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November 28, 2011 4:36 PM   Subscribe

Denver Post cartoonist Mike Keefe took a buyout after 35 years. On the way out the door, he's asked about digital media. He says, "Someone has to crack the code concerning online profits. Till that time, it will be a forum for the dedicated and passionate cartoonist who also works at Starbucks." Which may come as a surprise to an online cartoonist that's been profitable for more than 10 years, and those other profitable guys with the charity that just broke $1 million in donations earlier than ever.
posted by Cool Papa Bell (114 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
It seems like you forgot to link to the thousands of web comics which aren't profitable.
posted by codacorolla at 4:47 PM on November 28, 2011 [24 favorites]




People who make a living off their webcomics? INSANE I TELL YOU

TOTALLY

IN

SANE

!
posted by The Whelk at 4:51 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


In other words, the exception doesn't make the rule.

Reading this, I don't think either side gets it, and they're both at least partially right. They also both have big huge chips on their shoulders, and understandably so.
posted by Eekacat at 4:51 PM on November 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


So the answer to the question is Person Does Not Know About Internet Comics Re: Economics. Whoa.
posted by The Whelk at 4:51 PM on November 28, 2011


It seems like you forgot to link to the thousands of web comics which aren't profitable.

The same is equally true of the thousands of traditional comic artists who aren't on salary at the Denver Post.
posted by vorfeed at 4:53 PM on November 28, 2011 [30 favorites]


Although as Kreider said, he was raised to think you just got a job and then pumped out a script, you didn't need to need a business or make t-shirts or anything, all that was done for you by a larger company that in exchange for allowing you to just focus on cartooning, took a heavy cut and controlled everything - but hey some people still make bank

You know when you sell a cartoon to the New Yorker they pay you a lot cause they buy EVERY RIGHT IN THE UNIVERSE? There is even a explicit "we own any character you may create and any rights to TV shows, movies, etc about that character" they learned a lot from The Addams Family.
posted by The Whelk at 4:54 PM on November 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


In other words, the exception doesn't make the rule.

Isn't more - 'cream rises to the top'?

For every comic artist that has a newspaper gig, thousands don't. The good/popular ones get the gigs, and the other work at Starbucks.

Popular webcomics make money - there are numerous examples that show that. Enough money to live off of. Advertising pays, as does merchandising.

Therefore, code cracked.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:55 PM on November 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


great thewhelk when i'm looking for some kind of hilarious look at local politics i'll rub nerd cream all over my goddam eyes.

seriously though: webcomics are not the same thing as traditional cartooning is not the same thing as editorial cartooning. the money comes from different places and the demands on the work are different.
posted by beefetish at 4:57 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


seriously though: webcomics are not the same thing as traditional cartooning is not the same thing as editorial cartooning. the money comes from different places and the demands on the work are different.

True - the real newspaper analogue to webcomics are the 'funny pages' - Cathy, Garfield, and the rest of that dreck.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:02 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


codacorolla: It seems like you forgot to link to the thousands of web comics which aren't profitable.

vorfeed: The same is equally true of the thousands of traditional comic artists who aren't on salary at the Denver Post.

beefetish: seriously though: webcomics are not the same thing as traditional cartooning is not the same thing as editorial cartooning. the money comes from different places and the demands on the work are different.

Digital media is tricky: anyone can put together a pretty good looking website in short order, and they're a Web Comic Artist. On the flip side, you have to get hired by a newspaper to be a Newspaper Comic Artist, and the same for Editorial Print Cartoonist. Stick to those definitions, and the numbers are already rigged. Artists who get published in newspapers have been selected, and are getting paid by definition. Web comic artists (who might also be "traditional" cartoonists or editorial cartoonists) can be anyone with a few bucks a month for web hosting.

So the problem of internet comics is that there is no filter for the reader - you, dear reader, have to find the good stuff.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:02 PM on November 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


how about this, editorial cartoons are dying because local papers are dying cause internet.

Actually I always maintained papers could have a chance they decided to get super-local and involved, more local politics, more community interaction, but the majority are owned by large concerns, and chasing the broad dollar.

So hey guess the average editorial cartoon rate? According to my Artist's Market it's less than 50 dollars a drawing. I spent time in the traditional cartooning jobs and it really just seemed like something on the edge of death.
posted by The Whelk at 5:03 PM on November 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


if PVP is the cream this milk is sour. Wait, does that analogy hold? Whatever.

But if the only way a webcomic can provide a real income for the creators is to have massive early entry advantage and cater to a slice of highly paid man children, well, there's still a lot of code to crack.
posted by aspo at 5:04 PM on November 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


People who make a living off their webcomics?

Hey, I used to read the funny pages every day, plus the editorial cartoon. Now I never read webcomics unless someone sends me a link. Many I've seen have a certain college newspaperiness about them. Comic strips are extremely hard to do well and almost impossible to keep fresh for the long term.
posted by Yakuman at 5:05 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Spike Trottman writes really great long-form comics that have nothing to offer highly paid man children and she's got a bunch of books coming out and just bought a house on her webcomic money.
posted by The Whelk at 5:05 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


thousands of web comics which aren't profitable

Most of which also fall under the categories of "thousands of web comics not treated as a full time job." I'm not saying there aren't some unsuccessful web comics out there, but I am saying plenty of the people I've heard complain about how difficult it is to make a living off web comics are also the people who have trouble with consistent art, communicating with their fans in a friendly yet professional manner, and even bothering to post comics regularly and on time.

People still believe in the dot-com bubble where the Internet just prints money. If you want to make a living online, you're working just as much if not more than offline. You're working extra for the perks like choosing your schedule and being your own boss with the rights to your work. Funny, web comics are a lot like running your own business because that's exactly what it has become.

Sometimes businesses fail. Sometimes the wage is low compared to the work, but the upsides are worthwhile in the end. Sometimes, someone with talent gets that one lucky break and rises to the top, but it still takes hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit. If every web comic tried as hard as small business owners who have invested their life's savings, more would succeed until the market for them was saturated.
posted by Saydur at 5:06 PM on November 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


From the Wikipedia entry for PVP Online:

At the 2004 San Diego Comicon, Kurtz announced that he would offer to newspapers the entire PvP series to reprint for free, but only if the strips were reprinted without any changes made. Kurtz said he made this offer because of his dissatisfaction with the terms offered to cartoonists by syndicates. As of 2011 no major American newspaper has agreed to regularly pick up his strip, even though it is free.

Perhaps they are two systems that just aren't compatible together.
posted by The River Ivel at 5:07 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't tell the difference between regular editorial cartoons and The Onion's Kelly anymore.
posted by benzenedream at 5:07 PM on November 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


Or say, Kate Beaton and her super nice book sales, everyone I linked to makes a fine living off drawing shit and putting it online.

Gahd, John Campell of Pictures For Sad Children had a huge gallery show recently, the Act-I-Vate collective had NYT best selling artists and creators in it and turned out a bunch of well-selling books with good press ( with, full disclosure, me in them)
posted by The Whelk at 5:08 PM on November 28, 2011


Funny, web comics are a lot like running your own business because that's exactly what it has become.

If you want a really well informed rant on small business taxes please to be talking to anyone who runs a webcomic with a store.
posted by The Whelk at 5:09 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Whelk: According to my Artist's Market it's less than 50 dollars a drawing. I spent time in the traditional cartooning jobs and it really just seemed like something on the edge of death.

That sounds like a slightly better return than the domain of stock image photographer. Take a million pictures, hope a few sell to random parties.

Or, create an internet site, post on a schedule, find your voice, promote yourself (and offer products that people want), and you might do well for yourself. Saydur said it best: it's a serious, full-time entrepreneurial job.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:09 PM on November 28, 2011


Therefore, code cracked.

True to a great extent, but we don't don't want to assume popular = good, do we?

Plenty of good work is popular and salable, and hopefully the internet can help even fairly challenging work find an audience. But certain kinds of art will always depend on subsidy, whether it's from some Patron Lady Bountiful or a kindly, sophisticated editor-in-chief who thinks your comics are worthwhile even if they don't pay the bills.

A lot of great stuff would have never gotten made if artists had to worry about merchandising themselves all the time.
posted by ducky l'orange at 5:10 PM on November 28, 2011


The Ctrl+Alt+Del guy seems to do ok
posted by T.D. Strange at 5:11 PM on November 28, 2011


But if the only way a webcomic can provide a real income for the creators is to have massive early entry advantage and cater to a slice of highly paid man children, well, there's still a lot of code to crack.

This doesn't describe Kate Beaton's Hark, a Vagrant, to say the least. She even got her start by posting her comics on livejournal.
posted by vorfeed at 5:11 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


INTERNET IS DISRUPTIVE. I DON'T GET IT. THEREFORE NOBODY DOES.
posted by victors at 5:12 PM on November 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


Posted too soon: I should note that she started by posting her comics on livejournal in 2007.
posted by vorfeed at 5:12 PM on November 28, 2011


And don't let anyone fool you - the majority (maybe 80%+) of cartoonists who have sold a daily comic strip to a syndicate do NOT make enough money from it to live on. It's a quick drop-off from the riches of Dilbert and Garfield to the neverheardofems among the couple hundred on Gocomics.com
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:13 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


They should just send this guy a huge book of Boston and Shaun comics.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:13 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hey I agree there could be better organization so people aren't totally left to do everything by themselves, this is why stuff like Topacato and Act-I-Vate exist, but to say no one makes a living at web comics OR that they spend all their effort on merchandise is ignorant of the industry. Merch sales have gone down in recent years, people are buying books and collections, not t-shirts. Also ad rates have gotten nice and healthy for webcomics and Project Wonderful runs a good deal on plug in web comic ads.
posted by The Whelk at 5:15 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


who have sold a daily comic strip to a syndicate do NOT make enough money from it to live on.

THIS. The guy who is doing Sally Forth now says it barely pays for paper. Web comics make *much* better money then print for the averagely successful one. Get more eyeballs too.
posted by The Whelk at 5:16 PM on November 28, 2011


That sounds like a slightly better return than the domain of stock image photographer. Take a million pictures, hope a few sell to random parties.

I had an illustration professor who compared the current state of cartooning to stock image photography all the freaking time. That he never once mentioned the internet or artist collectives or self-publishing and dismissed them when I brought them up , was one of the big reasons I dropped out of that school.
posted by The Whelk at 5:18 PM on November 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh also, that average below 50$ rate? You're talking about maybe 8 buyers nationwide, most of which are TEEN DAIRY GOAT MONTHLY ONLY DAIRY GOAT CARTOONS ABOUT TEENS PLEASE. I lucked into a trade publication market with an editor that liked me enough for a few years at 300 bucks a pop but there has been a change up recently and I'm not sure they even do cartoons anymore cause I look a year off to write a book so that income stream (which, if you go by hour, is less than min. wage) is just gone and it was an AMAZING FORTUNE I got that at all.
posted by The Whelk at 5:23 PM on November 28, 2011


Isn't more - 'cream rises to the top'?

Cream is a strange way to describe PVP.
posted by codacorolla at 5:25 PM on November 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Cream is an even stranger way to describe Garfield and Dilbert.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:26 PM on November 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's like this, if I produced ten cartoons a week, which I did, for years, and then offered them up to a buyer for say 300$ and they didn't buy anything, if I could then offer them to another market of buyers for 100 bucks, that would be fine. But there is no middle market, it's like two big buyers and then Everyone Else, which was usually less than postage. The print model makes no sense cause it's built on the idea of lots of buyers, which do not exist anymore. Honestly the web comic model is way more profitable just on an hour per hour rate.
posted by The Whelk at 5:29 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyway, my initial comment was more to the fact that this is a weird way to frame this post. There's really only one true reaction to the actual content of what the guy is saying, and that's three paragraphs long. The other link just goes to PA's main site, and a link to their charity (which doesn't seem to have much to do directly with the issue at hand). This is an editorial post.

I agree that there are successful web comics, but those are more like your Garfields and your Peanuts, aren't they? I'd be more interested to see successful web-based editorial comics, which is what this guy actually is. I'm legitimately curious, how many successful independent, web-based editorial artists are there?
posted by codacorolla at 5:30 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Tim Kreider's The Pain Comics got him a fancy book deal and a few writing gigs at the Times. They are very much editorial cartoons.
posted by The Whelk at 5:31 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, Tom The Dancing Bug? He keeps his legal job but gets the bulk of his income from the strip.
posted by The Whelk at 5:32 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I won't pretend to understand the economics involved, but I personally have paid out cash money for collections of "Penny Arcade", "Hark! A Vagrant", "Chester 5000", and "The Perry Bible Fellowship". Oh, and also "Get Your War On". During that same interval, I also bought collections of "Cul de Sac", the only newspaper strip I've paid for.

I think the real question here is, are the ratios of people-doing-cartooning to people-getting-paid-to-do-cartooning really that much lower for people who started on the web, as opposed to those who started out in the newspaper? I suspect they aren't, and if they are they won't be for much longer. In fact, I'd be willing to bet cash money that they odds of successfully moving from "beginning amateur" to "making a living on this" are already better for those working on the web.
posted by Ipsifendus at 5:32 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


coda, you probably should have waited to post until you were writing your most recent post. "But pvp sucks!" is pretty much a threadcrap, IMO.

As far as examples of, so far as I know, successful editorial cartoonists, Bob the Angry Flower is still chugging along.
posted by kavasa at 5:33 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


But if the only way a webcomic can provide a real income for the creators is to have massive early entry advantage and cater to a slice of highly paid man children, well, there's still a lot of code to crack.

Re: Comics on the Internet

There's no code to crack. But there's still a lot of catering to men-children going on, which isn't too different from the editorial comics' bitter-old-man-catering. So, you all need to get better, comics, wherever you are.
posted by ignignokt at 5:33 PM on November 28, 2011


Till that time, it will be a forum for the dedicated and passionate cartoonist who also works at Starbucks.

The horror.
posted by DU at 5:33 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, although web comics are the inexorable wave of the future (of today, even, probably), I can't help but wonder how many Bill Wattersons we lose. That is one guy that would not want to bother doing a bunch of self-promoting and T-shirt selling.
posted by ignignokt at 5:35 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I keep meaning to start a webcomic, the problem is consistency and regular updates, which I'm terrible at. And the other problem is that I can only draw cute robots and neurotic, self aware woodland creatures.
posted by hellojed at 5:35 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


So how many online cartoonists make enough to afford health insurance? Or can save for retirement?
posted by octothorpe at 5:38 PM on November 28, 2011


how many workers can do that anyway octothrope? My mom can't. Her boyfriend can't. Both work steady average jobs with unions.
posted by The Whelk at 5:39 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Any creative person who makes enough money off their artistic output that they don't have to do anything else to live comfortably is already the 1% of their field (economically speaking). Pointing to someone in the one percent to refute an argument about the economic viability of a field is therefore often fraught with peril.

Mr. Keefe is part of the 1% of an economic model that appears to be passing. Scott Kurtz is part of the 1% of a newer economic model. Both are fortunate that for the meat of their creative life, they didn't have to work at Starbucks. As is any member of that economically viable 1% of creators.
posted by jscalzi at 5:40 PM on November 28, 2011 [11 favorites]


And almost none of my writer/artist/programer/office worker/truck driver friends can do that either.
posted by The Whelk at 5:40 PM on November 28, 2011


The Whelk: "how many workers can do that anyway octothrope? My mom can't. Her boyfriend can't. Both work steady average jobs with unions."

Right, but they all used to be able to, including the cartoonists who worked for newspapers.
posted by octothorpe at 5:42 PM on November 28, 2011


Cream is a strange way to describe PVP.

Thick, oily and ultimately bad for you?

I didn't refer to PvP specifically. But it's popular. It makes money. I don't like it, but lots of people apparently do. So I suppose 'cream' in this instance is whatever people enjoy.

I was thinking more of things like Questionable Content, or Something Positive, or Scenes from a Multiverse, all of which are profitable, and all of which make my daily life a little happier.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:43 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


hellojed - that sounds like a good start.

I think that, like anything else, you just have to do it for a long time to really develop those other skills.

ignignokt - that's not a very productive question to ask, IMO. How many [Insert Your Favorite Webcomics Person Here]s have we lost to the editorial gatekeepers of traditional stuff? We pretty much just have to be grateful for what we've got.

octothorpe - I've got a college degree and the only reason I've got healthcare is because I'm a veteran. It's tough all over, you know? IMO, anyone that's making some kind of living doing what they love is a long way towards living the dream. Or at least my dream.

Going "but things were better before!" is basically just you making an assertion, and one that's not necessarily true. Lots of people didn't have health insurance (or a regular meal) in the hazy past, and to any extent that's changed for the better or the worse, it doesn't seem very relevant to a discussion of "can you make a living at webcomixing?"
posted by kavasa at 5:45 PM on November 28, 2011


Right, but they all used to be able to, including the cartoonists who worked for newspapers.

Which is what I said above about the changes in the market leaving behind people. PREVIOUSLY
posted by The Whelk at 5:46 PM on November 28, 2011


But there's still a lot of catering to men-children going on, which isn't too different from the editorial comics' bitter-old-man-catering. So, you all need to get better, comics, wherever you are.

If you can't find better webcomics who aren't 'catering', you're not looking very hard. Cough, cough, cough.

I can't help but wonder how many Bill Wattersons we lose.

Which is why I posted this about Wattersons' 1989 address and a successful webcomicker's 2011 response.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:52 PM on November 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


As of 2011 no major American newspaper has agreed to regularly pick up his strip, even though it is free a strip that appeals to a niche audience and which, due to its reliance on pop-culture references, dates itself extremely quickly.

Fixed, because the last thing the internet needs is people saying that Scott Kurtz is right about anything other than milking nerds for money.
posted by mightygodking at 5:52 PM on November 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


Well, there are good webcomics that don't make dick and shitty webcomics that make their creators into millionaires, but print comics made millionaires out of Jon Davis and Rob Liefeld and Jim Balent, so let's not kid ourselves that anything is different. Cream may float, but so does shit. Maybe if you're good you can make a living at comics, and definitely if you're lucky you can whether you're good or not, but you can only control whether your work is good or bad...which, unfortunately, is way less important to popularity than luck is. On the whole, I'd say start a band instead, but go on, don't listen to me. Damn kids.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:56 PM on November 28, 2011


Damn, the PvP hate is strong and irrational here. I'm not it's biggest fan, but it is WAY less "niche audience" than Penny Arcade (whose pop-culture references I, an non-gamer, get about 10% of the time) or the widely syndicated "Pluggers" (whose pop-culture references are, by design, decades old).
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:06 PM on November 28, 2011


Tim Kreider's The Pain Comics got him a fancy book deal and a few writing gigs at the Times. They are very much editorial cartoons.

Kreider got a great deal of his readership from being published pre-net in the Baltimore City Paper.

In a similar fashion, Tom got his start in print and because of that exposure was picked up by Salon (this is all from Wikipedia, so if that's wrong then feel free to correct me).

There's that really strange far right guy (who's name and comic escape me) that does nude comissions of his Mary Sue write-in character (even this still has a print aspect, I believe), and there's... ???

Let's look at the PVP guy's post from the FPP:

In an interview Mike was asked what role he thought cartoonists have in this digital age? His response: “The answer to that is implied in your question. Clearly cartoonists must create with digital media in mind. Traditional newspapers are going to be a less robust and thinner version of their former selves. Not many will be able to afford to support a full-time cartoonist. That means someone has to crack the code concerning online profits. Till that time, it will be a forum for the dedicated and passionate cartoonist who also works at Starbucks.”

It’s amazing to me that after all these years, I still have a chip on my shoulder about such comments. That the old guard still considers us part-time amateurs. Passionate baristas. If I’ve learned one thing in the 14 years I’ve been a full-time cartoonist, it’s that you can not let anyone else define your professionalism. It has to be a personal ethos to which you adhere despite third party influence or acceptance. The old measuring sticks for professionalism are going away and now more than ever it’s time for independent creatives to set the bar.
First of all, I don't think that guy is derisively calling anyone amateurs, just saying that a second job is often necessary to support your art.

Secondly PVP is vastly different from editorial cartooning. When you write the same strip for five years to the same crowd of neckbearded men in penguin shirts, it's a lot easier to monetize your IP with xxl t-shirts featuring your characters. Try putting this on a t-shirt.

The PVP post, and the FPP, both strike me as defensive, and uncritically seem to hold up web comics as a great platform for cartooning without looking at the downsides, or what is lost with the shuttering of dailies and weeklies as a platform.
posted by codacorolla at 6:08 PM on November 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Why ought a middle aged newspaper editorial cartoonist even be expected to know anything about the viability of the internet cartoon business? You might as well go ask an oboist at the NY Philharmonic whether they think anyone can make money releasing dubstep tracks online.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 6:09 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cat and Girl makes $15 grand a year. It's a very well known comic, and must be creeping up on its ten year anniversary, because I remember reading it in 2003.

I don't doubt the Penny Arcade guys make money. But I do think Keefe has a point in that cartoonist went from being a job like being a journalist is a job to being a job like being a baseball player is a job. Maybe a little more rarefied than journalist, cartoonist probably needs more raw talent than a hack needs writing skill, but something that someone with a passion for the work and some skill at it could do for a living.

You can have a passion for playing baseball and some skill at it but all that's gonna get you is mad props at the company softball game. Unless you're a genetic freak who's one of say, the top 20,000 people in the world at playing the sport, you can't make a living doing it. Even if you are such a freak, out of that 20,000 the bottom 15,000 probably make less than $20 G a year doing it. It's only the top 200 or so that see the millions.

To me this seems like a sad thing. I think a world where a lot of people can have a job doing something they love is better than a world where everyone can do what they love but only as a hobby and for little recognition except for a few superstars.
posted by Diablevert at 6:12 PM on November 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


Wait, there's comics on the internet? ...woah.
posted by fuq at 6:18 PM on November 28, 2011


Kreider got a great deal of his readership from being published pre-net in the Baltimore City Paper. Cat and Girl makes $15 grand a year. It's a very well known comic

Both are cartoonists who deliberately don't market themselves, but yes I agree with the concern that both cartoonists, editorial or otherwise where groomed for a business that does not exist anymore and hey working in America in '11 kinda fucking sucks all over and maybe we should ask why people have to choose between health insurance and rent regardless of their job.
posted by The Whelk at 6:20 PM on November 28, 2011


Traditional newspaper cartoonists are, and have been, dinosaurs for quite some time. Pretty soon, traditional newspaper reporters and photographers will be, as well. Those that survive will be freelancers, not employees. And they'll be better off.

Just because daily printed newspapers are not long for this world (for obvious demographic reasons — the average reader is around 65 and getting older all the time) doesn't mean good news content — words, photographs, cartoons, video, audio and graphics — won't have a market. It's just that the business model for selling that content won't be "get hired by big news organization, collect paycheck". Instead, it will be very similar to the music business. Musicians don't get hired into steady jobs, they're freelancers who sell their content in performances, plus they collect royalties when it is played by others in performance venues and in recorded formats on broadcast media — the latter, mostly via ASCAP and BMI.

So what cartoonists need, and every other kind of news professional needs, is an ASCAP for news. You create a cartoon (or write a story, or take a picture, or shoot a video). You release it into a regulated ecosystem that recognizes the rights of content creators and funnels royalties back to them. (Don't scoff, musicians have done this for 100 years — they don't have to negotiate individually with radio stations that play their music, but they get paid when it's played.) ASCAP for News doesn't exist yet, but it's being built (by an Associated Press stealth spinoff called News Licensing Group, and other competing enterprises). This is a business-to-business model, not a consumer-pay model.

Like all disruptive transitions, getting from here to there is messy, but it's going to happen.
posted by beagle at 6:26 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


You know what I'd love to see? A comparison showing the amounts made by various categories of "one-man" web content creators. So, how many bloggers make a living on the web? How many web-only writers? How many illustrators or artists? How many photographers? How many comic artists, how many filmmakers, how many game creators etc., etc.

It would be interesting to know, for example, what kind of money having a successful flash game makes its author. If you get 1,000,000 plays, can you expect to make one cent per play? a tenth of a cent? One cent every thousand plays? Less? More?

Is there a source for this sort of information?
posted by maxwelton at 6:27 PM on November 28, 2011


Those that survive will be freelancers, not employees. And they'll be better off.

Why will they be better off?
posted by Diablevert at 6:36 PM on November 28, 2011


Why will they be better off?

They won't have health insurance or steady, reliable income. As everybody knows, these things make the creative mind weak and lazy. And by "everybody," of course, I mean, "everybody who romanticizes the pure artistic lifestyle," by which of course I mean "people with real jobs."
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:40 PM on November 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


maxwelton, this may be totally anecdotal, but even in the exploding area of App Development, your money-making mileage WILL vary.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:41 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


You know, RE:Bill Watterson, no I don't think all artists should be freelancers and merch artists and LLCs, there is a place for collectives and publishing houses, my call is that publishing acknowledge there IS this market there and it is pretty cheap and gives returns and can pay a living wage for creators. Don't be Sears. The webcomic people have proven there is a market for this stuff and they are willing to pay, the problem is since so much of publishing (like journalism) is grouped into huge monolith companies they make all their money on the big bestselling How Diet And Meditations Can Cure Addictions And Improve Your SexLife And Waistline stuff, they run midlists at a loss on the chance one will hit and make them all money. Here you have a product thats runs in the black, has an existing fanbase, why hey why not use your economies of scale and marking divsions to make having a bunch of webcomic imprints CHEAPER and PROFITABLE then running a whole bunch of mid-list stuff at a loss?
posted by The Whelk at 6:41 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


(of course my publishing imprint does do this so nyah nayh)
posted by The Whelk at 6:42 PM on November 28, 2011


"And the other problem is that I can only draw cute robots and neurotic, self aware woodland creatures."

Wait, why is this a problem for webcomics again?
posted by klangklangston at 6:44 PM on November 28, 2011


"And the other problem is that I can only draw cute robots and neurotic, self aware woodland creatures."
Wait, why is this a problem for webcomics again?


Because the stereotypical "webcomics audience" is accustomed to neurotic robots and cute woodland creatures?
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:57 PM on November 28, 2011


a slice of highly paid man children
If the sentiment being expressed here is "having any hobbies is childish", then I can sadly relate. Kids are more needy than the spouse who is more important than work which is more critical than housework which is more urgent than socializing and personal projects which are more valuable than entertainment. It may be mere self-delusion that I'm still hoping to catch up on PvP and finally beat the year-and-a-half-old Starcraft 2 and start on a new game before the year ends.

If the intended sentiment is merely "my hobbies are better than your hobbies", then although any insult would have been unjustified, "children" would be particularly ironic. One of the steps towards becoming a man is supposed to be putting that cliquish nonsense behind you.
posted by roystgnr at 7:02 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Eh, all I know is, I used to buy newspapers just to read the comics, even though most were bad, and now I just visit a select few (Penny Arcade, Sinfest, XKCD and whatever people send me links to), plus buy books from others I enjoy (most notably Chris Ware.) I'm just happy the Penny Arcade guys manage to raise so much money for charity, and it is fun to watch the artist's art skills improve over the years.
posted by davejay at 7:40 PM on November 28, 2011


mass media has already put many artists out of business

movies put local actors out of work. Used to be there were all sorts of travelling companies, places for good but not great actors. Now only a few can ever make a living at it.

recordings put local bands and orchestras out of work

books put local storytellers and balladeers out of work
posted by jb at 7:45 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Penny Arcade guys also have Robert Khoo, whose job is helping them make money. Obviously, they did several years on their own (I remember reading it from the beginning) before he came on, but I suspect having an actual business plan and bizdev guy helps them tremendously.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:00 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


The absolute worst part about webcomics is when you discover a new one that's great and you read though about half the archives before you realize that there's an extra joke in the ALT text when you mouseover the comic. And then you have to decide whether it's worth going back through all those comics again to read the extra jokes.
posted by straight at 8:02 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


There is no decision there. You will do it.
WE ALL DO IT.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 8:03 PM on November 28, 2011


Likely the reason alleged cartoonist Keefe was offered a buy-out is that his work isn't all that good. The Denver Post is improved as a result.
posted by SeeAych4 at 8:12 PM on November 28, 2011


The thing that Steve Jobs realized is that convenience is better than free. Being able to easily download quality copies of music is better than having to hunt for it through "other" means.

I ♥ reading comics on my iPad. I like web comics too, but frankly having to hunt them down and use the varying interfaces to them really sucks. It isn't convenient at all. I emailed a web comic author and asked if they knew about CBZ/CBR which is simply jpegs in a zip or a rar file in a numbered order and they had no idea what I was talking about.

Through convenience comes monetization. Make it easy for me to drool, tap, download and read your comic and I'll subscribe and pay you money if what you're creating is interesting.
posted by pashdown at 9:10 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Likely the reason alleged cartoonist Keefe was offered a buy-out is that his work isn't all that good. The Denver Post is improved as a result.

He's been there over 30 years. He's being bought out because they don't want to be on the hook for his salary and benefits.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:44 PM on November 28, 2011


I think the "code is being cracked", yeah. There's a few superstars, there's a decent number of people making a living off of it. There's a hell of a lot of less-serious-about-it voices finding an audience, too, which is awesome.

The best can go deal in the traditional world, too. There's something to be said for making 5% of 50,000 copies moved by The Man versus 100% of 5000 copies you moved your own damn self.

We are starting to see companies spring up to deal with this kind of thing, too. If you're talking about comics on the web, there are two big places to think about: Topatoco and Project Wonderful.

PW is an ad network. Pretty much THE ad network for webcomics. They have some clever stuff going on that makes running a wide campaign pretty easy - I bought ten cents a day worth of ads on 'any webcomic site that gets less than 5000 views a day' and got what looks like ten people reading all the way through my archives. Some of them will subscribe to it; thus my audience increases, and the price of the ad boxes I'm running automatically increases. (FYI, the priciest webcomic adspace right now is Homestuck's leaderboard - that's $170/day right now, and has spiked into $700/day in the past month.)

And that's part of what the Man does for you: the Man can mount a huge advertising campaign and get everyone in America to know about the next Harry Potter movie. PW can't reach that many people but it can sure reach a lot of people who like to read comics on the web.

Topatoco is doing a lot of the rest of what the Man can do for you. They handle making books, prints, t-shirts, and other miscellaneous tchotchkes - and they warehouse it and ship it. Doing this yourself is miserable; doing this is time spent on NOT DRAWING, and money sunk into printing stuff and hanging onto it when it doesn't move. Topatoco just deals with all of that shit for you.

And like the Man, they both have bars to entry.

Project Wonderful is pretty low. Anyone can sign up to buy ads, and if you've got thirty posts behind you to prove you're maybe in this for the long haul, you can sell ad space. Keep cranking out the strips/pages/whatever on a regular basis and it starts to take off - I'm close to the point where I can have a constantly-running bottom-feeder ad campaign that's paid for by my ad revenue, myself; as the feedback keeps going I'll have a bit more profit to buy bigger ads, or actually make some money from this thing.

Topatoco? Their bar's higher. Basically you have to be somewhere near the "making a living" threshold - ~100,000 uniques a month, regularly moving Stuff on your own. They are picky. They do a lot of the work for you, IF you've got a big enough audience to pay their overheads and make some profit for them too.

Just like traditional publishers.

So the code is really exactly the same as it's ever been: make lots of stuff regularly enough to have people coming back, offer them something to buy on a regular basis, and get a big enough audience to buy enough of the stuff to make it self-sustaining.

This is no different from the path to success in pre-Internet media. In the old days you pretty much had to find a publisher, or start a small press yourself and maybe grow it into something.

I mean, what does Dark Horse do? They do damn near the same thing Topatoco and Project Wonderful do - if you can get in with them, they'll promote your stuff, they'll deal with making t-shirts, they'll print/warehouse books and get them on the shelves of booksellers across the country. But getting in is pretty hard. You have to have awesome work and preferably a proven audience.

Dark Horse will also talk to Hollywood for you. Nobody I mentioned on the Net will do this for you. Yet. But I figure we're only a few years off from someone selling their Internet comic to Hollywood and having it do well enough that Hollywood comes back and says "so what else y'all got in there, kid?"

(Now that I think about it, I think Penny Arcade is on the border of this - they've talked about doing stuff because they got asked to pitch at a studio. But of course they've been at it for a looooong time, and they too are at the point where they've hired people to do this kind of stuff and deal with the Business while they get on with providing a constant stream of content.

The "make a giant ton of shit and warehouse/ship it all" thing is becoming less important now that we can post our comics on the net. I am not sufficiently motivated enough to do my comic to do physical self-publishing like people did in the eighties. But I am motivated enough to do Internet self-publishing, which for me, is a ton easier. (It's a bit harder or pricier if you have to pay people to do your web design, for instance.)

It is not easy to get to the point where you live a comfortable life drawing your webcomic. Guess what? It wasn't easy to get to the point where you lived a comfortable life drawing for the newspaper, either. There's never been a bunch of people doing it at any one time. I suspect now that the barrier's lower there are more people doing it. Because it's becoming a lot easier to build that audience, if you're willing to put in the time to keep them coming back. And if you've got the skill to do it.
posted by egypturnash at 9:54 PM on November 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


(And this is reminding me that I really need to make it more possible for people to pay me for my webcomic, so I can spend more time doing it. And get those PW ads showing up in the RSS feed.)
posted by egypturnash at 9:57 PM on November 28, 2011


Any creative person who makes enough money off their artistic output that they don't have to do anything else to live comfortably is already the 1% of their field (economically speaking).

I think it's more like 1% of people who claim to be pursuing their creative field of choice are actually treating it like a full time job / small business.
posted by bradbane at 11:01 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


How does the worst comic in the world Reply All get syndicated?
posted by reiichiroh at 11:12 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


"The worst comic in the world" ha ha everybody's gotta oversell everything let me just click on that to disprove OH JESUS FUCK IT'S PEPPER SPRAY COP IN COMICS FORM
posted by furiousthought at 11:25 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry, it really is. :(
posted by reiichiroh at 11:28 PM on November 28, 2011


I just looked at Reply All, and I'm firmly convinced it's some sort of postmodernist prank comic. The "art" style, the character bios, the "artist"'s bio ("Attorney at the Department of Homeland Security"? Seriously?), it's all way too much.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:48 PM on November 28, 2011


Wait, you're right. It's totally a piss-take.

How'd it get a syndicate though?
posted by furiousthought at 11:58 PM on November 28, 2011


I really wish would stop it with the "neck bearded man children" and other nerd bashing; it gets on my man tits. Yes, yes, I get it, you read clever, erudite arty web comix which doesn't rely on nerd culture injokes. Good for you, doesn't make you a better person.

PvP is a decent enough web comic, that got its start back when you still needed to have some idea of how to build a website and found its audience amongst the same sort of people. Y'all may not like it -- it's fairly middlebrow in its approach, a bit bland perhaps -- but people can like it without it reflecting badly on their personality.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:35 AM on November 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think pvp is funny, and I don't don't even (video) game. It's far more accessible than Penny Arcade.

also, it's kind of sexist to fixate on "man-children" as if any woman having fun is fine, but men having fun are lacking in maturity. And I say this as a 34-year-old who is extremely fond of her new rainbow monkey hat.
posted by jb at 4:33 AM on November 29, 2011


I think pvp is funny, and I don't don't even (video) game. It's far more accessible than Penny Arcade.

I think I need to start a Tumblr titled "Things Scott Kurtz Believes Are Punchlines." Consisting entirely of last panels of PVP strips.
posted by mightygodking at 7:21 AM on November 29, 2011


His thoughts were red thoughts: I was thinking more of things like Questionable Content, or Something Positive, or Scenes from a Multiverse, all of which are profitable, and all of which make my daily life a little happier.

So I was wondering: How do we know these comics are profitable? And what is our definition of profitable? This was elucidated a bit by the below post:

Diablevert: Cat and Girl makes $15 grand a year. It's a very well known comic, and must be creeping up on its ten year anniversary, because I remember reading it in 2003.

That's $15k gross income, not net after tax income. Not that far above the poverty level. And I get the feeling that lots of web cartoonists -- who generally make their actual livings selling loosely-related merch like "ironic saying" t-shirts -- are suffering pretty badly from the recession, especially if they're making their sole income from their web comic. (I wonder how many web cartoonists actually do a fair bit of freelancing or otherwise derive their main income using their artistic talents in non-web-comic work.)

I should hasten to add that I am a big fan of many web comics and regularly buy merch from the ones I like. But I don't think it's a coincidence that so many of them are younger than 40 (which seems to be a general kind of cut-off age for people to realize "holy crap! things could happen to my health and I'd be poor! I haven't saved any money for old age and don't want to die alone in an SRO").
posted by slkinsey at 7:45 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


those other profitable guys with the charity that just broke $1 million in donations earlier than ever.

1. Start a charity that gets a lot of donations.
2. Take "administrative fees" that are standard, maybe 10%.
3. Webcomic profit!
posted by smackfu at 8:08 AM on November 29, 2011


1. Start a charity that gets a lot of donations.
2. Take "administrative fees" that are standard, maybe 10%.
3. Webcomic profit!


I know there's a lot of well-earned antipathy towards the Penny Arcade guys in these parts, but unless you know something specific to back up this speculation, it's pointlessly speculative horseshit.
posted by Ipsifendus at 8:55 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I quit reading newspaper comics because newspaper editors. They used to be entertaining, and when The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes were at the top of their game, they were great. Edgy, even.

There was a time when Garfield and Peanuts were edgy too, and even Jim Davis can still bring the funny now and again.

Nowadays, newspaper comics are about as edgy as underdone pancakes, and about as funny. The gag-a-day strips that have outlived four of their artists have been recycling the same jokes since the 70's.

I get more entertainment out of my daily comics crawl than I have from the newspaper comics in years.

And I love PVP. No neckbeard here.
posted by no relation at 9:00 AM on November 29, 2011


1. Start a charity that gets a lot of donations.
2. Take "administrative fees" that are standard, maybe 10%.
3. Webcomic profit!


I'm not sure what your implication is here, but Child's Play is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, which means, by law, they have to disclose their entire financial record. So if you're curious about any "administrative fees," you can just, you know, ask them about it.

So I was wondering: How do we know these comics are profitable? And what is our definition of profitable?

This is, honestly, one of the most significant matters of contention that has festered in the print-vs-web debate for years now. Strangely, it's one of of the roots of this "both sides don't get the other" point that others have already noted here. I think that a lot--not all, clearly not Scott Kurtz, but a significant number-- of younger webcartoonists have a vastly different understanding of what financial viability in their craft is. Knowing many traditional editorial cartoonists, I think it would surprise a lot of people here and in the webcomics world that there are staff cartoonists akin to Keefe who were making upwards of $100,000 a year in their positions.

Arguing about whether they "deserve" it or are "good" or not is irrelevant--Christ, my friend Matt Bors is a genius and has never seen that type of money, ever--the reality is, people like Kurtz pounding out Yet Another Blog Post about how nothing's wrong because everyone's doing fine making, at best, a third of what some people used to make is utterly pointless. It's like explaining better crop output methods to your dermatologist. Neither party has use of this insight. Time, technology and culture has eliminated these jobs. Their replacements may yield a product of superior quality (and as an editorial cartoonist I'll be the first to agree that 95% of my field is ratshit) but pretending it has yielded the same net income is so wrong it's embarrassing.

Webcomics are simply a different business. They're not an adaptation; they're not an evolution; they are something completely different in every financial sense. And on a business level, they have to cater to a market and work to maintain profitability--it's why Jon Rosenberg had to flat-out abandon his 11-year-running webcomic and start a completely different one--the response wasn't a Kurtz-esque treatise on the quality of Goats or the failures of his creative chops. He has kids to feed. It breaks my heart to this day that the internet has decided that a cartoon like that isn't "sustainable" just as the 21st century has determined that editorial cartoons aren't either.

My biggest fear is that, yes, this is going to lead to less creativity than everyone imagines the internet to provide: we'll have lots of creative, insightful work from younger artists and college students who think "oh man! Someone PayPaled me enough to buy Modern Warfare 3!" is the echelon of success, who will either have to give it all up for 9-to-5s, or work like Kurtz's, which is a decades-long journey of personal artistic growth but not exactly a cultural revolution in comic narrative, or Jeph Jaques', which is an infinite catering job for a demographic with disposable income and a predilection for humorous garment slogans.

Was the model of editors paying cartoonists to make cartoons the best one? I don't know. It doesn't matter since the model's gone. But I also know there are tons of great webcartoonists out there and the model doesn't work for them either just because one webcomic formed a million-dollar charity. So, ultimately, Keefe is right. There is still a code that needs to be cracked. Webcomics need a better patron of the arts than lots of people not having jobs that require button-down shirts.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:09 AM on November 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


I know there's a lot of well-earned antipathy towards the Penny Arcade guys in these parts, but unless you know something specific to back up this speculation, it's pointlessly speculative horseshit.

I was joking that the only way to be a profitable webcomic was through founding a charity. Sorry I kicked your puppy.
posted by smackfu at 9:40 AM on November 29, 2011


Here's my beef with Keefe.

First of all, he took a buyout. Not a reduction. A buyout. That means he's enjoyed a tremendously lucrative contract; his employers decided that his output wasn't worth their input. He was worth more to them dead than alive. This means he really wasn't terribly smart or ambitious, business-wise.

"Someone has to crack the code concerning online profits."

This could mean several things, not mutually exclusive:
* Clearly, some people are profitable, so he doesn't know what he's talking about.
* He's aware that newspapers don't make money online and doesn't have any ideas.
* Or rather, they don't make enough for him. Remember, buyout.

Not a retirement. A buyout. I can't get over that. "Please take this money now, go home and let us stop paying you, because it's only hurting us. Don't you want to spend more time on your fishing boat? Please?"

Till that time...

Translation: Someone else has to figure this out, because I'm not taking any risks. Fuck that nonsense.

...it will be a forum...

Meaning, it is a forum now. In this case, forum = unwashed masses with opinions of their own. The horror.

...for the dedicated and passionate cartoonist...

OK, no problem there.

...who also works at Starbucks.

This verbal grenade is what really rankled me. What he's saying is, you have to be stupid to be "dedicated and passionate" and not make what Keefe was making, turning to the Internet only as a last resort. Otherwise, you'd be taking a buyout, just like Keefe.

"You're so stupid, you can only work at Starbucks, and no one will publish your shitty comics, so you have to go put them out yourself."

Alternately:

"Since I don't know how anyone could make any money at this, no one could possibly know, so you're stupid to be even trying to make this online comics thing work. Look at you, reduced to working at Starbucks because you're spending all your time on a stupid, frivolous pursuit. Get a real job."

Which is an insult to both online comics creators and baristas at Starbucks, neither of whom need to be shit on by this smug Baby Boomer fuck.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:40 AM on November 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


First of all, he took a buyout. Not a reduction. A buyout. That means he's enjoyed a tremendously lucrative contract; his employers decided that his output wasn't worth their input. He was worth more to them dead than alive. This means he really wasn't terribly smart or ambitious, business-wise.

Do you now know how early retirement packages and voluntary separation agreements (aka buyouts) work? Do you suppose that this was some kind of exclusive sweetheart deal the Denver Post offered Keefe alone? The interview gives the impression that the Post offered buyouts to whoever was taking them, and let people know that if 18 or more employees didn't accept there would be (involuntary) layoffs. So he was already considering semi-retirement and decided to take them up on their offer. It's unclear that he would have been one of those who was laid off had he not accepted and they had not made their 18 volunteers nut.

The fact is that the Denver Post has been paying off employees to leave since 2006 as part of a systematic reduction in force. Keefe is 65 years old and has been working at the Denver Post for 35 years, during which time his salary has grown commensurate with his tenure and national profile. At some point, as the Denver Post's profitability started to nosedive, they started looking for ways to cut costs -- and one of those ways is by shitcanning more senior people making more money. After all, why pay one guy $100,000 when you can pay three guys $35,000 each? Or better yet, pay one guy $35,000. Or don't replace him at all! The fact that Keefe wasn't made an offer he couldn't refuse five years ago when the Denver Post started lopping off heads right and left is a testament to the extent to which his output was valued by them, not the other way around.
posted by slkinsey at 10:21 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


slkinsey, you've accurately described how buyouts work, but you're missing the point.

Why do businesses get to the point where they offer retirement buyouts in the first place? Because they're failing and trapped by contracts. Otherwise, they'd just fire people and pay them a pittance. Or nothing.

You know. How every other business in the world does it. Trust me, the Denver Post didn't offer buyouts because of its rugged heroics.

But back up. Why are they failing in the first place? Because their senior, prominent people aren't doing their fucking jobs and providing a return on investment, or providing any kind of forward-looking leadership. This, more than anything else, is why newspapers are failing.

You know. The kind of leadership senior people get compensated for.

Keefe certainly wasn't providing any kind of business leadership if he thinks no one's "cracked the code" to selling art and opinion online.

Look, at a newspaper, the job of the senior columnists and reporters is to fucking sell newspapers.

Not ensconce themselves into tenured, unassailable positions.

That's for academia.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:11 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


And on a business level, they have to cater to a market and work to maintain profitability--it's why Jon Rosenberg had to flat-out abandon his 11-year-running webcomic and start a completely different one

This happened to Goats because Goats took a weird 90 degree turn right around the time it was really starting to get huge, and people slowly stopped reading it. If you want to put that as "you have to cater to a market and work to maintain profitability", fine, but don't pretend as if this is unique to webcomics -- any creator who changes the game in the middle of a work risks the same negative reaction (example: BSG, which may well have retconned its own chance to become a sustainable franchise right out of existence).
posted by vorfeed at 11:25 AM on November 29, 2011


It seems like you forgot to link to the thousands of web comics which aren't profitable.

The same is equally true of the thousands of traditional comic artists who aren't on salary at the Denver Post.
Sure, sure. But the problem is the same with online news. One cartoonist can reach millions of people, but those people are all going to spend their time reading the mega-popular cartoons, or perhaps niche cartoons that only they and a few other people like. Everyone online reads the NYT and Penny Arcade, they don't support a local paper and a local cartoonist.
posted by delmoi at 11:41 AM on November 29, 2011


I think there's a market for independently published 3 panel strip to transition online. I don't think there's one for editorial cartoons. They date far too quickly.
posted by PenDevil at 11:58 AM on November 29, 2011


Cool Papa Bell, what does any of that screed have to do with this subject?

Who cares what reasons were behind Keefe being in a position to take a buyout? The fact is that a lot of people around the country are protesting right now because these kinds of "goodbye packages" are increasingly only available to already-wealthy top management whose decisions put corporations in the positions where they have to downsize rather than the employees who did a good job in their assignments and desired to make a decent living. More employees should have the kinds of guarantees that make downsizing employers pay them off, not fewer.

But that's all beside the point. You know what Keefe was paid to do? Make editorial cartoons. And this is a job that he did very, very well. Famously well, in fact. Award-winningly well. You know what he wasn't paid to do? Provide any kind of business leadership. None of which seems to detract from the legitimacy of his point that people haven't really cracked the code with respect to making profit on online cartooning (and I would argue that only one or two seem like they might have done so on an individual basis that could sustain them through a lifelong career). Nor does any of this do anything to bolster your contention that Keefe's acceptance of a buyout signifies that he "really wasn't terribly smart or ambitious, business-wise." But even if it did, so what? What does that say about his main points? They're invalid somehow because you think a 65 year old guy with 35 years of tenure accepting a buyout (instead of, I suppose, offering to take a 50% paycut -- assuming that were even on the table) makes him a jerk? Who cares?


I would also suggest that the job of senior columnists and reporters is not to "fucking sell newspapers." This is the sort of thinking that gets us Newscorp. The job of senior columnists and reporters is to fucking report and fucking comment on the news. The job of the salesforce is to fucking sell newspapers and advertising, and the job of upper management is to fucking figure out how to make a reasonable profit.
posted by slkinsey at 12:04 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everyone online reads the NYT and Penny Arcade, they don't support a local paper and a local cartoonist.

I've got lots of RSS feeds. Some of them are from national or nationally-syndicated sources, and other are local. I follow several local papers (all of which happen to be free weeklies) and buy comics from local artists.

I can't immediately think of anything about the Internet and its systems of promotion or distribution which favors big sites over small ones (except for the costs of bandwidth and hosting). You can write and draw your comic from anywhere in the country, including places where costs of living are much lower.

The physical limitations of geography once gave a huge advantage to local artists. There was nothing God-given about that, it was just a consequence of the costs of communication and distribution. Those formerly expensive commodities are now effectively free. Suddenly, because you can read a comic by two guys in Seattle, it's unfair? In every other realm, this is known as competition.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 12:10 PM on November 29, 2011


It seems like you forgot to link to the thousands of web comics which aren't profitable.

The same is equally true of the thousands of traditional comic artists who aren't on salary at the Denver Post.



I think the point is that there was a fairly long stretch of time (and that time may be drawing to a close) when traditional comic artists had a reasonable path to making a reasonable living. There may have been plenty of people out there trying to break in and failing, but there were also plenty of people who made a good living out of the craft of traditional comics or traditional editorial cartoons. This was like any other highly competitive field of pursuit. It's not like there were three salaried political cartoonist newspaper jobs available in America and he lucked out. What I think he's pointing out is that there doesn't seem to be any analogous path right now in online comics for someone to make the kind of living and sustain the kind of body of work he did over a lifelong career as there was (and for some few still is) in print media. He wasn't asked, but I imagine he might remark that the opportunities he had are also disappearing (something he alludes to by observing that he is unlikely to be replaced). Even the very best online comic artists today seem to be (a) barely scraping by, with the exception of perhaps 2 or 3 in the whole field, (b) making the majority of what income they do earn from the sale of marginally-related merch, and (c) playing a high-personal-stakes game as entrepreneurs.
posted by slkinsey at 12:17 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


with the exception of perhaps 2 or 3....

I think you're greatly underestimating this number.

According to what I've heard on the Webcomics Weekly podcast Dave Kellett (creator of Sheldon a non-niche kid friendly comic) was able to quit his corporate job at Mattel (don't know the exact year but it was mid 2000's) when the income from his webcomic hit 80% of his take home pay and that he has increased his income every year since, despite the 2008 recession.

Given that the amount of traffic he gets is now dwarfed by some of the new kids on the block like Kate Beaton, Jeph Jacques and Randall Munroe then if they are monetising at the rate he is they are making a pretty decent amount of money.

BTW Dave is also the co-director of Stripped, an upcoming documentary about the decline of print/rise of web which managed to raise $100 000 in funding via KickStarter.
posted by PenDevil at 1:16 PM on November 29, 2011


Interesting discussion (from 2008) here that focuses on economics.
posted by slkinsey at 1:44 PM on November 29, 2011


According to the link slkinsey posted, Dave Kellett made $92 000 in 2008 and it was his first year as a full time cartoonist.
posted by PenDevil at 1:54 PM on November 29, 2011


I can't immediately think of anything about the Internet and its systems of promotion or distribution which favors big sites over small ones (except for the costs of bandwidth and hosting).

Power laws. The currency of the web is attention. To care about something you have to hear about it, and the fact that other people have heard of it makes you care more and vice versa. You end up with at best, an 80-20 rule happening --- 20% of the participants get 80% of the clicks and make 80% of the money. Maybe 90-10 for something like blogs or web comics.
posted by Diablevert at 7:00 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Again, though, how is that different from traditional publishing? Most books are loss-leaders, for instance -- many sell less than two thousand copies, and 99% sell less than fifteen thousand. I've even seen 500 bandied about as an "average" sales figure for professionally published books. The same goes for music: most bands are doing well if they can move a thousand copies of a CD.

The 90-10 rule isn't exactly new; the vast majority of artists of all stripes have always been unknowns, and most of the rest were successful only on a niche level.
posted by vorfeed at 7:34 PM on November 29, 2011


Again, though, how is that different from traditional publishing?

Probably not so different from how things are today --- contemporary publishing is very much run on a blockbuster model. As recently as ten years ago, there used to be something called a mid-list author, who might only sell 20,000 copies of a book but who could keep on doing that for a career's worth of books. The expense of publishing itself, however, acted as a gatekeeper function which helps reduce the natural power law tendency to an extent; the mere fact of its being on a shelf somewhere means it's a book witch has been deemed potentially profitable by a several layers of people. So I would agree that power laws remain ineffect. But I think in some ways the downward slope toward the long tail used to be gentler, and there were clear demarcations which allowed the aspirant to assess the progress and separated pros from amateurs.
posted by Diablevert at 7:52 PM on November 29, 2011


So I was wondering: How do we know these comics are profitable? And what is our definition of profitable?

We know these comics are profitable because their creators say so. It's not like there are public earnings reports.

Questionable Content: 'Jacques, who says he earns six figures from his webcomic...'

Something Positive: 'Now Milholland says he makes more than $50,000 a year, the bulk of which comes from online sales of books, T-shirts, and other merchandise.'. When he had a real job, he was working for $24K a year.

posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:32 PM on November 29, 2011


Whoops - forgot to close the tag. Only the first line is a quote.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:35 PM on November 29, 2011


In some ways the whole newspaper cartoons vs webcomics debate reminds me of the late eighties/early nineties discussions about working for the Big Two versus self publishing, with Scott Kurz in the role of Dave Sim, ghu helps him. Do you want to have a relatively safe job doing work on something you don't own for a decentish salary, or do you strike out on your own and have to learn how to publish and market as well as create your comics at the same, with all the risks and opportunities that entailed? There too few creators were as lucky as a Jeff Smith or even a Linda Medley, being able to make a living out of doing what they love, with most lucky to break even or make a modest profit and still having to work a proper job.

And then the whole comics market came crashing down and even those who had chosen the "safe option" were hard pressed to earn enough from doing comics to keep their houses....

I'm sure it's hard to make a living from doing web comix, but it's not as if there are any real alternatives anymore. Comics are a niche medium while the newspaper strip has been dying for decades long before the web was a glimmer in Tim Berners Lee's eyes....
posted by MartinWisse at 7:06 AM on November 30, 2011


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