odds and ends: comic discourse bonanza

Mark Evanier posted this very interesting editorial about the Duluth News Tribune‘s decision to stop carrying Blondie in its’ comics section. It’s worth a look see.

As a kid, one of the only things I wanted to do with my life was draw comic strips for newspapers. I was lucky enough to grow up in a time where I could spend my mornings reading the work of master cartoonists like Garry Larson, Bill Watterson, and Berkley Breathed. As I grow older, I become more and more confident this period will be remembered as the last great gasp from the funny pages in traditional newspapers. Besides a couple of odd outliers like Richard Thompson‘s Cul de Sac and Patrick McDonnell‘s Mutts, there’s very little artistry on display in newspaper comic strips these days. Legacy strips like Blondie hold sway, offering variations on the same jokes, again and again, ad infinitum.

It’s an interesting look into the economics of syndicating a comic strip. Syndication fees aren’t a thing I’ve ever found discussed in much detail before. I suppose this is because everybody has a different deal; the price for a new Garfield comic strip will obviously be higher than those on an unproven commodity. I’m willing to wager that the price for Peanuts reruns remains significantly higher than most newly produced material.

What’s more, with the rapidly changing landscape of digital media, the people who are still buying newspapers seem very reticent to change in their comic strips. I can’t count how many times I’ve read a story like this: Newspaper decides to cancel a legacy strip. Outcry from the readership is enough where said strip is brought back. The result is fewer and fewer new voices being given much of an opportunity to get a foothold in the industry. You can’t really fault the newspapers for giving their paying customers what they want. You can’t fault the syndicates for supplying that need… and indeed, I do think a lot of the syndicates have done a good job of trying to cultivate new talent, to a degree. It’s just the industry isn’t what it once was.

Of course, the upshot of new media is that just about anyone who has the wherewithal to draw a comic strip can be given that outlet. Hell, with my limited talent and means, I’ve been drawing a comic strip of one kind or another for about ten years now. If that doesn’t say something significant about the democratization of the Internet, I don’t know what does. I must admit though, the funny pages are going to be one of those institutions I’m going to be quite sad to see go. You can find a wealth of great comics on the Web without looking very hard… but something about the experience of opening a newspaper and seeing the roster of comics waiting for you? That’s a thing I’ll miss.

——————

What a bummer, right? Hopefully sharing some comics I really liked this week will lighten the mood.

Greg Stump’s one pager Ball Saved is terrific. I love it when cartoonists geek out over their very specific interests. In this one, Stump extols the virtues of pinball machines, mentioning some of his favorites and how they tie to key moments in his life. Stump mentions Gorgar and The Addams Family pinball games, both of which I’m familiar with but my personal favorite pinball machine will always be Cyclone.

One of the great things about participating in Hourly Comics Day has been getting to see the work of all these wonderful artists who normally fly under my own radar (although, let it be said, I’ve never been the most perceptive consumer of comics on the Internet, often finding out about great work months after its’ made the rounds). I very much enjoyed the hourly comics of Miss Nash, who has a clean, precise line of which I’m totally envious. I worry when I say I find Nash’s cartoons to be really “cute” that readers might think I’m being reductive. I’m hoping that’s not the case because I admire her work… but c’mon! Super cute!

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