I have some really cool news to share with you guys: The Image Comics book I co-authored with Brad,
and Scott — “How To Make Webcomics” — looks like it’s sold out! There are 100 or so copies left in the Sheldon Store, and apparently the distributor and publisher are down to their last copies as well! Which is amazing, as it’s only been out on the market for three months.
This book was a real labor of love for the four of us. A labor of love because…to be honest, we weren’t sure we’d sell all that many. But we’re cartoonists who genuinely, genuinely love the craft of cartooning, and recognize that the artform is in a changing state at the moment. Newsprint is slowly but inexorably dying, and to a great many cartoonists, the Web holds out little or no hope to replace it.
But here’s the beauty of cartooning: It is an amazing, amazing artform… an artform that has already outlasted many a change in print, distribution, audiences, and economic models. It has weathered the change from individually-sold “subscriptions” in Hogarth and Gilray’s 18th-Century prints, it has survived the death of once-massively-popular 19th- and 20th-Century periodicals such as “Punch” and “Saturday Evening Post”, and it will, I’m happy to report, survive the death of newspapers.
In America, the comic strip and comic panel have been so tied to newsprint that many cartoonists have trouble separating it from the past 100 years of newsprint success. And there’s no disputing that, in these last 100 years, comic strip print syndication has worked like magic: It has generated huge audiences, and equally huge careers and incomes for cartoonists like Capp, Kelly, McManus, Schulz, Davis, Trudeau, Johnston, Adams (…the list goes on and on). But here’s the crux of the problem: The core, fundamental product that a newspaper delivers, the “news,” is now beat to market by an infinitely faster, more efficient system. The basic function of delivering “news” (a term originally coined in English to represent “the new”) now gives you the less-new news.
Tie that to the fact that newspaper audience sizes, ad rates, and income from classifieds are all trending downward, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what will happen to newspapers. They are going away. That’s not me being hyperbolic: I’m not saying they’ll all disappear completely. Newsprint will survive in some fashion, just as radio survived by transmogrifying into an all-music format. But for comics — and this is key — for comics, the fundamental economic and distribution system which made them possible within newspapers — that of print syndication — will assuredly fail. It will fail because syndication relied on the existence of many and directly-competing newspapers, of which there are fewer each passing year. Yes, newspapers will survive in some format, somehow, somewhere. But print syndication will not survive in a way that works for comic strips and panels. Sadly, it’s already largely failing for them.
So it’s understandable that newspaper cartooning should be despondent. By the measure of the corporations that distributed, printed and profited from comics in the past…the print syndication model is unsalvageable, going forward. And there is no large-scale, corporate Web model on the horizon to replace it.
But just because that large-scale model is failing, doesn’t mean that cartooning — or careers in cartooning — are doomed to fail as well. My friends, cartooning is not only surviving… it is flourishing on the Web. Like a forest floor after a massive fire… a huge number of unique, compelling strips are popping up all over the place! Look at Achewood, Copper, Kukuburi, Diesel Sweeties, Dinosaur Comics, xkcd, Penny Arcade, Dr. McNinja, Girl Genius, Goats, Octopus Pie, Scary Go Round, or Wondermark! These are amazing, variegated displays of comic artistry. The likes of which I guarantee you have not seen in your local paper. And they’re just a sampling of the variety I could list out if I had an hour.
And over the last 10 years, I’ve seen two-to-four dozen Webcomics go from hobbies to part-time jobs, and from part-time jobs to full-time careers. I’d even hazard to say that more careers have been created in Webcomics over the last 10 years than all three major syndicates combined. Which, for a nascent comics distribution system, is pretty amazing.
And it’s a big part of why we wrote this book: It was our attempt to take all our mistakes, failed attempts, lessons learned, and course corrections from the last decade of experimentation and hand ’em to the next generation of cartoonists. To help others learn from and hopefully leapfrog our mistakes. To show them what works, what works well, and what works really well. And, gratifyingly, the book really seems to have resonated!
We were so happy to hear at Emerald City ComicCon how the book has really filled a need for cartoonists and illustrators. And, surprising to us, even musicians, painters, sculptors and artists who work online. (…that, we assuredly did NOT expect!)
So a huge ‘thank you!’ to everyone who picked up a copy, or who e-mailed the four of us with (no joke) far kinder messages than I ever received even for Sheldon. It’s exciting for me, as a cartoonist, to see the small and large impacts the book is already having for artists all over the world. It’s one of the most gratifying things I’ve ever done.
[EDITED: I should’ve mentioned… it looks like we’ll be going into a second printing, though I don’t know the dates ‘n times. Fingers crossed, the second printing will be out by San Diego Comic-Con.]