Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Where's the comics page?

First, I would like to post what started this conversation hat started the rebuttal that prompted my thoughts and disgusts.

The first link is to an article between Slate and Garry Trudeau, the cartoonist of "Doonesbury."

The second link is a response by Scott Kurtz, creator of PVP, to the article.

All in all, Slate asks Mr. Trudeau how the health of the comic strip medium is. To paraphrase, he basically says that comic strips are dead. Go do graphic novels or work for Pixar. No disputing that. Then Mr. Kurtz and his legion of minions are raising their voices in protest over the comment that Mr. Trudeau stating that webcomics are not a viable alternative. Thus, it forces the stubborn Mr. Kurtz into dissecting what Mr. Trudeau "truly meant" and then uses the syndicates as a scapegoat.

My thoughts? It is very true that the comic strip medium is in a very dire situation. Is there a future to it? Are the syndicates the problem? While Garry Trudeau thinks that there's no future for the medium, Scott Kurtz thinks it's just a syndicated cartoonist problem.

But the problem is much deeper that what Scott suggests. He misses the picture. Webcomics are not the savior that many hoped they would be for the comic strip. Webcomics in my opinion fail as well. The biggest webcomics today are alternative culture oriented. This includes PvP, Penny Arcade, Least I Could Do, Cyanide and Happiness, etc. While there are only a handful of syndicated cartoonists that can make enough money, there are even less webcartoonists that make a living at what they do.

So why is the comic strip in general dying (or presumably dead, it could be zombie-like)? I think looking into the history of the comic strip can reveal a lot.

When the modern comic began, it began in the newspaper between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. Their rivalry to sell more papers caused them to incoporate laughing boxes or comics. From there, comics spread like wildfire. They were popular culture. Some of the greatest comics of all time started in the newspaper. Little Nemo, Walt & Skeezix, Krazy Kat, Prince Valiant are a few to name.

However, let me emphasize that comics started out in newspapers. In general, newspapers are more than just comics. There's the headlines, opinion section, classifieds, sports, and so on. The funnies page is just a slice of the newspaper. While it is most possibly true that the comics were for the illiterate to make them buy a paper, the consumer back then didn't buy a newspaper merely for the comics (although I am sure a number did). The newspaper 100 years ago up until 15 years ago was a family source of entertainment. When one buys a newspaper, there is a bit of everything that anyone could need. News, sports, politics, business, and comics.

I make this point to say that the comic strip medium was always a part of a fabric of print entertainment, the newspaper. Kill the newspaper, kill the comic strip. By itself, the comic book medium I believe is thriving in the form of graphic novels, BD's, and other formats. More as literature, as art. As on its own terms.

Can the comic strip stand by itself? Growing up, I read the comic section almost everyday until I got up and left for college. On the comics page was about 16 comics for me to read. When I got to college, I no longer had a newspaper to read. Instead of paying for a newspaper service, I accessed the internet which was free. I got my news from one website and entertainment from another. Then I visited 3-4 different websites to read different comics, some that were in my paper at home, others new. I will say though that instead of reading the same 16 everyday, I was only reading 4-5 consistently a day. Even to this day, I still have no newspaper and have to scrounge all my links for the comics I do like.

The experience of reading the comic strip has CHANGED! What a newspaper offers is a whole onslaught of comics right then and there. On one or two pages. Zip through 20 different features. That experience has died ever since reading comics on the internet. I think that comic strips as a collective make a beautiful fabric. A page full of comics is heaven for me. To single out and hunt down every single comic online is draining and not right.

Now that the newspaper is dying, the accessibility of comics I'd say has gotten harder. Where to get from the news to sports to comics, it'd just take a flip of sections in the paper. Online, everything is separate websites. One for news, one for classifieds, one for one comic, one for another comics. I abhor this thought of no more newspaper, but like every other sane person, I refuse to pay for something that I can get online for free. All the websites that I visit are free. I don't pay one cent to any website, regardless of advertising.

But saying that the internet is free doesn't necessarily mean that the model for online comics is correct. Though still in its infancy, webcomics have tried many models to make money. Online advertising is a dead end, endless self promotion at comicons is hit or miss, and selling merchandise is a huge gamble. At this point, what are the webcartoonists selling? A comic or a media empire? Ask that to Scott Kurtz. Syndicates have been practicing that for many many years, but webcartoonists are guilty as well. In fact, it is necessary for the webcartoonist to have to endlessly promote with pins, T-shirts, collections, mugs, dolls. Everyone needs to make a living though right?

In short, the way people consumed and read comic strips are tied-in with the old print medium of newspaper. Part of a fabric of entertainment and news. Much like a TV channel like ABC. In this new age of digital consumption and how we consume news and entertainment has become so fragmented, comic strips are dying.

What must change first for the comic strip is the accessibility of them. Websites like Keenspot,, and are the best hope of comics being brought together to read instantaneously. What must happen though is to reimagine the comics page for the internet. A comics page tied in with other websites. With the emergance of the Ipad, the possibility of the digital newspaper is just around the corner. Here, user-customized comics then can be brought together under one page again, next to the Horoscope in the entertainment section of the local newspaper website.

So maybe Garry Trudeau will be wrong about comic strips. I only hope.

PS. I did not make any mention of the quality of a comic strip having to be superb in order to get readers. I think that if the comic strips are accessible, then naturally the great comics will stand out and the weaker ones be weeded out. More thoughts on that later.

Monday, October 25, 2010

New Sketches!

The first one is of the city and a crowd. I don't like drawing crowds. It's hard to design crowds and have it not get too distracting.

The second one is a sketch of a new idea I like and would like to work on. What's different is using pen and ink. After attending the Orginal Art Show reception at the Society of Illustrators, I was much inspired by Jules Feiffer's loose penmanship. Not just his work too, but Patrick McDonnell's, Edward Sorel's, Ralph Steadman's, I thought to give it a go round. I'm always looking to loosen up my drawings, lighten the stroke. So it came out very well!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Made to Fly

Made to fly? Learn to fly? I don't know what to call it yet.