Monday, May 31, 2010

The Reubens!

I should be posting new work soon. It's a lot of inking work that I've been gearing towards as of late. And now for the weekend news. The Reuben Awards!

There's a nifty little link right there. Anyhow, the winner is the one guy of the three contestants who actually looked at my work and gave me feedback on my comic strips! Yessiree, congrats to Dan Piraro of "Bizarro." He's probably one newspaper panelists that best embodies the Far Side legacy and/or spirit. He won for being brilliantly funny 365 days of the year.

An interesting thing to point out is both his and Jim Borgman's reaction (the other cartoonist to respond to my work) to the current state of the comic strip. The newspaper industry is dying a slow painful death. The syndicate's and most cartoonists' bread and butter. They both said that it's suicide to get into the syndicate/newspaper business. This is not news to me knowing how many submissions that the syndicates get every year and how many they accept (ex. King Features get 5000 submissions and accept 1-2 new titles a year). Even if breaking in let's say, half the titles fail within 1-2 years. Others that survive may make 20K-40K for the first few years. Against such surmounting odds, why do I do this?

Many questions bubble in my head as to why I like comic strips most and what is their appeal to me? I'd say that ever since the comic book was born in the 30's, it continually evolved to become the graphic novel and ever-growing and expanding market for it. Comic books as well are always selling with stellar art appealing to young and adult audiences. Manga, the Japanese response to comic books and graphic novels, may not seem as popular as before, but it's influence has taken hold in American comics and are still voracious. Soooooo......what about the comic strip?

To me, the comic strip is a zen moment. It's a ritual. Those three/four little boxes tell a whole story. Setup, suspense, punch-line. Repeat the next day. As an adult now, I reminisce about reading comics in the newspaper. I don't think I'm alone in thinking this. What I miss most as a kid was reading the comics all together in one place. Reading them online anymore, I miss the connection to them as I did when they were on a sheet of newsprint.

I also love the comic book collections. Reading a Garfield book or a Peanuts or a Calvin and Hobbes collection was pure comic bliss. It was an intensely personal read.

Probably the saddest thing is that I am outgrowing comic strips. One huge reason for this is the biggest downfall of the newspaper comic/syndicate business. The comics never change! When I was a kid, I read Hagar the Horrible and found it funny. As a teenager, I read Hagar the Horrible and found it amusing and familiar. As an adult, I read Hagar the Horrible and find it out of place and horrible. I don't mean to single out Hagar, but Chris Browne is one of many cartoonists that's been doing the same character for over 30-40 years!

In the syndicate's eyes, the comic strip feature should last 50+ years. I question, why IS this?! It's too easy to say that once you have a feature and a formula that clicks and works with readers, you stick with it and build your marketing empire. Jim Davis did this and many others as well. Now look at Garfield. I love Garfield as a kid, but after the first 15 years or so (and I am being generous), Garfield is no longer funny. Yet he's still in the most newspapers worldwide. This shouldn't be!

Imagine that the comics were TV shows. Can you imagine Seinfeld being around 25-30+ years on TV? I Love Lucy being on air for 50 years? The Simpsons going for another 10 years? Sure, it's a cash for maybe two-three more years, but eventually, it peters out. This is what comic strips do. They stick around for 30+ years regardless of freshness and/or vitality. Hence they clogged up the newspaper pages and many new aspiring cartoonists and readers the pleasure or new material. What is wrong with this picture?!

Now the internet is here, and readers have responded with reading new comics without limit to buying a newspaper and so on. I propose that in order for the syndicate business and the comic strip form to survive, there always has to be new blood and fresh ideas coming forth. It may be too late as the syndicate has yet to figure out how to make profits online. However, as long as people like me believe in the comic strip, the form will survive.

The likes of The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, Foxtrot, and a good number of years in Peanuts all had very successful careers (and short ones besides the latter). They will always be fresh in my mind. They will always have a special place in my bookshelf for when I want to enjoy that personal connection again.

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