At a time when newspaper comics-page slots are few and coveted, Jeff Burney’s decision to stop running his comic strip Attica in the Ottawa Citizen and put it online as a free webcomic seems counterintuitive. Who would trade a regular paycheck to take a chance on the web?
Burney’s calculation included both time and money: As he explains in an interview with ROBOT 6, doing the strip seven days a week took up all his time, so he had no opportunity to market it online. The money problem stemmed from the fact that Attica runs in only one newspaper, and his attempts to sell it to others have hit up against the wall created by the current state of the industry.
He began working on Attica while on parental leave from his high-tech job, and he took early retirement so he could become a full-time cartoonist. I asked Burney to talk about his experiences as a creator and the marketer of his own comic, and he provided a fascinating inside look at the newspaper comics market — and the possibilities of webcomics.
The Boston Phoenix, the groundbreaking alternative weekly that in recent years had carried the work of cartoonists ranging from Matt Bors and David Sipress to Karl Stevens and Brian McFadden, has closed after nearly five decades.
The announcement was accompanied Thursday afternoon by a tweet saying, “Thank you Boston. Good night and good luck.” The current issue, dated March 15, will be the last; a final online edition will appear March 22. Executive Editor Peter Kadzis told The Boston Globe that about 40 employees will be let go within the week with another 10 following soon afterward. There will be no severance pay.
In a statement circulated Thursday to staff members and reposted on the Phoenix’s website, Publisher Stephen M. Mindich attributed the closing to a combination of the economic crisis, changes in the media industry and a decline in advertising. Just six months ago the company changed to a magazine format in an effort to attract more advertisers.
“We are a textbook example of sweeping marketplace change,” Kadzis said in a statement. “Our recent switch to a magazine format met with applause from readers and local advertisers. Not so — with a few exceptions — national advertisers. It was the long-term decline of national advertising dollars that made the Boston Phoenix economically unviable.”
Its sister publications The Portland Phoenix in Maine and The Providence Phoenix in Rhode Island, will remain open.
“When I started, if you got syndicated, you were basically set — you’d make a good living, and you wouldn’t have to worry much else. In the 11 years since then, that door has basically closed. There is no new great syndicated strip, and there probably won’t be. Literally, there are no new launches. Now, to make it, you have to go that web route. Many of those guys, from Penny Arcade to Cyanide and Happiness to The Perry Bible Fellowship — which are all excellent — claim to make a living, but how do you know? I can tell you that even if someone does a strip and it’s fairly popular online, the money is not online. I question a lot of claims about the money being made, and the question remains that if things continue to go that route for newspapers, and you have to make money online, how do you do it?”
– award-winning cartoonist Stephan Pastis, on how the market for comic strips has changed since Pearls Before Swine received wide syndication in 2002
An ill-timed installment of Broom-Hilda has forced the Chicago Tribune to explain how the comic made its way into the newspaper in the aftermath of last week’s shootings in a Colorado theater.
Part of a series of gags involving a conversation between the title character and a little girl who talks really loud, Wednesday’s strip (above) featured the child relating, “It makes people mad when I talk at movie theaters. Especially during action-adventure films. They can’t hear the gunshots!”
In an article on the newspaper’s website, Associate Managing Editor Geoff Brown wrote, “What might have caused a smile before the Aurora, Colo., mass slayings last week at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises seemed inappropriate today.”
After more than three decades, and 1,669 installments, Matt Groening has ended Life in Hell, his influential weekly comic strip starring bitter anthropomorphic rabbits and a pair of gay lovers. Although the final strip appeared Friday, reruns will be offered to newspapers through July 13.
“Thirty-two years is a long time to do it,” The Simpsons creator told USA Today. “I love the characters, I love doing it, but it was just time.” Groening added to The Poynter Institute, “I’ve had great fun, in a Sisyphean kind of way, but the time has come to let Binky and Sheba and Bongo and Akbar and Jeff take some time off.”
Graphic novels | The Will and Ann Eisner Family Foundation and the American Library Association will launch the Will Eisner Graphic Novel Prize for Libraries at the ALA summer conference, held June 21-26 in Anaheim, California. Three libraries each year will be selected to receive all the books nominated for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, as well as a $2,000 voucher to buy additional graphic novels and a $1,000 stipend to hold comics-related or author events. Libraries to register to win at the ALA conference; winners will be announced June 24. [Publishers Weekly]
Graphic novels | Calvin Reid and Heidi MacDonald look at the graphic novel presence at last week’s BookExpo America. [Publishers Weekly]
Publishing | Three million-dollar Kickstarter drives, including Rich Burlew’s $1.2 million campaign for The Order of the Stick, make the fund-raising site look like a pot of gold to some folks, but it’s not that easy: Suw Charman-Anderson, who;s contemplating a Kickstarter drive herself, looks at the factors that make the big money-makers so successful. [Forbes]
Editorial cartoons | The New York Times has responded to Daryl Cagle’s criticism of its hiring policy and fees for editorial cartoonists, saying the newspaper will delay bringing political cartoons back to its Sunday review section until editors have had time to revisit their policies. [The Cagle Post]
Editorial cartoons | For those who want a look at the bigger picture, Columbia Journalism Review surveys the landscape of editorial cartooning and in particular, the economics of syndication. [Columbia Journalism Review]
Libraries | A middle school library in New Brunswick, Canada, has been asked to remove Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim’s Dungeon series for review after the mother of a 12-year-old student complained about the depictions of sex and violence in one of the volumes. The CTV News reporter goes for the easy gasp by showing the scenes in question to a variety of parents, all of whom agree they don’t think the book belongs in a school library, and in this case the mom has a good point: The book received good reviews but is definitely not for kids. [CTV News]
Publishing | John Jackson Miller has been looking at the fine print in old comics — the statement of ownership, which spells out in exact numbers just how many copies were printed, how many were sold, etc. One of the highlights is Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge, which sold more than 1 million copies, making it the top seller of the 1960s. “It’s meaningful, I think, that the best-seller of the 1960s should come from Barks, whose work was originally uncredited and who was known originally to fans as ‘the Good Duck Artist,’” Miller concludes. “Fandom in the 1960s was bringing attention to a lot of people who had previously been unheralded, and Barks is a great example. He changed comics — and now comics were changing.” [The Comichron]
Jillian Tamaki (Skim, Indoor Voice) is between projects right now, with one project on the editor’s desk and another not quite under way. So when the New York Times asked her to illustrate a piece on political sex scandals, she was ready, willing, and more than able. Here’s the main illustration, and click through to her blog to see some other sketches. (Mildly NSFW—this is the Times, after all—but she includes one drawing that was apparently too hot for them.)
There have been a few glaring omissions in the newspaper comics world over the past few days.
The more serious one is the loss of Cul de Sac, one of freshest, funniest comics around, which will go on hiatus for three or four weeks while creator Richard Thompson goes through a course of physical therapy for his Parkinson’s Disease. In his usual gracious way, Thompson finds something funny in all this:
I’ve only been in for an evaluation, but the therapy largely consists of big, exaggerated movements and sweeping silly walks that will so embarrass your body that it’ll start behaving itself, I hope. Also I’ll learn ten ways to defeat a mugger by falling on him.
The gap may not be noticeable to those who don’t look to closely, as Thompson will rerun some older Cul de Sac strips during the hiatus.
The Poynter Institute’s Jim Romenesko (always the go-to source for journalism news) reports that Newsday and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution have joined the Chicago Tribune in refusing to run this week’s Doonesbury strips, which include excerpts from Joe McGinniss’ book The Rogue, an unauthorized and extremely salacious biography of former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Shawn McIntosh, editor of the Journal-Constitution, has this response to readers who commented:
Mr. Trudeau has based this series of comic strips on an as-yet unpublished book by author Joe McGinnis about Sarah Palin. Since the book is not yet published, Ms. Palin has not had an opportunity to comment publicly on the content included in the book and picked up in the cartoons. Nor has the book yet been reviewed for accuracy. In essence, the cartoons would be reporting news, not commenting on news that is already public.
That raises an interesting question: Would the papers run the cartoons two weeks from now, after the book has been published? According to The Washington Post, McGinniss sent cartoonist Garry Trudeau an advance copy and later approached him about “an exclusive first-serial arrangement.” Honestly, this sounds as much like blatant product placement as an attempt to break news on the comics page.
Retailing | Free Comic Book Day founder Joe Field reports that this year’s event drew between 300,000 and 500,000 people to participating retailers, and generated an estimated $1.5 million in publicity for comics and comics stores. “Free Comic Book Day may have been my idea ten years ago, but seeing the remarkable things this event has done for the entire comics world is really encouraging,” he writes on his store’s blog. “Many of my comics retailer colleagues in the U.S., Canada and 40 other countries bring energy, creativity and enthusiasm to FCBD, making it a very special community event that is now the world’s largest annual comics’ event. All of this shows just how current the comics’ medium is — and how vital comic book specialty stores are to our local communities.” [Flying Colors, via The Beat]
Legal | In the wake of the latest confiscation of comics by Canadian customs agents, Laura Hudson looks at how creators and fans can protect themselves when crossing the border. [Comics Alliance]
Comic strips | Tundra marketing director Bill Kellogg has launched Ink Bottle Syndicate, which represents eight comic strips: That Monkey Tune, by Mike Kandalaft; Holy Molé, by Rick Hotton; Sunshine State, by Graham Nolan; Half Baked, by Rick Ellis; Future Shock, by Jim and Pat McGreal; 15 Minutes, by Robert Duckett; Biz, by Dave Blazek; and, of course, Tundra, Chad Carpenter. [The Daily Cartoonist]
Comic strips | In what Michael Cavna so accurately describes as “a seismic shift” for the world of newspaper syndication, United Media has announced it will outsource all editorial, production, sales, marketing and distribution functions for its 150 comics and other features to Kansas City-based Universal Uclick. (Tom Spurgeon likens the move to Marvel outsourcing all of its titles to DC Comics.) The transition begins immediately, and is expected to be complete by June 1. United Media’s stable of strips include Get Fuzzy, Pearls Before Swine, Rose Is Rose and Marmaduke. Universal Uclick’s lineup includes Doonesbury, Non Sequitur, Garfield, For Better or For Worse and the recently added Peanuts and Dilbert. [Comic Riffs]
Passings | Anant Pai, who’s credited with launching India’s comic industry in the 1960s with his series Amar Chitra Katha (Immortal Picture Stories), died Thursday of a heart attack. He was 81. Affectionately known by his fans as “Uncle Pai,” he also created the children’s series Tinkle and had spent the past three years working on Glimpses of Glory, which chronicles 40 defining moments from Indian history. After falling and fracturing his foot, Pai underwent surgery of Saturday, which prevented him from attending the first Indian Comic Con, where he was to be given a lifetime achievement award. [The Associated Press, India Real Time]
Retailing | The financially troubled Borders Group reportedly could file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as soon as today or Tuesday, setting the stage to close about 200 of its 674 Borders and Waldenbooks stores and eliminate thousands of jobs. [The Wall Street Journal]
Retailing | Diamond Comic Distributors revealed that 98 percent of the more than 500 direct market stores visited by secret shoppers during the first month of day-early delivery were found to be in compliance with the program’s street-date requirements. According to Diamond, of the 10 stores discovered to be in violation of the agreement, one was reported by another retailer while the others were discovered by secret shoppers. [ICv2.com]
Comic-Con | Badges for Comic-Con International sold out Saturday during a marathon online-registration session that taxed the servers of convention sales partner TicketLeap and frustrated ticket buyers. Four-day passes were gone by about 2 p.m. PT; the event sold out by 6 p.m. (Additional passes may become available as cancellations are processed.) As we noted earlier, San Francisco comics retailer Isotope is memorializing Saturday’s experience with a “San Diego Comic Con 2011 Registration Disaster Commemorative Fail Frog button,” featuring a modified version of the TicketLeap logo that frustrated users saw every time they refreshed their web browser.
On the TicketLeap company blog, CEO Chris Stanchak acknowledged that “our platform experienced capacity issues for a 4 hour period” on Saturday: “While we knew the event was going to put significant demand on our system, we did not expect the traffic we received. [...] The traffic we received yesterday was several orders of magnitude higher than our high end estimate. Due to the heavy strain on the system, users for all events across our system received ‘Over Capacity’ errors. This prevented ticket buyers from buying tickets and it prevented event organizers from managing their events.” Tom Spurgeon offers commentary. [Comic-Con International]