Playing In the Minors

Mw-RromToday there are two really interesting blog posts out there: Mike Lynch discusses the uneasy business of gag cartooning, and The Daily Cartoonist reported on an upcoming panel on non-traditional syndication at the New York Comic-Con.

The combination of the two got me thinking about the nature of gag cartooning and our status within the larger world of cartooning.

I think gag cartoonists are seen as minor leaguers. Most comic strip cartoonists start out, at least partially, doing gag cartoons. Then, if you’re good enough, you get called up to the big leagues of newspaper syndication.

If you’re not syndicated, there’s a certain stigma about you. You’re more or less looked down on as obviously a lesser talent. You see it a lot, and it’s painfully obvious at cartoonist get-togethers. (That being said, what’s funny is that the absolute biggest names couldn’t be nicer and, generally, are actually interested in who you are and what you do. It’s weird – almost another tier within cartooning.)

Here’s the thing though, I’m not sure I want to be a big leaguer anymore. I like it here.

After almost a decade of doing it professionally, I’m reasonably confident in my ability to earn a comfortable living. I don’t have an editor per se, so I can pretty much do whatever I want, and I don’t have to rely on or pay anyone else to sell my work. It’s pretty great.

One of the things I like most about gag cartooning is the competition. Syndication is competitive too, but not in the same way.

As I understand it, with syndication you submit to the syndicates, you get your development contract, you launch, you get a year or so of hard selling and then you’re left or sink or swim. Hard, yes, but the main hurdle seems to be getting the contract.

Gag cartooning works like this: you draw up a bunch of cartoons, and send them around to a bunch of different publications. Out of 15 or so that you do in a week, you might sell one. The others come back and are rerouted to other publications. It’s a much more focused competition here. It’s all about who’s funnier right now.

I think if your average comic stripper had to worry about editors choosing every day’s strips based on how funny they were that day, there’s be a lot more Pepto consumed.

Let me clarify, though, that I’m not anti-syndicate or comic strip. Everyone who does it seems to be mostly happy, and it’s worked very well for a long long time. It’s just not my brass ring anymore.

I think it all comes down to respect. My work is well drawn, funny, and published consistently in markets large and small worldwide. Cartooning is isolating enough, it’d be nice if more cartoonists outside gag cartooning took notice.

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3 thoughts on “Playing In the Minors”

  1. One of the reasons I started my blog was because I realized that no cartoonist I knew was actually reading all of the mags that I was selling my work to.

  2. Chon Day was offered a syndicate contract for Brother Sebastian without ever submitting anything, and turned it down, and that was when syndication was still huge.

    He had his small yacht, electronic toys,was sending offspring to college, he was prfectly happy being a gag cartoonist.

  3. All art has to be self generated ultimatley. Getting printed and earning money from your work (which I do neither of) isn't the ultimate measure of success is it? But perhaps thats my art school hang up. Because there the idea of doing work for the sole purpose of selling was abhorrent! The comprimise was 'I am going to do what I do and if you like it i suppose I could let you buy somthing similar for your car advert/magazine space/t-shirt'…

    Just a thought. Everyone took a very healthy interest in each others idea, and not just so they could copy them!

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