers and/or the cartoons they liked.

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