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Non-Sequitur takes another jab at webcomics.
January 7, 2005 1:23 PM   Subscribe

Non-Sequitur takes another jab at webcomics. With Garfield now dropped from the LA Times, once again Wiley Miller has renewed his ongoing battle against Scott Kurtz of Player Vs. Player and his challenge to syndicated strips; offering his own for free.

As usual, the best comments are from the boys @ Penny-Arcade.
posted by mystyk (74 comments total)

 
And yes, I'm aware that this feud may be considered old news, but the story just seems to get better and better.
posted by mystyk at 1:24 PM on January 7, 2005


The fact that you acknowledge it is old news does not excuse a post of old news, imo. His personal vendettas aside, the strips you linked are applicable to society in general. So Wiley is inspired by a situation in his own life. So what?

Also, maybe Garfield was dropped because it sucked and hasn't had an original bit of humor in ten years?
posted by Doohickie at 1:33 PM on January 7, 2005


P.S. The guys at Penny-Arcade seem to have a bit of an inferiority complex.
posted by Doohickie at 1:36 PM on January 7, 2005


Hey Garfield. You cold have a peter in your mouth.
posted by Swampjazz! at 1:38 PM on January 7, 2005


Last PCMagazine bought : at least 10 years ago, to the point I don't know if zdnet still exists but most importantly NOT GIVE A DAMN !

Horray for internet the all encompassing medium ...the only thing I will miss is the nice sensation of paper under my fingers
posted by elpapacito at 1:38 PM on January 7, 2005


I know all about Miller's tiff with Scott Kurtz, but unless Wiley wrote something about this I think Kurtz and the Penny-Arcade guys are really stretching to think this strip is about webcomics. If anything it seems more like a jab at bloggers who have been claiming themselves as "journalists" by means of paying for bandwidth fees.

As for Penny-Arcade, they've said a lot of thing more eloquent, including on this issue, than that. If "fuck you, you're old and you suck!" is what you consider the "best commentary" on this issue, then hell, bring back Garfield for some quality humor.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:43 PM on January 7, 2005


maybe Garfield was dropped because it sucked and hasn't had an original bit of humor in ten years?

Twenty-five years, actually. What was interesting about the decision is that "they killed Garfield after a reader survey showed Garfield was the second most popular strip in the paper."
posted by casu marzu at 1:43 PM on January 7, 2005


FYI, previous discussion on Kurtz and the syndicates here.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:45 PM on January 7, 2005


Is this something I have to have a newspaper subscription to understand?
posted by eyeballkid at 1:49 PM on January 7, 2005


This whole web vs. print fiasco is new news for me. Thanks for the post mystyk.
posted by whoshotwho at 1:49 PM on January 7, 2005


I thought the LA Times dropping Garfield might deserve an FPP, but I didn't feel like investing the effort to expand it beyond a one-link NewsFilter, so I'm grateful that the discussion ended up here anyway. Kudos to the Times editors, I say. They decided to make a stand and take the side of quality, rather than crumbling before the awesome might of the lowest common denominator.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:51 PM on January 7, 2005


... a reader survey showed Garfield was the second most popular strip in the paper.

How can this possibly be true?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 1:55 PM on January 7, 2005


I'm still not sure how I forgot to add the prior discussion that XQUZYPHYR linked to...I was thinking about it as I was writing and perhaps for that very reason it failed to reach the keyboard.

I agree that Garfield had lost its luster long ago. It's time was up and it just took a paper with some guts to admit it.

As for the retort about PA, Gabe certainly gets a bit extreme in his language. That does not, however, lessen the accuracy of his statements, nor those of the slightly more thoughful typer Tycho. The fact that a messages potency can be lessened by vulgarity disappeared from my common thoughts after years of dealing with Army Infantryman, who make Gabe sound like an English Professor.
posted by mystyk at 1:59 PM on January 7, 2005


I've always thought PvP was bland in story and style. It would fit in perfectly in a newspaper.

I prefer webcomics because they have the freedom to say whatever they want, maintain whatever schedule they please, and the format can be whatever size they need. It doesn't matter if something is "published" or "critically acclaimed" if it's good. Plus, I can choose which ones I want to read, so I can say I don't like PvP, but it will continue to be on the internet for the people who do enjoy it.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 2:01 PM on January 7, 2005


monju_bosatsu: I suspect it has something to do with the Garfield movie posters in the window of Blockbuster and its ilk all across the nation. Familiarity breeds popularity.
posted by Kellydamnit at 2:05 PM on January 7, 2005


Doohickie: Despite the poster's claim, nothing in this post is old news, and it's not newsfilter either (considering it touches on several aspects of the same story). I'm pretty sure every link involved is from the past few days, with the exception of the link to the PvP site, which is pure background.

And any arguments of generality with regards to the Non Sequitur strip are nulled by the use of "Scotty" to identify the strip's character, which seems to me to be a pretty obvious reference to the very Scott Kurtz we're discussing. Since the cartoonist is already aware of Scott and aware of his issue with Scott, the choice of name can only be deliberate.

For those keeping score at home, Tycho is PA's resident polemic; Gabe tends to be a bit more blunt, as we see here. Still, his point is entirely valid: considering the accomplishments of various web cartoonists (him listing his own) it would be extremely foolish to not take the format seriously.

I hope one day we do see "every Jim Davis in every wrinkle of every dimension dragged gasping to the bottom of the ocean."
posted by mek at 2:18 PM on January 7, 2005


"they killed Garfield after a reader survey showed Garfield was the second most popular strip in the paper."

Never has more conclusive proof been offered that the masses are asses.

What was first? Family Circus?
posted by trharlan at 2:30 PM on January 7, 2005


Doohickie: As Mek pointed out, I wasn't saying that the post content was old, but rather that there was an established history of feuding between Kurtz and Miller. How you missed that is more of a mystery than how Garfield stayed around so long.
posted by mystyk at 2:37 PM on January 7, 2005


And any arguments of generality with regards to the Non Sequitur strip are nulled by the use of "Scotty" to identify the strip's character, which seems to me to be a pretty obvious reference to the very Scott Kurtz we're discussing.

My bad, I was referring to the second (more recent) one. Miller was pretty open about the first one being a swipe at Kurtz.

trharlan: Assuming you're not asking rhetorically, I'll bet you a Coke it's Doonesbury; that's been #1 with many paper surveys I've seen in the past few years.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:46 PM on January 7, 2005


... a reader survey showed Garfield was the second most popular strip in the paper.

How can this possibly be true?


Look, do not conduct reader surveys of which comics are most popular unless you want to cry and cry. My local paper did. Let's just say the folks behind "Funky Winkerbean" and "Crankshaft" cleaned up real well. And, um, "B.C." placed. And after being dropped for placing low, a grassroots reader campaign resulted in the resurrection of "Love Is." There is no hope.
posted by furiousthought at 2:51 PM on January 7, 2005


After reading Wiley's latest "attack":

I get it! The girl is so foolish that she thinks that PDF is a viable format for publishing fiction online!

BWA HA HA HA HA HA HA!
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:52 PM on January 7, 2005


What was first? Family Circus?

Marmaduke. I just love that clown prince of dogs!
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 3:04 PM on January 7, 2005


from link on the page casu marzu referenced, I found out that Dave Berry "retired". Not a big deal but I missed that, somehow.

Thanks!

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A35015-2004Dec29.html
posted by jeffmik at 3:09 PM on January 7, 2005


Well, lets be honest here. There is something funny in the way that people who publish on the web point to page hits as evidence of their importance.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:13 PM on January 7, 2005


... a reader survey showed Garfield was the second most popular strip in the paper.

How can this possibly be true?


I have another theory about this: do you read the comic strips in the paper? I know I don't. I suspect most of us young whippersnappers have given up on the funny papers. So the only people left reading them are the people with no tastes. In which case I'd be surprised if Garfield weren't pretty close to the top.

It's interesting to see the shift, though, since Peanuts was cancelled, to Garfield being the (deserving) whipping boy. I'm still not used to seeing the phrase "crappy comic" in close proximity to anything other than Kathy, Peanuts, or occassionally B.C.
posted by Bugbread at 3:18 PM on January 7, 2005


Peanuts was hardly crappy, especially in its 50s-60s heyday. And it was also never "cancelled"; Schulz wrote and drew it until nearly the day he died. Perhaps he should have retired, like Bill Watterson, when the strip was close to its peak, but at least he didn't pawn it off on some assistant so it could continue lurching along like some hideous newsprint zombie.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:27 PM on January 7, 2005


Schulz wrote and drew it until nearly the day he died. Perhaps he should have retired, like Bill Watterson

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe he did retire. He died soon after.
posted by eyeballkid at 3:34 PM on January 7, 2005


You're right, eyeballkid. That's why I said "nearly." I meant that perhaps it would have been better for the strip if he had retired in, say, 1983, instead of waiting until he was physically incapable of continuing.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:38 PM on January 7, 2005


Faint of Butt: We'll have to agree to disagree about whether Peanuts was ever crappy. It was probably good at the start, and devolved into horribleness, like Pink Floyd, the X-Files, and any other long-running thing. By the time I was reading it, it was bad. Not the worst on the page, by any means, but that's how the net tended to treat it. I'm not so much talking about my personal opinion (I would have picked more deserving targets, like Marmaduke).

You're totally right about it not being cancelled. My brain skipped a gear and my fingers typed the wrong word.

Which comics have been pawned off onto assistants? (That's not a challenge, just a curiosity question)
posted by Bugbread at 3:40 PM on January 7, 2005


bugbread: I have another theory about this: do you read the comic strips in the paper? I know I don't. I suspect most of us young whippersnappers have given up on the funny papers. So the only people left reading them are the people with no tastes. In which case I'd be surprised if Garfield weren't pretty close to the top.

Or perhaps us young whippersnappers are too jaded and cynical to really appreciate them.

The comic pages have also become the most hostile market to anything that looks like intelligence. Offend anybody, and expect to get complaints. My local newspaper has sort of dealt with the issue by having two comics pages: Garfield in the Lifestyle section, and the "adult comics" (Boondocks, Mallard Fillmore, Doonesbury, and For Better, For Worse) banished to the classifieds. The success of Non Sequetor seems a bit odd to me given how it actually holds an opinion, but it also is banished to the classifieds in my neck of the woods.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:41 PM on January 7, 2005


Scott Kurtz is a drama queen.

On preview: Gabe and Tycho are really proud of themselves. Penny Arcade is great and all, but I've never seen where they missed a chance to talk about how great they are.
posted by absalom at 3:47 PM on January 7, 2005


I find it pretty amusing that the web comics folks took the Non Sequitur comic as an attack on web comics. Even with the long standing feud between Wiley and Scott, that's a stretch.

I knew about the feud, but I still read the Non Sequitur as being about web publishing and vanity presses. But then, I've been hanging out at Making Light, where there's been much discussion of vanity publishers in the last couple of months. YMMV.
posted by jlkr at 3:54 PM on January 7, 2005


KirkJobSluder: In my experience of newspapers (Houston Post, Houston Chronicle, LA Times, and a few others I forget), Doonesbury is always separate from the other comics. Excellent decision, in my opinion. And until you'd posted it, it never occured to me that it even could be in the same section as the rest.

Absalom: You've gotta keep in mind, they're on the defensive (not in the sense of being on the losing side, but in being on the side usually not taken seriously), both as a webcomic and as gamers (which means they get portrayed as being homocidal attention-deficit-disorder loser types), and generally get shafted by the more conventional mass media (like how last year their Child's Play charity effort was reported on the news as being the project of a local Catholic church), and if there's anything MetaTalk has taught me, it's that people on the defensive get their hackles up. Not defending them, but I'd be pretty surprised if they weren't tooting their own horn, considering their position.
posted by Bugbread at 4:00 PM on January 7, 2005


Perhaps these people would get more sleep at night if they did the following:

1. Recognize that being "published" is a path towards becoming a professional, but is no longer the only path;

2. Acknowledge that anything that allows more people with talent to become professionals in their chosen field is a good thing for all concerned;

3. Have respect for those that are talented, yet never monetize their talent (either by choice or circumstance), because talent isn't about money.

Disclaimer: I write songs, and I've recorded and sold a song used in a national advertising campaign, but you don't see me running around claiming I'm a professional (or published) songwriter. It's just what I do to make myself happy. I don't know why people insist on the ego thing anyway...grumpgrumpgrump
posted by davejay at 4:03 PM on January 7, 2005


Family Circus is not cutting edge by the stretch of anyone's imagination, but is mildly amusing for those of us who have ever parented small children. As for Garfield, I remember when Garfield was actually funny. It peeves me in the extreme to see what crap it has turned into now.

As for Peanuts, our local paper actually prints OLD Peanuts strips still. Another case of how the mighty have fallen. In its heyday-fifties, early sixties I think-it was awesome. It too, fell to crap its latter few years, and its position as an American icon protected it from what would have been a deserved deletion from the funny pages.
posted by konolia at 4:11 PM on January 7, 2005


Schulz retired and then passed within months. Although Peanuts continues to be run re-run in many papers as Classic Peanuts.

One of the reasons I offered the link above (other than that, for all intents and purposes, Weingarten actually broke the Garfield story) is because the abysmal state of newspaper comics is one of Weingarten's pet causes. It frequently comes up in his online chats. For instance:

The main reason some wonderful, new, edgy voices are not out there on the comics pages is not that these people do not exist: They can't get their foot in the door, because newspaper editors are candy-asses. They are afraid that if they drop Garfield six little old ladies will end their subscriptions.

I find Weingarten's view to be a bit more credible since he's an observer rather than a participant in the business (besides which, from what I can tell PvP and Penny-Arcade arent't particularly funny).

And to just clarify a couple of points: Garfield has never, ever, been funny since the beginning, but it is also a relative newcomer compared to some of the other unfunny comics carried in many newspapers (e.g. Blondie, Snuffy Smith). Not only are those strips unfunny, but the original authors are, like Shulz, dead. In some ways, so much newspaper real estate is devoted to dead authors is much more offensive than real estate devoted to unfunny ones (regardless of whether or not you think Wiley is funny). But this is also the result of an over-reliance on reader surveys. There are still some funny comics distributed via syndicates. Pearls Before Swine comes to mind.

Also, jeffmik, here's your Garfield-Weingarten-Barry connection: Weingarten is a longtime friend of Barry's ever since he served as Barry's editor at the Miami Herald. Weingarten (a Yankees fan) lost a bet with Barry over the outcome of the 2003 World Series. The stakes: Barry got to write the first 100 words of Weingarten's chat intro, in which he included a particularly insipid Garfield as Weingarten's comic pick of the week.
posted by casu marzu at 4:12 PM on January 7, 2005


I could go on about this all day, but I'll try to keep it brief. I'll just say that I'm a fan of both Scott Kurtz and Wiley Miller - for different reasons, however.

I'm a fan of Scott because not only does PvP make me laugh consistently and sometimes drink-snortingly, but also Scott has, through ballsy determination, good talent, back-breaking work, and of course the support of his wife, family and friends, gone ahead and made doing his webcomic a living. It took him about 3-4 years to get to that point as I recall. He pointed himself at a very difficult goal, busted his ass, and achieved it. That alone sets him apart from a whole lot of people, and even if you don't like his comic, should earn your respect as it has mine.

PvP is not a vanity press; it's a self-made profitable publishing effort - just like if, say, Scott had started a computer consultancy from his home office. It doesn't matter that the majority of Scott's income is generated by selling advertising on the site and selling merchandise; the point is that his work is generating the income - and he is in total control of it. There is no mass publishing entity involved. All the money goes to the creator. That's a wonderful thing, and I wish I could do as well. Perhaps I may!

I'm a fan of Wiley because Non-Sequitur is also often wickedly funny and he has also worked hard for his dream of being a syndicated cartoonist, and against equally steep odds has achieved that dream. I personally wouldn't want to be under syndicated control - at least not be dependent on it for my entire living - but still, Wiley's succeeded in a very tough business, which also earns my respect.

I have met both of these guys as well and liked them in person. I belong to an organization of which Wiley is also a member, and we have a mutual friend or two.

I'm a puzzled by Wiley's stance on this; I'd have to say I'm a strong supporter of Scott's efforts to shake things up and challenge the status quo, and I disagree with Wiley. I don't see much use in his attitude, it doesn't make him look good, and it does absolutely nothing to harm Scott - in fact it clearly energizes Scott to be challenged in this way.

The only clear reason for Wiley to be upset - and probably rightly - is that Scott's method of making money threatens Wiley's directly. Wiley gets paid for his actual cartoons, a set fee per newspaper per strip. Scott gets paid indirectly - he makes no actual money from his web cartoons, but from "secondary" effects of them - merchandise, advertising, and republishing them in collections and comics. He's offering his comics free to newspapers because he can - they are not the direct generator of his income.

If newspapers can get comics for free, then they might turn to the syndicates and say, "we want yours free too." Personally, I don't think that will happen at all. But I do think that as newspaper circulation declines and more and more papers consolidate and close, Wiley's long-term prospects for a living are threatened far more than by Scott's methods.

Wiley's future as a syndicated cartoonist is not under his control, it's a matter of market forces. Scott's, on the other hand, is really entirely in his own hands; he can react to his market directly and essentially do whatever he wants. I think both of them will do fine, but I think Wiley at some point will have to face a difficult career shift, as syndicated cartooning tails off, where Scott will face adaptations of his business model that he's already in a mindset to handle. I don't think Scott's work does actually threaten Wiley's living, because other much larger market forces are in play.

In today's extremely difficult "cartooning for a living" climate, I think anyone that manages to make a living at it should be applauded, no matter which way they do it. And I wish both of these guys luck and success in the future!

Also, Gabe and Tycho are cool guys, very funny, and they are the best source for info on games as far as I'm concerned. Their recommendations are spot-farkin'-on.

(BTW, I am a cartoonist and comic artist, part time, and I get paid for it. I've been published worldwide, even. I'm technically a professional cartoonist, tho it's not the main source of my income, so I'd call it "semi-pro." I'm following jscalzi's advice, and not quitting my day job; I tried it once and it was a disaster.)
posted by zoogleplex at 4:32 PM on January 7, 2005


I'm always surprised that there are papers that carry Boondocks. (Which is going to be an Adult Swim cartoon this year). It seems far to confrontational, even more than Mallard Fillmore, for newspapers.
posted by eyeballkid at 4:32 PM on January 7, 2005


"far too"
posted by eyeballkid at 4:33 PM on January 7, 2005


Since we're talking about Garfield, this Slate article gives a pretty interesting perspective on why it sucks. In short, Garfield is entirely a commercial exercise and its mediocrity is intentional. The goal was to be as bland as possible and sell lots of merchandise.
posted by HiddenInput at 4:47 PM on January 7, 2005


Strangely, after reading that, HiddenInput, I have more respect form Jim Davis.
posted by Bugbread at 4:59 PM on January 7, 2005


casu marzu:

(besides which, from what I can tell PvP and Penny-Arcade arent't particularly funny)

I have no opinion of PvP but Penny Arcade is fucking great. In fact, I bet you didn't even read today's strip.
posted by A dead Quaker at 4:59 PM on January 7, 2005


Which comics have been pawned off onto assistants? (That's not a challenge, just a curiosity question)

/me pulls a Mr. Givney-style flip take.

*ahem...*

Alley Oop
Andy Capp
Apartment 3-G
Blondie
Brenda Starr
Dennis the Menace
Dick Tracy
Gasoline
Alley

Hagar the Horrible
Heathcliff
Little Orphan Annie
Mark Trail
The Phantom
Rex Morgan, M.D.
Sally Forth
Ziggy

Er... to name just a few.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:25 PM on January 7, 2005


Thanks, Faint.
posted by Bugbread at 6:50 PM on January 7, 2005


Despite the poster's claim, nothing in this post is old news

The initial link is dated Dec. 15, 2004. Not exactly current. The rest of them are current, I'll give you that.

I still don't see the tie-in between Garfield and the alleged feud between Wiley Miller and Scott Kurtz. The Garfield link is a bit of a non-sequiter, wouldn't you say?

And finally, PvP seems rather mundane.
posted by Doohickie at 7:13 PM on January 7, 2005


And any arguments of generality with regards to the Non Sequitur strip are nulled by the use of "Scotty" to identify the strip's character, which seems to me to be a pretty obvious reference to the very Scott Kurtz we're discussing.

I forgot to add: You know, you're absolutely right- "Scotty" is such a rare name, there is no way it could have been referring to someone else (or nobody in particular).

If you read my comment, I didn't try to say that the strip was totally unrelated to the "feud" between the two; in fact, I acknowledged it could be: [His personal vendettas aside, the strips you linked are applicable to society in general. So Wiley is inspired by a situation in his own life. So what?] I merely said that the idea was general, even if it was inspired by the "feud".

I really don't see what all the fuss is about. Two people in similar fields, but different media, have a bit of a disagreement. How is this news?
posted by Doohickie at 7:23 PM on January 7, 2005


mystyk- Doohickie: As Mek pointed out, I wasn't saying that the post content was old, but rather that there was an established history of feuding between Kurtz and Miller.
Right. My bad. I acknowledge that.

How you missed that is more of a mystery than how Garfield stayed around so long.
Ouch! Now that was uncalled for. Them's fightin' words!
posted by Doohickie at 7:26 PM on January 7, 2005


"compared to some of the other unfunny comics carried in many newspapers (e.g. Blondie, Snuffy Smith)."

Ok, Blondie may not be very funny, but you have to admit that Dagwood is friggin' amazing. His wife is a total fox, he sleeps on the couch all day, he's got the balls to sport that crazy-ass haircut, and have you seen the sandwiches he eats? He is truly a god among cartoon men.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 7:35 PM on January 7, 2005


Right on, buriednexttoyou. Dagwood Bumstead is one of the few fictional characters to have their names translated into everyday parlance. Next time you dislocate your jaw eating a Dagwood sandwich, you owe the man a debt.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:13 PM on January 7, 2005


Two people in similar fields, but different media, have a bit of a disagreement. How is this news?

At least one of them is producing confrontational material, not at a normally societally accepted target like politicians, but at someone most comic readers likely don't even know, and it's over a possible shift in comic book policy that would have pretty huge repercussions on the industry.

I'd say that's news.

Now, if it was Tom Tomorrow or Gary Trudeau doing the complaining, I don't think it would be news, because using actual people in their comics is not at all unusual.
posted by Bugbread at 8:17 PM on January 7, 2005


Back in the day, by which I mean the 30s or 40s or so, Blondie was a very sharp and wickedly funny strip, satirizing conflict between the classes. See, Blondie's family is rich and Dagwood's family is poor. They were not married with the permission Blondie's parents. Dagwood is constantly tired and hungry because he's constantly working very long hours to keep his family afloat.

Go and find some of the very earliest of the Cathy strips, when women in the professional workplace were new and frightening. The proper word for the strips of that era is, I think, biting.

Sure, the modern strips under these names are schlock of the first order. But read a cartoonist's very earliest stuff before you dog on him or her too too hard, k?
posted by kavasa at 8:50 PM on January 7, 2005


But read a cartoonist's very earliest stuff before you dog on him or her too too hard, k?

I'd agree in almost every case except for that of Jim Davis. HiddenInput's excellent link explains how Davis was a deliberate commercial hack from day one.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:59 PM on January 7, 2005


I find irony in this because I put a novel on my site for people to read, and one of the people who read it bought it and published it as a "real" book. And now I'm a published novelist. So perhaps it's not as stupid as Wiley suggests.

I suspect that Wiley's fundamental point is that publishers act as an arbiter of quality, whereas the Web offers no quality filter. Wiley's error seems to be that he thinks where there's no editorial filter, there is no quality whatsoever. Well, that's silly. In the case of PvP and Penny Arcade, the fact they're popular is some indication of their quality -- bad content on the Web doesn't get repeat visits (porn excepted). Whether either of them would thrive in a newspaper setting is, of course, another matter entirely.

Speaking as someone who makes money in both online and traditional media, I tend to think the "us against them" mentality in terms of Web vs. Old media is fairly silly. Each has advantages and disadvantages, and a writer is better off knowing them and exploting both media. For me, it's all just writing. I can't imagine the same principle wouldn't work for other creative efforts.
posted by jscalzi at 9:12 PM on January 7, 2005


Except the difference is, jscalzi, that unpaid writing is largely shit, while paid writing (with its attendant support staff of researchers and editors) isn't. That's why journalists aren't worried about all those hacks out there offering copy for free: they know theirs is better.

Comics are a different matter. One man working at home can produce for old and new media alike ... except the new media types get to own their own paper. That's why the principle breaks down. Popular web comic owners actually have the advantage over print cartoonists, although that hasn't translated into financial terms yet.

Back in the day, journalists formed unions to force newspapers to reject free work from wannabe hacks and photographers. The wannabes were loathed, and it's the same place the feelings about Scott come from.

And Garfield may never have been funny, but at least it tried: it had story arcs, and back references. Now it's standalone grimness.
posted by bonaldi at 9:36 PM on January 7, 2005


Garfield is still funny, if you're ten. If you're much older than that, you're not in its audience anyway, so who cares what you think?
posted by kindall at 10:42 PM on January 7, 2005


Garfield is still funny, if you're ten. If you're much older than that, you're not in its audience anyway, so who cares what you think?

Theoretically, Garfield is supposed to appeal to everyone, regardless of age, gender or culture. Which is kind of creepy, when you think about it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:54 PM on January 7, 2005


There have been very, very few strip-typed comics that have been worthwhile, in my opinion, and all of them in newspapers. Granted, web comics are new media, but a lot of the best strips have had at least a loose connection with their presentation alongside a "news" format. Calvin and Hobbes, I think, offered something parallel to what one read in the rest of the paper, and Walt Kelly, the greatest strip cartoonist of all time (again, in my opinion), prided himself on being a newspaperman and worked that perspective into his strip a lot.

Of course, any sort of proud "newspaperman culture" is long dead now. In fact, comic strips themselves might be dead. I can't think of a single one I've enjoyed reading since Calvin and Hobbes ended. Kurtz' self-aggranisement ("I'm an artist! I'm an artist!") is better than Wiley Miller's out-and-out cynicism and borderline sadism, but not by much. What else is there?
posted by koeselitz at 12:05 AM on January 8, 2005


"Ziggy had Garfield neutered? Now that's funny!"
posted by ruddhist at 2:00 AM on January 8, 2005


. . . unpaid writing is largely shit, while paid writing (with its attendant support staff of researchers and editors) isn't.
Nonsense. Sturgeon's Law applies to paid writing as much as to anything else. In fact, Sturgeon's comment was about paid writing.

Paid writing may be generally better than the bulk of what's on the Internet, but it's still mostly bad.

And Garfield has never been funny, and is usually offensive, in the same way Don Rickles was.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:12 AM on January 8, 2005


Gotta agree with Kirth. Unpaid writing is largely shit, while paid writing is shit in a different way (better written but more misleading, etc.)
posted by Bugbread at 4:29 AM on January 8, 2005


kavasa, it's actually the other way around. Dagwood's family was rich, and didn't approve of him marring a showgirl (hence Blondie's foxiness is actually relevant). So, after marrying without his parent's approval, he was cut off from the family money and forced to work. Something at which he is clearly ill-prepared, even after having done it for seventy years.
posted by djfiander at 5:12 AM on January 8, 2005


Kirth, bugbread: whether or not you like the paid writing, you agree that it is generally different from unpaid. My point is that comics aren't like that -- and 'unpaid' new media artists can eat the old media artists' lunch. That's why it's a problem.
posted by bonaldi at 8:29 AM on January 8, 2005


"Except the difference is, jscalzi, that unpaid writing is largely shit, while paid writing (with its attendant support staff of researchers and editors) isn't. That's why journalists aren't worried about all those hacks out there offering copy for free: they know theirs is better. "

Sorry, I've just got to call bullshit on this one. I would agree that the proportion of bad writers on the Web is higher than in newspaper and magazines. But the best Web writers are certainly better than the worst newspaper/magazine writers, and many are better than those in the old media's middle ranks as well.

I'd include myself in that assessment, actually; I was a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist for a couple of years about ten years ago, and I'm here to tell you that the newspaper columns I wrote then aren't anywhere as good as the longer entries I write at my own site for free. I'm a better writer than I was then, for various reasons, and yet my online entires are unmediated and unpaid, while my columns were edited and I got a salary. The medium is irrelevant; the writing counts.

There are a lot of pro newspaper columnists I'd happily yank and replace with bloggers, because the quality of the writing is better (and presumably would only get better with a phalanx of support staff behind it). This doesn't mean I would use the bloggers for free, incidentally; I'd hire them.

(This is in regard to things like columns, reviews, and other non-direct reportage; for actual reportage I would still go to a trained and experienced journalist, just like when I'm sick I'd go to a doctor.)

If I were an editor at a newspaper and I wanted to use PvP, I wouldn't take it for free; I'd make him take some payment, based on what I'd pay a syndicate for the work. I agree that a paper accepting work for free sets a very bad precedent -- and would make an editor's job harder by the implication that anyone can get on the comics page if he or she is willing to offer it for nothing. Editors are slammed enough by freelancers and people desperate to get in the paper; I don't think they want to make their job harder.
posted by jscalzi at 9:02 AM on January 8, 2005


Yes, Anne Rice thought that she got better when she stopped being edited too ;)

Do you have any links or even names of these amazing online writers? So far, the majority of good writing I've found online comes from sites that are run on old-media lines, or is a secondary personal hobby of an otherwise-paid writer.

My point is not about the medium, which is irrelevant -- it's about writing alone versus cartooning alone. The support that old-media style organisations give to writers gives them an advantage over one man working alone; that is not true of comics.

Also, editors don't give a shit about how many submissions they'd have to worry about if they ran a free comic -- there are people to triage that stuff. The fear is what the syndicates would do ... but if the syndicates lose their grip, hello free cartoons. And then won't SK have done a great service to all those old-media cartoonists? What a swell guy.
posted by bonaldi at 9:47 AM on January 8, 2005


The fear is what the syndicates would do ... but if the syndicates lose their grip, hello free cartoons. And then won't SK have done a great service to all those old-media cartoonists? What a swell guy.

Sorry, Bonaldi, but that's just the buggy-whip argument all over again. There's a lesson that the RIAA, the MPAA and the cartoon syndicates all need to learn, to wit: If a different business model can offer the same or a superior product at a lower cost, it will supercede you, and you must adapt or die. Kurtz has made an end-run around the syndicates, and if the newspapers care about the quality of their comics section, they will start to negotiate directly with creators rather than going through a middleman. He's not saying that all cartoonists should give their strips to newspapers for free; he's offering himself as a concrete example to prove the irrelevance of the syndicates. Isn't that what the free market is all about?
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:02 AM on January 8, 2005


In this case, "negotiating directly with creators" means "getting the lowest possible price". Sure, that's great for cartoonists of independent means (ie a website income) but terrible for those dependent on a paycheck.
posted by bonaldi at 10:07 AM on January 8, 2005


But read a cartoonist's very earliest stuff before you dog on him or her too too hard, k?

I don't think it's dogging the cartoonist too hard to point out that he's DEAD. Of course some of the hoary strips in the paper were once good (Garfield excepted), but they really need to be retired now.

This is how the Garfield cancellation relates to Kurtz v. Wiley: with so many newspaper comic pages dominated by witless, artless, senile strips like Garfield, Blondie, and everything on Faint of Butt's list, the competition for the remaining crumbs of space among cartoonists who are still alive and actually give a crap is very intense. It's no wonder that those stuck on the outside, like PvP and Penny-Arcade, basically write off the medium, while those who make it inside, like Wiley, are fiercely protective of their positions.

But everyone loses this way: PvP and Penny-Arcade lose because they can't reach the audience that they could through national syndication. Wiley loses because his competition in the comics pages does nothing to keep him sharp. Newspaper readers lose because the comics suck. And the PvP readers lose because they can't read their favorite comics at breakfast, on the bus, or over a bowl of pho at lunch (some of the many benefits of my newspaper subscription).

This is why the cancellation of Garfield is such a big deal. Garfield isn't just any old lifeless comic strip. It's the most widely syndicated comic strip in the world and it nearly topped the reader survey. The L.A. Times has a massive reader base and it essentially swapped Garfield for Brevity . It's like McDonald's replacing Coca-Cola with Virgil's root beer, or Lowes Cineplex deciding to show Sideways in all of its theatres instead of Meet the Fockers.

And, a dead Quaker, I read the comic but, umm, I don't get it. You see, I don't understand these young whippersnappers with their hair and their clothes and their music. Get off my lawn! But I would much rather see Penny-Arcade in my paper than Garfield. Even if I don't get it, I can still see that it has a pulse.
posted by casu marzu at 10:45 AM on January 8, 2005


"Yes, Anne Rice thought that she got better when she stopped being edited too ;)"

Heh. Well, to be clear, I think most writers are better when edited.

"Do you have any links or even names of these amazing online writers? So far, the majority of good writing I've found online comes from sites that are run on old-media lines, or is a secondary personal hobby of an otherwise-paid writer."

Pamela Ribon, for one, although she is now a professional writer. For years Pamie's site was her main writing avenue as she banged around trying to make it as a comedy writer and actress -- she wasn't making money on any of her writing, but the writing on her site made her pretty well-known. And it's through her experiences with the site that she got her first novel, Why Girls are Weird, which itself features some of her most amusing site entries.

Now, here's the question: It's possible (and my opinion probable) that she would eventually have been a pro writer without writing online, but it's also a fact that her site helped her get where she is today. So how would you classify her -- as a "real" writer with a secondary blog interest, or someone who used her site to become a "real" writer?

I would agree that most of the best online writers have real-world writing experience (although I think fewer than you think use it as a "secondary" outlet -- when I started writing on my own site it was because I had no other creative outlet; I was doing business writing at the time but that was it), and I've also long held the belief that the only thing writing online was good for was for writing online -- that to become a good pro writer, you need to get with editors and learn to work the process.

However, I also recognize that there are enough good writers who have grown up and are growing up on the Web that some of them could very easily transfer into the paid media with the skills they have, and an attentive editor to show them the ropes. I tend to see the Web as a big fat farm club for pro writers, not merely the puddle of crap at the bottom of the slope of writerdom.

"Also, editors don't give a shit about how many submissions they'd have to worry about if they ran a free comic -- there are people to triage that stuff."

You're joking, right? I invite you to visit the office of the Arts & Entertainment editor of my local newspaper (for whom I write a weekly column), whose desk and tables are piled high with crap submissions, queries and junk from publicists, all vying for his attention. I think he'd notice if he got deluged by crap cartoonists.
posted by jscalzi at 11:19 AM on January 8, 2005


I think we're agreeing with each other here -- the farm club analogy is a good one. But your original point was that the ability writers have to exploit both old and new media to their advantage should translate to comics or other mediums, and I disagree.

Quality professional writers who would like to remain old media do not have their profession itself threatened by new media types because the best new media writers almost always gravitate towards paid, old media publishing. A blogger offering his writing for free would really not be taken seriously.

In comics, though, the two types are in direct competition. Scott's offer, even if it hasn't been taken up, can easily be taken seriously -- and is therefore a real threat to Wiley and his ilk. I understand his concern.

visit the office ... piled high
Well, that's true at my paper too, but I assumed that decisions about which cartoons ran would come from the Editor's office itself, and that person can brush off any pap that comes in ... to the A&E Editor, heh.
posted by bonaldi at 12:06 PM on January 8, 2005


"In comics, though, the two types are in direct competition. Scott's offer, even if it hasn't been taken up, can easily be taken seriously -- and is therefore a real threat to Wiley and his ilk. I understand his concern."

Sure, and I do wonder if he ever will get a newspaper to take him up on the offer. I doubt it. Regardless of the quality of the strip (I don't read it enough, so I'm neutral on this point), and aside from the paid catroonist v. web cartoonist thing, I think offering it up as he has presents more problems for editors than not. If he offered it up for $5/week he'd probably have takers by now.
posted by jscalzi at 1:01 PM on January 8, 2005


Is this "jab" something that you'd have to have a webcomic to understand?

Seriously, I'm not seeing it. I read the original links, I read the links in the discussion, and I did some googling on Wiley vs. Kurtz, but I've seen nothing to indicate that Wiley has some sort of vendetta against Scott. I found a discussion in which Wiley suggested that offering the strip for free wouldn't work, but given that (as far as I know) no one has taken Scott up on the offer, I'd say that he was probably right about that. Maybe comics insiders know more about some sort of long-simmering feud, but it looks to me like this feud is mostly in the heads of Scott and his fans.
posted by klausness at 2:25 PM on January 8, 2005


Fair enough, casu marzu. And actually, the Penny Arcade guys seem perfectly happy staying only on the web. They attended the discussion where Kurtz announced his print version hopes, and didn't understand why he had invited them. The web is a better medium for them because it allows profanity, etc., as might have been evident from their strip yesterday.
posted by A dead Quaker at 3:05 PM on January 8, 2005


jscalzi: "If he offered it up for $5/week he'd probably have takers by now."

I would tend to agree, and most of the syndicated guys and long-time pros I know and have heard from say the same thing. The problem is that most newspaper editors would have a hard time buying their comics from sources other than the syndicates, i.e. doing business with many separate comics artists instead of one or two sources of many comics. That's the whole point of the syndicates, and there's a "workflow" with a long history and entrenched-ness to it in there. Scott's business model is a novelty and completely bewildering to much of the newspaper and print industry, I think (though there are more and more exceptions every year)... they stumble on "but... you give the writing/artwork away for free... how do you make any money??" They're used to being paid per word or per piece or per unit sold - and there's nothing wrong with that, but it's clearly not the only way to get ahead, as your own situation demonstrates, jscalzi!

AFAIK PvP has actually been picked up by a couple of small-market papers, but I don't have links to that info at the moment.
posted by zoogleplex at 10:47 AM on January 9, 2005


How can a thread peopled with actual cartoonists not have yet mentioned the main problem with Wiley's crusade - namely, that Wiley is a godawful hack?

Of course he's got a great visual style. But his joke-telling is abysmal, completely outweighing the good visuals.

For one thing, what he chooses to make fun of is consistently the easiest cliche targets imaginable: "political correctness," trial lawyers, supposedly "hip" ponytailed poseurs, etc. Worse, though, he's usually incapable of getting his meager joke across without two forms of verbiage, and often (e.g. in the one at the top of the main link) three.

That is, where a well-constructed cartoon will have a caption or a voice balloon to balance the visual joke, Wiley usually relies on both, and often needs a sign to get the whole thing across. Usually the cartoon could work as well or better with just the voice balloon (and/or, if there, the sign), but Wiley's so unsure of himself that he'll include a caption spelling out what he thought was so pithy about the cliche he's rendering. The 19-word epic caption in the linked cartoon is a perfect example of his inability to find and isolate the crux of a joke, so instead he throws as many words at it as he can. No one else on the comics page has to try so hard to deliver such pathetically predictable jokes.

And finally, Garfield, the patron demon of comic-strip-merchandising mentality, ain't that far removed from the edgy, iconoclastic Mr. Wiley.

Wiley, in a word, sucks.
posted by soyjoy at 9:43 AM on January 10, 2005


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