Sunday, December 28, 2008

Cartoonist Free Themselves From the Printed Page

When we think of newsprint challenges, we automatically think of the revenue streams and impact of digitisation on advertising income. However newsprint employs or contracts journalists, photographers and people we often forget - cartoonists.

Cartoonists have long enjoyed being seen and getting their reputations built on the back of their daily strips, but as times get tighter and business models change, what happens to the strip we all know, read and often take for granted?

Stephan Pastis whose daily US strip, “Pearls Before Swine,” appears in more than 500 newspapers is reported in the New York Times, “for a syndicated cartoonist, that’s like finally making it to the major leagues and being told the stadiums are all closing, so there’s no place to play.”What do you do when the distribution channel you have long enjoyed starts to disappear?

United Feature Syndicate, which distributes 50 comics, including “Peanuts,” “Dilbert” and “Get Fuzzy,” in November made all its archived and current content, freely available on and allowed users to have their comics sent to them via e-mail and RSS feed. Previously the content that was available free was restricted to 30 days with access to older material only available on subscription. The change has seen a 48% user increase to over 500,000 unique visitors in November. This in turn is attracting the very people that forced the change – the advertisers. It is now also clearly building a fan base that is independent of the newspapers.

Uclick, the digital arm of Andrews McMeel Universal, which distributes “Garfield,” “Calvin and Hobbes” and “Doonesbury,” are looking at mobiles and the iPhone as the next comic platform. Uclick already sells comics-themed wallpaper and animations for mobiles and now has started selling graphic novels on iTunes.

Many new cartoonists are making their own digital plans, posting to free sites like Comic Genesis and Webcomics Nation and hoping to be spotted by the syndicates.
Interestingly, many cartoonists are now experimenting with colour, animation and sound. They are no longer straight-jacketed by the printed page, the column size or even greyscale.

The new world offers much to the creative artists, writer, storyteller, comedian that they never had before. Last month, we saw UK comic Adam Buxton, of the UK 'Adam and Joe Show' at the South Bank. His act used film, animation, stand-up, music and he was clearly equally at home with all and used all to express his humour. He has a thriving YouTube site, and communicates with his fans over the Net.

The question is whether authors can or should also cross the boundaries in how they write and tell their stories and engage with their community?

1 comment:

Mark said...

Listening to Scott Johnson from the Extralife comic talk on the latest realdeal podcast (;title) is a great primer on what is happening in webcomics right now.

It is particularly interesting to hear how he monetizes his stuff. is also a great webcomic for those literay folks out there.