Friday, January 22, 2010

Julie Larson: Making Newspaper Comics Pay

I was nodding with agreement as I read Julie Larson's (THE DINETTE SET) analysis of the newspaper comics industry ("No Laughing Matter," by Steve Tartar for today's Peoria Journal Star).

"Cartoons are directly tied to the fate of the newspaper, Larson said. When the Seattle Post-Intelligencier dropped its print edition last year to produce an online-only publication, Larson saw her compensation drop from $375 for four Sunday strips to $40.

"Larson recently decided to drop her affiliation with Creators Syndicate. Instead, she plans to market 'The Dinette Set' herself."

By taking the duties of marketing and networking THE DINETTE SET away from the syndicate, she may save the money that the syndicate was charging, but now there's that new challenge of balancing the business side of the long-running panel with the creative side.

Tartar goes on to get a few views of the state of comics today. I'm a big believer that the comics page is like TV: you don't necessarily look at everything. My "stale and recycled" poison is another person's meat.

Mike Gioia and roommate Alex Tuller,who create a Web strip APOKALIPS, are featured as part of the "new model" of cartooning, which isn't making them money -- but they still love it. And Mike can afford to love it, he splits the rent with Alex and he works fulltime for a Manhattan office of PricewaterhouseCooper. This is not a "new model" for a working cartoonist, this is cartooning as hobby.

From the article:

"'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,' she said. 'There needs to be a way to compensate cartoonists fairly or there will be no more comics.'"

I think Julie's wrong about this. There will always be comics, but more and more of them will be drawn by people like Mike Gioia, who has the fulltime job and the health coverage that allow him the luxury of creating a cartoon for free.

Hat tip to Tom Spurgeon for this. Thanks, Tom.

Related: Mike Lynch Cartoons: Monetizing Your Cartoons.


William said...

It's such a shame that there are so few formats for cartoonists these days. Everybody likes cartoons/comics. They pin them up in their cubicles. They post them to their refrigerators. They share them with their friends (seeing themselves and their friends in that particular gag). Cartoonists provide that daily laugh so needed in hard times of constant bad news on TV and in the newspapers (the newpapers that are still around). The irony is that while everybody likes and appreciates the humor cartoonists offer, not many people are willing to "pay" for cartoons.

Dan Reynolds said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Julie.
I will also say that the newspapers who have delted, shrunk, or otherwise, mininmalized the use of cartoons in their newspapers, are not only getting what they deserve in terms of sales, but they have HASTENED the demise of their papers by doing so. What's more, instead of looking inward at this hurtful practice of cheapening comics, they've used the time to blame the internet.
I think, unfortunately, the comics suffers from the same phenomenon the a lot of pro-active community services suffer from - and that is, the government hates to spend money on preventative services. They'd rather spend money AFTER the fact, when there's a problem because you can MEASURE problems. It's a lot harder to measure how something helps before there is a problem. So, why spend the money, right. Ever hear the expression "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?" There's a lesson in here for comics in the newspapers.
Of course, this is all Monday morning quarter backing at this point. We can all see this has come to pass.
The irony in all of this is EVERYONE knows the power of comics, but the people who are in the position to utilize the power of comics, don't always trust that what has always been true is STILL true and are hesitant to invest the money up front to their own benefit.
When cartoonist's like Julie take matters into their own hands and make a profit, the syndicates will then come back around and try to regain control (after the cartoonist has done all the work). It'll be more of the "little too late" medicine for them once again.