Comic artists use Web to ensnare readers
A rivalry is brewing between the lines and behind the panels in the funny pages. It's a skirmish between the traditional syndicated comic artists, whose work appears in newspapers...
Newhouse News Service
A rivalry is brewing between the lines and behind the panels in the funny pages.
It's a skirmish between the traditional syndicated comic artists, whose work appears in newspapers, and the new, online artists whose work appears on the Internet, often for free.
Scott Kurtz, Aaron Williams and Katie Cook are part of a new generation of cartoonists who shun the traditional model of using a syndicate. They have creative freedom on their own and can do better financially online by selling advertisements, merchandise and books of their strips.
Kurtz, creator of the popular strip "PvP," which is about the antics in the office of a video-gaming magazine, went so far as to announce in August that he would give his strip to newspapers to run for free.
While he enjoys doing the strip and sharing it with readers which he has done since 1998 and would love to see it in the newspaper, he does not want to give up his ownership or share profits with a syndicate. He rejected an offer from Universal Press.
"The reason syndication is dying is because there is not a built-in model for renewing the system," said Kurtz, 33. He noted that, because syndicates own the strips, they continue to run outdated comics such as "Peanuts," "Nancy" and "Blondie" after their old-guard creators die. "It seems like it's designed to keep out new talent and new ideas."
Heated talks in forums
Kurtz, with his Web site, www.pvponline.com, is one of the handful of Web cartoonists who make a living at it.
Another is Aaron Williams, who has created "Full Frontal Nerdity," about four geeks around a table playing fantasy games, and "Nodwick," a medieval "Dilbert."
"In grade school, I wanted to be a syndicated cartoonist," said Williams, 34, of Kansas City, Mo. "But as I learned more about it, it seems like a bad deal. You're at the mercy of them when it comes to promotion."
Since August, Kurtz's announcement has been a hot topic among cartoonists, with debates breaking out at online cartoonists forum sites such as ToonTalk.com, said Arnold Wagner, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cartooning."
Some syndicated cartoonists see this as an attack on their livelihood and an art form they love, he said.
One of those who question it is cartoonist Tom Batiuk of Medina, Ohio, creator of "Funky Winkerbean" and "Crankshaft."
"I put a lot of thought and work into it, and I'm not about to give it away for free," Batiuk said. "In a lot of ways, the Internet is the big vanity press of the modern world. Anyone who wants to put anything out there can do it. But just because you're blogging or you have a strip on a Web site does not mean a whole lot. The quality has to be there or you can't give it away."
And that's where the syndicate comes in. Jay Kennedy, editor in chief of King Features, home to such strips as "Beetle Bailey" and "Spider-Man," said he receives 6,000 submissions a year. From those, he picks three.
He has yet to find a strip on the Internet he would syndicate.
"Newspapers are still a mass media," Kennedy said. "Online comics are not a mass media at this point. They are largely fan-based."
Online strips increasing
But those fans are loyal. While an accurate reading of the audience is difficult, the numbers appear to be gradually growing. So is the number of online strips and comics on the Web.
Earlier this year, Katie Cook, a senior at the college of Creative Studies in Detroit, posted a doodle of a character she created on her Web site, katiecandraw.com. Now the character, Gronk, has a following even though the strip is not set to debut until next year.
"You don't have to get syndicated and go through all that work," the 23-year-old Ann Arbor, Mich., resident said. "You can take it upon yourself to be your own person and promote yourself and be a huge success without having a newspaper or syndicate saying you're good enough."