Well I figured I might start doing some blogging on this site. However, since what I blog about will ultimately be unrelated to the comic, it will just go in the ‘News’ category, and will be about things I am interested in and are pertinent.

This gem is a little hidden from view. Check out this Daily Cartoonist post, but especially the comments section that follows it. Yes, that is Wiley Miller who creates the strip Non Sequitur, among other newspaper cartoonists. And yes, that is Mike Krahulik (Penny Arcade) and Scott Kurtz (PvP) and other webcartoonists. And they are having a huge arument over, basically, the legitimacy of webcomics.

“But wait,” you might say, if you have known anything about the webcomic scene five years ago, “Didn’t we already have this argument? Between Wiley and Kurtz?” Why yes, we did, but the thing is with the downturn of the economy and the fact that a lot of newspapers are folding, it’s become pertinent again.

The thing is, in the main article, The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists is having a panel at their convention wherin they discuss their support base being cut out from underneath them, that is, newspapers. Although that’s what a lot of people are still assuming this is about.

Jennifer Sizemore, editor of MSNBC.com and Lincoln Millstein, Hearst vice president for new media and former editor of the New York Times web site on the topic of finding a home on the web.”

Now when some webcartoonists have talked about this they note that Lincoln Millstein’s presence here looked like an admittance that they’re still stuck in the middle ages when printing was done with a manual press. But they are talking about trying to get a foothold on the internet now.

Compare with the Websnark article from five years ago and you’ll see where the conflict it. And then we get to the comments section, which wastes no time getting interesting.

Tony Piro: Looks like a good selection of speakers. Will there be anyone speaking about the webcomic business model?

Wiley Miller: Oh, no… please no… not the “webcomic business model” thread again!

Okay so, despite wanting to find a new outlet in the internet age in which to do cartooning, they are still opposed to doing things the way Penny Arcade or PvP did it, through hard work.

This poses a question: Well what do they expect?

Almost every webcartoonist I know of, even the ones who don’t have a money-making business yet, don’t expect a syndicate to come around and pay them money for their comic just because. If you’ll remember several years ago there were a few internet syndicates, the most prominent of which was Keenspot, and several of the huge names right now had ties to one or more of these places.

If they were such big moneymakers, why didn’t they stick around? It’d certainly be nice to be a syndicated cartoonist where someone pays all your bills for you and all you need to do is churn out six comics a week plus sundays maybe. And that’s what current syndicated cartoonists certainly think.

The problem with Keenspot is that their involvement was redundant. A lot of people eventually left when they realized that almost all of their traffic was generated by word-of-mouth and networking rather than just being on a given site, and if they went it alone, they could do the advertising and the merchandise sales themselves and not have to share the profits. That’s how the webcomic business model came about.

So what most newspaper cartoonists are doing are waiting for the syndicates to find a solution for them. Lest they find themselves doing such demeaning work like selling t-shirts.

Kris Straub: See, this is sensible, but I thought that this was the kind of argument that got cartoonists looked down upon — in other words, if your comic strip isn’t making up 100% of your income, then you’re somehow faking it.

I thought that was the primary argument against webcomics: that they don’t count because the money comes from ads and being a T-shirt salesman.

[. . .]

You have to understand — the last two or three times this argument has cropped up, webcartoonists stepped forward and said “here’s how” — in detail — and were met with one or more of the following responses:

- “Yeah, but that’s probably not a real living.”
- “But if you give it away you can’t make money off of it.”
- “It didn’t work for me, so it’s impossible.”
- “Okay, but I don’t want to do that.”

I mean, rather than have this discussion again, we could all just go back in the Daily Cartoonist archives and read through it again.

Further, the newspaper cartoonists seem to be upset that webcomics are free, and somehow that’s not sustainable, that people should have to pay for comics.

Rick Stromoski: I don’t agree with giving content away for free, that’s just bad business…but we are moving away from a print society and we’d be foolish not to embrace that.

[. . .]

Is it too farfetched to think that comics would become something bundled much like cable tv packages geared towards the tastes of the subscriber?

Well . . . no. There’s not nearly enough demand for comic strips for people to just pay for them directly. I don’t pay for cable because I want to watch Mythbusters and Robot Chicken and Iron Chef. I watch those because I have cable–that is, cable is an entertainment package that costs money and will distract me with certain kinds of content when I need it to. Comics are a completely different monster. They’re more like having your favorite television show (Lost, let’s say) come on at a regular time. I only started watching Lost because I had cable, I never got cable because I wanted to watch Lost.

I’m already paying for my internet. I read webcomics because they are some entertainment I can seek out on the internet. There are plenty of pay-per-view channels on TV, and yes, there are some things people will pour extra money into to see. But these things are not tiny daily strips that took four hours to make and fifteen seconds to read.

Of course, the extra argument levied against syndicated cartoonists is lack of quality. Yes, there’s a lack of quality among webcomics, but those get buried. Legacy newspaper comics meanwhile stay on top and that’s what many webcartoonists are upset about. And you have to admit, it’s hard not poking fun when you just know that many syndicated cartoonists are simply afraid that their work is no longer relevant and they can’t rely on a syndicate anymore to give them money to just barely think.

In particular, editorial cartoonists. Which Mike Krahulik hates with a passion.

Mike Krahulik: The webcomic model won’t work for editorial cartoons. A successful webcomic is what they call a destination location in the retail world. That is to say it is a place people go out of their way to visit. Someone needs to choose to visit your site and that just wouldn’t work for editorial cartoons. People read editorial comics because they are already getting the paper. If you want to maintain the retail analogy it’s like they are in the mall already so they may as well stop by they house of crap. Would that store ever survive outside the mall? No. It’s the same for editorial cartoons. They could never survive on the web because no one would log on to their machine in the morning and say “hey I really want to see a drawing of a wheelbarrow that represents stem cell research crashing into a boat labeled pork barrel spending.” Hey no stealing that idea by the way, that’s mine;)

Honestly, when you get down to it, editorial cartooning is not about entertainment. It’s about saying something that needs to be said, and frankly, there’s a glut of editorial cartoonists who too often just want to fall back on their political stances rather than be truthful about things. And worse, not clever. A proper political cartoon is clever and most of what you would see in the opinion section today is just a stock scene with labels placed everywhere that correspond to their roles as presented in a news story. So it’s not difficult to see why a prominent webcartoonist would think that they lack craft and discipline.

Anyway, yadda yadda Scott Kurtz, man, can’t anyone talk about the guy without saying that he’s ruining the reputation of webcomics? I listen to Webcomics Weekly and think that he’s smart about what he does. Whenever someone, like Kurtz, decides to be angry about it, it’s only his opponents that get upset . Which probably means that he was right, only mean about it.


Discussion (23) ¬

  1. CalaverX11

    Which probably means that he was right, only mean about it.

    No, because his opponents see him as being successful in a market that’s not supposed to be “profitable,” and they get butthurt.

    • Rick Griffin

      Well I would agree except that there’s a lot of anti-Kurtz people out there who aren’t necessarily pro-newspaper, and they’re often the ones who say that Kurtz is ruining the internet for webcomics. Daily Cartoonist just goes and bans him.

  2. CalaverX11

    Wiley makes a good point here:
    The point is, the model you and Scott developed so many years ago is unlikely for anyone starting out today to emulate, as far as I can see. I’d love to be wrong about that. So has there been anyone else who has started a web comic in, say, the past couple of years who has been able to make it their livelihood, as you have done?

    I can see the issue of “transitioning” from one medium to the other. Starting a webcomic today AND being successful with it is a lot different than it was X years ago. But frankly, what did they do with all the money they made doing print comics? Why CAN’T they invest it in a web host, design a website around their product, and market it with merchandising? A lot of them already do that anyway.

    • Rick Griffin

      This is true. As much as Kurtz, Kellet, Straub and Guigar laud their business model, it still takes years for it to be profitable, and even then you have no guarantee, because you need good product, good business sense, and a lot of luck. However, this is how anyone runs a business with no syndicate backing or sponsorship. There’s not going to be a net. If they really want to keep doing comics for their business, they’re going to need at least as much guts as those four.

      And the sad part is, not everyone is cut out for it. Not everyone currently in the funnies section would make it, and it’s hardly unfair to think so.

  3. Buckdida

    Wow, I recommended reviewing webcomics for my school newspaper today (in jounalism class) and we suddenly began discussing the shrinking of newspapers and by extension, comics. Hence the new sprouting on lots of webcomics.

    Uncanny.

    There are sooooo many similarities and differences between the two mediums of comic distribution. But I don’t think syndication would really work on the web. People simply aren’t going to pay for something that they believe should be free. For some extreme examples, what if Garfield went out of papers and onto the web? Well, I’d believe that Garfield would survive, because it has a large fanbase and ready made merch. But something like Non Sequitur? I don’t know, under the syndcated comic market model, it sounds like they want a comic paysite.

    … Ironically, don’t syndicated cartoonists put archives up on their websites and sell books of their comics? Things aren’t much different, but those newspaper cartoonists are up on a high horse.

  4. Dissension

    As a journalism student, I assumed this would actually be about the declining market for print publications. Unfortunately, you have disappointed and bored me and I shall never forgive you.

    See, I could have spoken on the other topic at length. x3 I’ve tried to save my friends from pursuing careers in the non-survivable print industry, but will they listen? NO. Web-based newspapers will overcome your silly television-box, they say. People will always choose to read when they could watch with much less effort all around.

  5. TomFox

    I’ve been following this on Webcomics Weekly, and I gotta say, it’s a pretty big issue even though most people aren’t even aware of it. I really enjoyed the blog post. Im trying to get my own webcomic up and running and I worry about things like this (not that I plan on going into print, but still it effects the industry and I can’t help but take notice). Thanks for the Post and love the comic :)

  6. Your Obedient Serpent

    Reading the comments… yes, it takes years for a webcomic to get profitable. Yep. Years of stubborn hard work — as opposed to syndicated cartooning, where it takes years to get the attention of a syndicate at ALL, and then, most of the time, for most of the contributors, you get rejected. Ask DC Simpson or Tatsuya Ishida about that.

    Meanwhile, those same “years” for a webcomic artist are spent ACTUALLY CREATING AND RELEASING THE COMIC, building up an archive that’s a) a HUGE value-added bonus for anyone who stumbles across their site, and b) a ready-made source of material for those first couple of hardcopy collections.

    More to the point: you’re not reliant on the whims of a syndicate editor to open the door for you. Your work rises or falls almost ENTIRELY on its own merit — and that scares the PISS out of people who want to just phone it in.

    • Chip Uni

      The people in the syndicate have a monopoly… and they know it. They’re not necessarily the most talented, but their livelihoods depend on that syndicate.

      Don’t ever expect to change the mind of someone whose paycheck depends on their believing something else.

      • Your Obedient Serpent

        Sure, but I also hear that same complaint from newcomers trying to get into the biz, and from established web cartoonists who haven’t made it to that lofty intersection of Kurtz Street and Milholland Drive. It’s hard work that continues to demand dedication, rather than hard work to settle into a sinecure.

  7. andy

    I used to get the Kansas City Star. I read the headlines, any article that caught my attention enough to make me want to read it, and the comics. I watched the both the quality and quantity of syndicated comics go down almost overnight based on the paper needing to cut costs. The good, ergo expensive, comics went away and the bad, thus cheap, comics came in, and in lesser numbers.

    BAH! sez I, and I no longer get the paper. AND……

    I have something over 70 bookmarked webcomics that get my attention daily. I hope that sends a message to someone. I’ve even shopped at their stores and made purchases and used links in ads to shop as well. That should send an even louder message.

    Go Schlock! And Sluggy. And Housepets, and…….

  8. andy

    Not to mention that most political cartoonists are so far in the tank liberal that I won’t even read them.

  9. RHJunior

    Look, it’s not the medium which is killing the newspapers, it’s 1) the content— which is grossly biased 2)the old-school ideology, in which they view themselves as the (enlightened, morally superior) gatekeepers of content (eg; “all the news that’s fit to print.”) This retrograde view of the news, of the world and of themselves does them no favors online… not only do they keep regurgitating the same hard-left bias that drove their hardcopy readers away, but they try and limit access to the news and information they have (subscriptions, sign ups, etc. How many times have you tried to reference something from a newspaper online only to bang headfirst into a mass media “subscription only” firewall?) something that does NOT sell well online.

    As to webcomics— look, for over thirty years cartoonists have been griping about getting the short end of the stick from newspapers, and it doesn’t look to be getting any better. The limited paper space, the ever-shrinking format and the timorousness of the syndicates and papers about trying anything new means that more and more artists are going fully online.

    “Relevance” of the webcomic? Perhaps the question should be about the “relevance” of the newspaper industry— to the comics industry, to the dissemination of news, or to anything else.

    • andy

      Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  10. Some guy

    I was probably a little harsh in my last comment. I’m going to expand on it, and hopefully be a little less offensive.

    “Whenever someone, like Kurtz, decides to be angry about it, it’s only his opponents that get upset .”

    This isn’t really the case- I tend to cringe any time I see his angry ranting. And I’m in the biz myself. My major objection to Kurtz is that he’s a hypocrite. I work in webcomics- not as an artist, but rather one of the guys on the back end. I’ve done support and piece-work for several different comics by different authors.

    But I would never work with someone like him.

    He’s been trying to get himself syndicated, but at the same time, he’s constantly talking down about syndicated artists. Offending the people whose help you need to become one of them… isn’t bright. Saying bad things about a group you’re trying to join… isn’t bright. And more than that, if he talks that way about them, how will he talk about me, after I finish the job? Or about anyone else who works with him? He’s a man who goes out of his way to [poo] where he lives.

    I prefer to work with webcomics where the creators are open, friendly people. I don’t want to have to worry that the professional relationship will later turn around and bite me.

    Your Obedient Serpent has it right- webcomics have a huge *productive* lead time. A time where you do the work but don’t make enough money to live on it. That’s also time where the artist will establish their reputation- do they update regularly, whine a lot, are they polite… basically, that’s where they define everything about the sort of audience they’re going to want to be associated with.

    That lead time is, I think, where most comics die. Though some die after being successful for years, when their artists/writers try to rest on their laurels and churn out the same storyline over and over (e.g. Jade and Brent almost getting married for something like eight years or so before actually doing it.). That’s the other point where comics can die, and while that’s usually most obvious with a syndicated strip, it happens on the web as well.

  11. Lance

    I’m going to demean you and buy a T-shirt from you now.

    Do you feel demeaned yet?

    …what, do I have to buy TWO?

    Editorial cartoonists can’t get over the fact that they are not “fine artists”. They are commercial artists. Their work is worth what people are willing to pay for it, not what they think they are owed for it. Whether they know it or not, whether they care to admit it or not, editorial cartoonists are employees, and their wellbeing rises and falls with that of their employer: print media.

    Throwing a temper tantrum will not force people to buy print newspapers. Sneering at web cartoonists will not increase readership. Coming across like a cut-rate Bill Watterson (whose beef, voiced at a San Diego Comic Con panel, was that The Far Side was as popular as Calvin and Hobbes but shouldn’t be because Gary Larson had no art skills but Bill was a “fine artist”) will not endear you to editors, syndicators, fans, or… well, anyone. Unfortunately for them, such tantrums seem to go with the territory. I dunno, maybe having that sort of personality, given to criticizing everything around them (which is what editorial cartoons DO), is incapable of being self-controlled. Belittle one, belittle all.

    Yeah, I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for print media at all, including syndicated comics artists. Adapt or die.

    In the meantime, I am liking Housepets more and more as time goes on. I very much appreciate your steering clear of the lowest form of cartooning (political commentary), and your masterful use of body language. Keep creating, I’ll keep reading, and once in a while buy some merch.

    • Rick Griffin

      Well, thank you very much! I hope you’re okay with the RedBubble shirts, it’s a better POD service than CafePress I think, though a bit more expensive.

      That was something I never got about Watterson, is that he aspired to be a fine artist . . . and got into cartooning. Uh, no duh people are going to group you with other cartoonists rather than as a fine artist. It’s something that I personally don’t mine because I don’t think that the whole realm of ‘fine art’ is okay as it is, devoid of context. I prefer commercial arts for that reason.

      But at least Watterson was an excellent cartoonist.

      • Lance

        Watterson gave us as a body of work the finest comic strip anyone has ever done, in my opinion. The collected “Calvin and Hobbes” (the huge brick of hardcovers with the highest-quality physical print job, about 200 bucks) belongs in every comic fan’s library. It’s a very good thing that he left when he did, though, as his anger would have eventually tainted C&H.

        I suspect this is an attitude any “fine artist” is at risk of developing when they work in “pop art”. The fact is that most people who read comics are looking for a laugh, then move on… you have them as an audience for 10 seconds a day, and if your work is not “accessible” then it won’t be popular. It did strike me as kind of weird that someone like Watterson would get into a medium like print comics (maybe it’s a case of “big fish small pond”), but at the end it was obvious he was doing this for himself, not for his fans. Maybe it didn’t start that way.

        I’ll let you know how the shirt turns out :) Cafe Press has taken a lot of heat for mediocre product quality, and the stuff I’ve gotten from them has been only so-so. Cafe Press has the advantage of being well-known and functional. I will say this about Red Bubble: their website is -slow-, particularly when you get to the most important part (checking out and paying!).

        Back when I was doing comics, I dealt with T-shirts through a local t-shirt/corporate-gifts company. They did absolutely outstanding work, but it was expensive and the “print run” had to be done all up-front. 2500 bucks in, a year later 3200 out. Not a bad return (35% over a year), but boxes of shirt take up space and there’s always the risk the shirts won’t sell well. There’s also the opportunity-cost (what could I have done with that 2500 otherwise?); these, however, are factors that fans aren’t interested in. What they want is a t-shirt/coffee mug/mouse pad, spare the small-business-plan lesson.

        It was an interesting education in how small biz works, though.

  12. Goleus

    No one reads the newspaper. Even one of comedies centrals shows had a huge sketch on it, because you know what? it’s true.

  13. Bengo

    Thanks, nice essay, and a nice historical piece.

    Of course, the good story is the future of webcomics, and I sense you’re not plugged to that. That’s kind of a drag, as I like your work. Maybe I’m wrong, but there is no hint of awareness in your essay that the Daily Cartoonist bickering is irrelevant, and that while they all dither, some of us are incorporating ideas for our future that are much different than the tired and faulty HalfPixel stuff. If they’re waiting for an invitation, it’s not going to come to a bunch of reactionary careerists on either side. The spaceship left without them.

    Such stuff stuffy here’s-the-news-about-the-news media you follow, too. If you want to opt out and go your own way, I’d say that’s the way to do it.

    Reboot, comrade!

    Respectfully,
    Bengo

  14. Bengo

    That didn’t come out to my satisfaction. What I am saying:
    1. Halfpixel and Daily Cartoonist are features of the past
    2. There is an exciting webcomic future
    3. Most people don’t know too much about it, but the ones who listen to Webcomic Weekly and bicker in Daily Cartoonist know the least
    4. I would have expected a more advanced awareness from you, which you may be concealing
    5. I like your comic
    6. I mean this respectfully but may have erred in getting the tone right.
    7. Thanks.

    • Nick Mizgala

      You say that HalfPixel’s ideas are tired and faulty, but you never gave any indication as to what should replace it. Do you have any information and/or links you can post so I can see what those ideas would be? I’m always willing to listen to another point of view, but first I have to know where to find it.