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“[T]hey broke my spirit,” Don Rosa wrote in an epilogue to his autobiography in comics, explaining why he retired from the job he so dearly loved. The whole tale is heart-breaking but also beautiful in the cartoonist’s abundant gratitude and humility.
“They” of course are Disney and its publishing licensees who don’t pay their comics talent any royalties whatsoever despite the incredibly healthy exporting of Disney comic books around the world. Rosa created Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics for almost 20 years and only ever received a flat page rate, as though it were the 1940s. His rate was better than other Disney comics artists at the time because he was so popular, but his wife was still the primary provider for the family. She was a school teacher, a profession not typically known for financial excess.
Whenever I hear about these kinds of stories, I always wonder why the creator doesn’t turn to creator-owned comics, which allow freedom on many levels, and a greater potential for financial benefit. The Walking Dead, anyone? Rosa, the internationally beloved cartoonist, doing his own comic book series or graphic novel would be an event. It seems like a no-brainer. But it’s easy to forget that for some creators, despite the opportunities, that option is a non-starter.
We warned you about this a few weeks ago: Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, the duo behind the ultra-popular webcomic series Penny Arcade, are looking to cultivate the next generation of comic artists with a web TV series titled Strip Search.
It’s a reality competition series in which 12 aspiring webcartoonists are locked in a house and pitted against each other in a Thunderdome-like scenario (minus a mohawked Tina Turner) in which their talent, skills and dedication are tested with the ultimate prize of $15,000 in cash and a year working in Penny Arcade‘s offices and taking advantage of the company’s resources. Even the break room.
The show is set to premiere later this month, with the
cast members cartoonists already announced. As we await the first episode, scan through the artists’ bios and choose your early favorites.
Don Rosa, who drew Disney’s Scrooge McDuck and Donald Duck comics for many years has written a lengthy and fascinating piece on why he gave up creating comics.
Rosa, who started working on the series in early middle age, gave up making comics entirely in 2012 for a variety of reasons, including vision problems caused by a detached retina, depression, and frustration that the studio pays no royalties on his comics — a situation that he says is unique to the comics, as other Disney creators do get royalties. (One possible reason for this is that the Disney comics are produced by freelancers working for third-party companies, not for Disney itself.) That became particularly galling once Rosa was well enough known that the collections featured his name in the title — but he still didn’t see a dime. His response was a clever one: He copyrighted his name so publishers would have to ask his permission to use it to promote the books.
Rosa also explains why he didn’t make the switch to creator-owned comics:
I don’t know, maybe lists like the widely reported rundown of “National Organizations with Anti-Gun Policies” on the website of the Institute for Legislative Action — the lobbying arm of the National Rifle Association — are common, but just seldom made public. It seems rather Nixonian, to be honest. Who keeps an enemies list any more?
The list includes not only organizations but companies and individuals who have in some way publicly endorsed gun regulation, whether as a member of the Brady Campaign or just chattin’. And 14 editorial cartoonists make the cut. Alan Gardner helpfully pulls them out: Tony Auth, Steve Benson, Jim Borgman, Stuart Carlson, Mike Lane, Mike Luckovich, Jimmy Margulies, Jim Morin, Mike Peters, Kevin Siers, Ed Stein, Tim Toles, Garry Trudeau and Don Wright.
What do you do when you’ve created a comic book series that’s become more successful than you ever imagined? Branch out. It’s what Robert Kirkman did once The Walking Dead established itself as a hit, and in the webcomics world Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade have been doing the very same thing — and their creation keeps getting bigger. And last summer, when their $250,000 Kickstarter campaign generated double its goal, they included some ambition stretch goals — one of which is coming true next month.
In February, Penny Arcade will launch Strip Search, a reality/competition television series in which 12 cartoonists live together in a house and compete to win a $15,000 cash prize and space in Penny Arcade‘s Seattle offices for a year, complete with support from the company with merchandise, marketing and infrastructure.
Described by Krahulik as “Hell’s Kitchen for web cartoonists,” Strip Search isn’t a new idea — CBR did Comic Book Idol for several years — but rather a new format. The show, which is being produced by the comedy troupe/video studio LoadingReadyRun, will feature 12 up-and-coming cartoonists including indie artist Erika Moen. Filmed late last year, Strip Search will debut in February at Penny Arcade’s PATV and will also appear in some unannounced other venues. For more I talked with Penny Arcade‘s Jerry Holkins, along with Robert Khoo, the comic franchise’s president of operations and business development.
I’m sitting here looking at a stack of how-to-draw-manga books, and I’m feeling very guilty.
These books were sent to me as review copies, and I feel it’s my duty to review them. They are thoughtfully designed and beautifully produced, and they aren’t cheap. People think being a reviewer is all beer and skittles and free comics, but those comics aren’t free; they carry a serious responsibility with them, and I’m afraid that in the case of these books, I have failed miserably.
The problem is that I don’t believe in the basic mission of these books. I say this as someone who once had aspirations to being a fine artist and who later edited art-instruction books. Let me explain.
When I was in college, I loved the idea of being an artist, but I lacked talent. That didn’t stop me from soldiering through school — I have a BFA and an MFA in studio art — but when I got out into the real world and started trying to make my way as an artist, I realized I lacked both the knack and the spark I needed to be successful.
Nonetheless, I went from being a terrible draftsman to a better-than-mediocre draftsman during that time, and I didn’t do it by reading books. I did it by drawing. So here’s the advice I have for all aspiring comics artists everywhere: Draw from life. You’re better off using those how-to books in an interesting still-life setup and drawing that than copying the illustrations you will find inside.
On Dec. 31, James Kochalka ended his 14-year run on his diary comic American Elf, but others have taken up the baton, at least temporarily: A number of webcomics artists have created homages to the strip, and Kochalka is re-posting them on his Tumblr.
They include comics more or less in the style of American Elf by Lewis Trondheim, Superf*ckers director Fran Krause and a host of others, expressing a range of emotions from grief to gratitude. Also included in the tributes is a giant picture of every American Elf strip and another that averages the 14 years’ worth of the strips to produce an “eigencomic.”
It’s really interesting to look through them and see how a single (albeit long) comic inspired such a range of responses — and how much people seem to enjoy drawing themselves in Kochalka’s unmistakable style. And, as Kochalka remarks on one of the posts, “Quitting American Elf has kind of been like being able to die and go to my own wake!”
Censorship | At least one comic, alas unnamed, was among the thousands of books removed this week from a Turkish government restricted list. Most of the bans were widely ignored anyway, but Metin Celal Zeynioglu, the head of Turkey’s publishers’ union, pointed out one important effect of lifting them: “Many of the students arrested in demonstrations are kept in prison because they’re carrying banned books. From now on, we won’t be able to use that as an excuse.” [The Australian]
Publishing | Tom Spurgeon’s latest holiday interview is with Shannon Watters, the editor of BOOM! Studios’ children’s comics line, which includes Adventure Time, Bravest Warriors and Peanuts. [The Comics Reporter]
Awards | The National Cartoonists Society initiated a webcomics award last year, and this year the organization is splitting it in two, one for short-form works and one for long-form. The challenge with including webcomics, says NCS President Tom Richardson, is that to be eligible, creators must make the majority of their money from cartooning. “That isn’t an easy thing to quantify anymore. With online comics, we need to take into account site traffic, professionalism in consistent and regular publication, online community activity and other factors that are the hallmark of professional online work,” he says. “In some cases, it’s pretty obvious the creator is making a career out of cartooning. In some, it’s not so obvious.” [Comic Riffs]
Retailer Bob Ficcara, owner of the well-regarded Metro Entertainment in Santa Barbara, California, is in desperate need of help.
In 2011, he suffered a minor stroke while working at the store, and discovered his health insurance wouldn’t cover much of his medical expenses; that was just a year after Ficcara racked up bills from surgery and physical therapy required for an Achilles tendon injury. He was unable to reach a payment-plan agreement with the medical providers, who took him to court to secure liens and levies. A month ago, Ficcara’s bank account was emptied, and at about the same time his wife Jamie was laid off from work. Now, Ficcara stands to lose the comic store he’s owned since 1991.
However, cartoonist Bill Morrison, co-founder of Bongo Comics, hopes to prevent that from happening. He’s moving quickly to organize auctions of original art to raise the $30,000 Ficcara needs to save Metro Entertainment. Unfortunately, time isn’t on Morrison’s, or Ficcara’s, side: The debt is due Jan. 14.
Morrison is already off to a good start, though, receiving original art from the likes of Dave Gibbons, Bruce Timm, Eric Powell, Paul Smith (shown at right), Dean Yeagle (below), Geof Darrow, Tone Rodriguez (below), Evan Dorkin, Jim Woodring, Humberto Ramos and Herb Trimpe (as well as himself, of course). But he’d like to get more original work from major artists. Those interested in contributing should contact Morrison at firstname.lastname@example.org. Update: Neal Adams has contributed a Hal Jordan/Green Lantern piece, which you can see below.
He plans to begin the auctions Sunday on eBay; although Morrison doesn’t have any auctions set up yet, you’ll be able to find them through his user ID juliennefryes. He’ll promote the auctions at Comic Art Fans as well. Cash donations will also be accepted through PayPal (email@example.com), or by check to:
As the final hours tick down on the Kickstarter campaign for To Be Or Not To Be, cartoonist Ryan North’s Choose Your Own Adventure-style take on Hamlet has raised more than $481,000 — that’s 2,405 percent of its $20,000 goal — easily breaking the crowdfunding platform’s record for most successful book project.
As we reported last month, To Be Or Not To Be will allow (adult!) readers to be one of numerous characters from William Shakespeare’s play, including the ghost of Hamlet’s father. “Also,” the Kickstarter page offers, “unlike Shakespeare I didn’t skip over the pirate scene in Hamlet. You get to fight PIRATES. With SWORDS. And yes OF COURSE you can choose which body part you cut off. Why would you write a book where you can’t do that is my question.” What’s more, North enlisted an all-star roster of artists — ranging from Kate Beaton and Kazu Kibuishi to Vera Brosgol and Dustin Harbin — to illustrate the prose book.
In an article this morning on Wired.com examining the blockbuster success of the campaign, North notes, “No [publisher] would drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on getting this book made because you don’t know if the audience will show up for it, and you have to front all these costs. The better you want to make the book, the riskier it gets. But with Kickstarter, we know the audience is there when we make these decisions.”
Talking with Laura Hudson, Tom Helleberg of New York University Press predicts, “It probably won’t be long until Kickstarter (or something similar) completely replaces the slush pile and agents when it comes to filtering submissions. Then presses are going to have to figure out how on Earth they are going to attract successful authors who are effectively earning 100 percent royalties on self-produced projects.”
Update (11 a.m. PT): Since this post was published, an additional $20,595 was pledged to the project, bringing the tally to more than a half-million dollars. Eighteen hours remain in the campaign.
After 14 years, and more than 3,500 cartoons, James Kochalka is bringing his diary comic American Elf to an end. Since October 1998, Kochalka has been chronicling small slices of his daily life in short comics, seldom longer than four panels, and if you read the comic, you already know he has mixed feelings about ending it.
Of course, Kochalka has plenty still going on, including the animated version of his comic SuperF*ckers, plus teaching at the Center for Cartoon Studies, playing rock music and being the Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont. He’s going to keep the American Elf site live, and of course, you can get the collected editions from Top Shelf (and digitally via comiXology).
Keeping a diary comic for 14 years is a singular achievement, so we asked Kochalka to talk a bit about the experience of creating — and living — American Elf.
You don’t step on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. And you don’t mess around with Matthew Inman, creator of the wildly popular webcomic The Oatmeal. Charles Carreon learned that earlier this year, when he sued Inman over allegedly defamatory comments and was made an Internet laughingstock.
Now Inman has taken aim at Jack Steuf, who last week wrote an unflattering profile of the cartoonist at BuzzFeed. (True confession time: I linked to the article in Comics A.M., although by the time I read it, the most egregious error had already been removed.) Inman posted the BuzzFeed article in its entirety and added his own annotations, taking issue with almost every point and ending with the allegation that Steuf had to leave his last job after a fake birthday card that mocked a poem written for Sarah Palin’s son, who has Downs Syndrome.
The most serious error in the BuzzFeed article is that Steuf relied in part on what turned out to be a fake profile of Inman on a website called SodaHead. The profile portrayed Inman as married, with children, and a staunch Republican, none of which is true. In fact, Inman is not married, has no children, and voted for Barack Obama both times. BuzzFeed removed the inaccurate information and added a terse note at the end of the article:
Update: A previous version of this piece linked to a profile that implied Inman was married, had children, and holds certain political beliefs. The profile is a fake. Inman refused to comment for this story, but posted an extended challenge to it on his website.
As mea culpas go, that’s pretty thin gruel. This is bad stuff. It’s poor journalistic practice to trust anything online, and the fault lies not just with the reporter who did it but also with the editor who let it get by. As Slade Sohmer points out in a nice analysis of the situation at HyperVocal, BuzzFeed’s nonchalant response erodes the website’s credibility and, by association, online media in general.
Comics | Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan, appears to be embracing its role in this week’s Avengers#1 as a target of an alien “origin bomb” that struck the city, changing its biosphere and altering billions of years of evolution in mere minutes. Tom Brevoort, Marvel’s senior vice present and executive editor, tells a local newspaper he’s unsure why Regina and Perth, Australia, were selected, but local retailer Chad Boudreau seems glad it happened. “We had no advanced notice of it,” he said. “It just happened that someone reading the comic saw it in there.” He expects strong sales at Comic Readers, with those who don’t typically follow comics buying the issue out of curiosity. [The Star Phoenix]
Charles Schulz’s Peanuts captured the hearts and minds of millions during its long run, and continues in various cartoons, comic spin-offs and other products. But as it turns out the beloved cartoonist also used his Peanuts characters to win the heart of at least one woman during a brief courtship.
The renowned Sotheby’s is hosting an auction of a series of very personal letters that Schulz sent in 1970 and 1971 to a photographer he met named Tracey Claudius during the waning years of his first marriage. Although never intended for public display, these communications from Schulz reveal an endearingly romantic side of the usually reserved cartoonist. Sold by the family of Claudius to pay medical bills, the 56 pages of letters include 22 original drawings of Peanuts characters. The auction house expects them to bring in at least $250,000.
The Associated Press notes that in two letters, Schulz told Claudius he must stop calling her because the long-distance charges had been discovered by his wife: “Soon after, he created a strip in which Charlie Brown berated Snoopy for his obnoxious behavior when he’s not allowed to go out ‘to see that girl beagle.’ In subsequent panels, Charlie warns Snoopy ‘you’d better start behaving yourself’ and when Snoopy picks up the telephone, Charlie Brown yells ‘And stop making those long-distance phone calls.’