Thursday, June 07, 2018

Gag Cartooning Panel at the Maine Comic Arts Festival

On Saturday, June 2, 2018 we had a gag cartooning panel at the Maine Comics Arts Festival.

The panel consisted of me, David Jacobson, John Klossner and Bill Woodman. It was a well attended talk, in one of the conference rooms in the basement of the main Portland Public Library. That was where the day-long MeCAF was held. We showed some cartoons from the new LOBSTER THERAPY cartoon book, and then showed some of our other cartoons. I said at the outset that I wanted to talk not just about the art of cartooning, but also about the business. We had a lot of good questions from the audience. Here are a few of the topics that came up. I'm indebted to John Klossner for helping to recall all this.

First: a salute to the late, great Jeff Pert. His art is on the cover and many of his cartoons are in the new LOBSTER THERAPY AND MOOSE PICK-UP LINES book from Down East Publishing. He is the go-to Maine cartoon dude, and his work can still be seen all over the place. It was wonderful to be part of a project that puts more of his cartoons out there in print.

 Above cartoon by Mike Lynch

There is a saying that I first heard from Bob Mankoff: 80% of people who open up their new issue of the New Yorker look at the cartoons first. The other 20% are lying.

The point is: everyone loves cartoons. I think this is especially true of single panel gag cartoons.

Some years ago I did a panel with two other cartoonists. The other two cartoonists were the ones behind the Nancy comic strip and the Batman comic book. I was the last to speak, and I said that gag cartoons were the ones to survive the 21st century. They only took 4-5 seconds to consume!

Above cartoon by Bill Woodman

One of the things we talked about was not the drawing of the cartoons, but the redrawing. John Klossner and I know from visiting Bill Woodman's studio so much that Bill draws and redraws a lot. He reworks drawings. The above wordless Woodman cartoon may look easily dashed off, but it's the result of a lot of trashed previous drafts. That casual look is actually really practiced.

Above cartoon by David Jacobson

David Jacobson has left the "one-timer" New Yorker club; that group of cartoonists who have only sold one cartoon to the magazine. He had a second sale just recently. As much as David loves cartoons, his main passion these days is glassmaking. He is a busy and accomplished glassblower. The Jacobson Glass Studio was named Maine's 2018 Small Business Association's Micro-Enterprise of the Year -- AND, also, the Entire New England Region's Micro-Enterprise of the Year!

OK, back to cartoons.

We talked about submitting cartoons, and if the cartoons should be "roughs" or "finishes." John pointed out that it's quicker to send in cartoons that are sketches; NOT stick figures, but tightly developed roughs. But, in actuality, both John and myself do send actual finishes. I do it because editors change and you can't bank on the editor knowing what your completed work will look like. 

One of my favorite cartoons by Bill Woodman

One of the terms we use is "batch." And we gag cartoonists say things like, "How's your batch going?" and "Did you finish your batch?" A "cartoon batch" is the collection of cartoon drawings that a cartoonist submits. A lot of times when I call another cartoonist and ask him how he/she is doing, I get the "I'm working on my batch" response. A batch can be maybe ten or a dozen cartoons. Some cartoonists submit more than others.

Copyright of your cartoon work came up, as did ownership of the original art. Many of the major markets, like New Yorker, Playboy and Mad Magazine buy all rights. Others, like Women's World, Funny Times, the Wall Street Journal, buy one-time rights only. More and more, the cartoonist owns their own original work. Part of this is practical what with most deliveries of the finished art being sent via email, the actual original never leaves the cartoonist's studio. If the work is 100% digital, then, of course, the actual "original" does not exist. 

 Cartoon by David Jacobson

The loss of markets was touched on. Recent years have seen the loss of markets like Good Housekeeping, Harvard Business Review, First for Women. Reader's Digest no longer has a cartoon editor, and has reduced its number of buys. The magazine relies on Cartoonbank and Cartoonstock for content. The problem with this is that those cartoons may not be unique; they may have been previously published. Barron's, after "rethinking its cartoon policy," is no longer publishing cartoons, after many decades of doing so. The Wall Street Journal 6-day-a-week "Salt ... and Pepper" single cartoon panel is still there. It does sometimes get axed in regional print editions in favor of advertising, but it is always online. But will the long-running WSJ feature (it began in 1950 by Charles Preston, who still co-edits) continue running? Both Barron's and the Journal are owned by Dow Jones Publishing.

Cartoon by John Klossner

A public thanks to Rick Lowell for asking us to do the panel, and for the Maine Comic Arts Festival in general. Rick has been putting this event together every year since 2009. And thanks to everyone who dropped by to watch and participate in the panel.

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