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“If cartoonists would look at this more as an art than as a part time job or a get-rich-quick scheme, I think comics overall would be better.
February 1, 2009 9:41 AM   Subscribe

The Alternative Comics Apocalypse Has Begun

What worries us, I think, is what Lloyd Dangle pointed out:

"But all of us self-syndicated cartoonists are losing papers left and right, even Tom Tomorrow, the king of the weeklies, lost a big chunk of his syndication when Village Voice Media instituted its chain-wide suspension of cartoons. Some of the papers who dropped me (Lloyd Dangle) said that they might bring Troubletown back when things get better, but for newspapers, I don't know anybody who thinks it's going to get better. "

Minneapolis City Pages
editor Kevin Hoffman says he hopes that in the second or third quarter of the year, the economy will have improved enough that cartoonists (and theater reviewers, he said) can be brought back on. The belt-tightening now only affects network-wide cartoons, Hoffman says; other syndicated features — like Dan Savage’s “Savage Love” and Rob Brezsny’s “Free Will Astrology” — will continue to run at City Pages.
posted by KokuRyu (68 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think you might be able to relabel this as "The Content Industry Apocalypse Has Begun." It seems like every passing day brings fresh news that yet another segment of the content industry will be crippled or dead in the next few years because no one is willing to pay fair price for anything and advertising money won't come back soon enough to save anything.
posted by chrominance at 9:48 AM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


But if I've learned anything from interminable copyright wrangling at MeFi it's that real artists would be happy to work for free, so this can't possibly have any downside.

Right?
posted by rodgerd at 10:02 AM on February 1, 2009 [9 favorites]


Interesting, I just noticed the other day how crappy the OC Weekly had become. It's down from 3 or 4 comics to just 1. The overall quality of the mag is in decline, and not just with content. I can't remember the last time it had a cover that wasn't bleh. Then again, I'm still bitter that "A Clockwork Orange" was dropped, or whatever happened to it.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:05 AM on February 1, 2009


Crisis on Earth Sub-Prime
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:08 AM on February 1, 2009 [10 favorites]


I would like to hear Jeff Jarvis explain how this is the comic artists' own fault, and how he's angry and disappointed that they haven't developed a business model that lets them continue to work without receiving any money.
posted by WPW at 10:08 AM on February 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Having advertising supported content has been a detriment to our culture for so long. It has been said the US doesn't have culture it has an economy. Can we figure out how to support the things that enrich our lives if the price isn't finessed from us by advertising? This would be a good thing. And the time seems to be now.
posted by pointilist at 10:10 AM on February 1, 2009 [13 favorites]


Ask anyone who started on the web and lives in part off the sales of printed compilations (gabe & tycho, onstad, rstevens, jjrowland, j rosenberg) about whether a web site "probably hurts the ... book sales" (as per Cannon's apocalypse alert). Free comics on the web create a better book collecting audience than the same comics printed in free weeklies. Max Cannon will have to learn to sell tee shirts, probably, and mugs, and shot glasses, and various other physical items from which a screen-printed bug-eyed blank-faced man can peer hilariously in one-color silkscreen. But looking at his own site as a nuisance or as a huge favor that he's doing his fans is probably going to serve as an obstacle as he's forced to transition from self-syndicated to self-promoted.

That said, I do have a soft spot for alt weeklies, mostly in the form of nostalgia from when I read them in cafes and on buses prior to reading a laptop or gadget in the same spots. But if I was shedding a tear right now it would be for the activist advocacy journalism and not for Cannon and Dangle and Tomorrow, each of whom has a solid fanbase that will continue to support him in the post-apocalyptic landscape.
posted by damehex at 10:12 AM on February 1, 2009 [11 favorites]


I can't imagine any cartoonists who believe they've hit on a get-rich-quick scheme, even in the best economic circumstances. A few dream of a get-less-broke scheme.
posted by pernoctalian at 10:12 AM on February 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


oh, for pete's sake - it's a recession and no one has guaranteed jobs - especially in a business where your main customers make most, if not all, of their money from advertising

this has nothing to do with "fair price" or "copyright wrangling", anymore than an auto plant shutdown has to do with stolen cars

it's unfortunate, but if people are too broke to buy your service, you find something else to do for a living
posted by pyramid termite at 10:13 AM on February 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


Also, Cannon has an excellent point that cutting comics is shortsighted to the point of editorial derangement. A big chunk of every alt weekly's circulation is people who read the few comics and savage love and then toss the paper. Isn't circ the one number they most need to preserve?
posted by damehex at 10:15 AM on February 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


But if I've learned anything from interminable copyright wrangling at MeFi it's that real artists would be happy to work for free, so this can't possibly have any downside.

I've always said musicians would still produce music for free. Perhaps not as much or at as high of a quality, but look at metafilter music, for example. There are tons and tons of people who produce music as a hobby.

But that's really beside the point here, we're not talking about 'pure art' were talking about commercial illustration. Obviously if something takes as much time as a full time job, people are going to need to get paid in order to afford to do it. I'm sure these cartoonists will still practice visual art and produce visual works from time to time as a hobby after they lose their jobs. Just look at deviant art galleries to see examples of artwork people do for free or hardly any money.
posted by delmoi at 10:19 AM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Put it up on your website and sell the ads yourself.
posted by empath at 10:20 AM on February 1, 2009


I'm a former employee and freelancer for Village Voice Media, and I can tell you that things are rough all over the alt-weekly industry. Freelance rates have been cut, page counts are down and all sorts of people are being laid off. The real apocalypse has barely begun.

I have a lot of friends still in the industry, so it pains me to say it, but there's very, very little that an alt-weekly can do that someone else won't do on the Internet for free. Craigslist is the first, most obvious and most damaging example. But aside from the investigative journalism, which is often better than the stuff at the dailies, there just aren't very many services left for the alts to provide. While I understand why this guy is most concerned about comics, he's deluding himself if he thinks that this is fixable with a letter to the editor.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:22 AM on February 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


it's unfortunate, but if people are too broke to buy your service, you find something else to do for a living

“If cartoonists would look at this more as an art than as a part time job or a get-rich-quick scheme, I think comics overall would be better.

To be fair, here, Tom Tomorrow and the other alt cartoonists aren't complaining about how unfair the world is, they're mainly pointing out, for the record, that their industry is being threatened with extinction by the current recession.

Anyway, creating culture has never been particularly lucrative. That's why artists have had to rely on patrons, or at least some sort of support from a community that valued art.

Still, as Tom Tomorrow pointed out, cartoons and comics are one of the reasons why people pick up alt weeklies in the first place. This seems like a bad business decision, or the harbinger of the collapse of an entire segment of the publishing market, alt weeklies.

Max Cannon will have to learn to sell tee shirts, probably, and mugs, and shot glasses, and various other physical items

Once again, to be fair, Tom Tomorrow already does this, and has done this for a long long time, and he also enjoys probably the best income among his alt comix peers. If TT is having problems, well, the others are experiencing near-death experiences right now.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:24 AM on February 1, 2009


pointilist: Having advertising supported content has been a detriment to our culture for so long. It has been said the US doesn't have culture it has an economy. Can we figure out how to support the things that enrich our lives if the price isn't finessed from us by advertising? This would be a good thing. And the time seems to be now.

I'll let you see the first panel for a bite of that sandwich.
posted by Pants! at 10:25 AM on February 1, 2009


I can't think of any reason to read the City Paper in DC any more. I have an iphone and the internet. No one read the City Paper for new coverage, did they? Comics, Music Reviews and Classifieds, was the only thing I ever read. And all of that is easier online.
posted by empath at 10:30 AM on February 1, 2009


there's very, very little that an alt-weekly can do that someone else won't do on the Internet for free...

This is definitely the bitter, painful truth.
posted by hermitosis at 10:34 AM on February 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


This quote from the website stood out: "If, indeed, the humble $10 or $20 that I generally get paid for a RED MEAT strip is going to bring the whole operation tumbling down, then the alt-weekly industry is already dead on its feet -- it just hasn't fallen over into the dirt yet."

Sounds about right to me. Some letters of support to the editor aren't going to do much to turn this around.
posted by Aquaman at 10:35 AM on February 1, 2009


The elephant in the room is Google. They made themselves rich by making it impossible for small or local publications to be profitable. To be honest, they aren't the first or only click-per-penny ad model, but that model is burning writers and illustrators alive... never mind local "mom'n'pop" shops, who have no place left to advertise... and Google is the largest and most relentless of those who use it.

Huge publications on a global scale profit, and amateurs looking for some extra bread - (or massive international brands and penny-ante scammers, on the end of people looking to buy ads) - everyone else in the deal is hosed.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:40 AM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


rodgerd: "But if I've learned anything from interminable copyright wrangling at MeFi it's that real artists would be happy to work for free"

The editorial's description of his finances had him working essentially "for free" anyway.

And to volley some snark back atcha: Since he chose to deliver that editorial as a GIF, of all things, either: 1) He's an inefficient manager of his bandwidth expenses, and lacks the business sense to survive anyway; or 2) He imagines this will prevent people from stealing his words, and lacks the technological sense to survive anyway.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:42 AM on February 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Can we figure out how to support the things that enrich our lives if the price isn't finessed from us by advertising?

Ted Rall's comics don't enrich anything except Ted Rall. If they aren't even enriching Ted Rall, then it's only justice.
posted by Class Goat at 10:54 AM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can't think of any reason to read the City Paper in DC any more. I have an iphone and the internet. No one read the City Paper for new coverage, did they? Comics, Music Reviews and Classifieds, was the only thing I ever read. And all of that is easier online.

Indeed. The recession might well be accelerating forces that were already in motion, but print journalism would have been hurting just about as bad even if we were in an economic boom. It might even be hurting worse, because then you'd have even more people with ready internet access than we have right now (believe it or not, that still is not everybody...it may be fewer people now than a month or so ago). The cost of a horse isn't why people don't ride around in horse-drawn carriages anymore.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:55 AM on February 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Maybe you should make funny/interesting comics.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:00 AM on February 1, 2009


Joe Beese: Or, like a lot of graphic artists who are not web designers he likes complete typographic control. Not that I'm overly sympathetic to that or anything, anyone who publishes a page that can't be flowed by the browser is doin' it wrong, but I'm quite confident that that's the reason.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:04 AM on February 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm kind of surprised that the 2003 economic downturn + craigslist didn't kill all the alt-weeklies.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:13 AM on February 1, 2009


it's unfortunate, but if people are too broke to buy your service, you find something else to do for a living

Are there no prisons? And the workhouses, are they still in operation?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:14 AM on February 1, 2009 [13 favorites]


A good friend of mine makes the majority of his income from a daily comic strip, so when I say what I am about to say take it with the care in my intent. I also make a reasonable amount monthly in advertising revenue on the web.

...

People who provide content on the web are generally woefully incapable of monetizing their efforts. They might be web-only providers who make money from ads or, as Max Cannon details, making money on the side with placement in print publications. In either case, they haven't taken the steps or learned the skills necessary to maximize their profit potential. They haven't, as any good and stable company does, made efforts to protect what they do or ensure long-term growth. They haven't generally created a business plan and they don't treat what they do as a business.

Therefore it is not surprising at all that when tough times hit, they suffer.

If Max Cannon is correct in what he says and the comic strip artists are barely making enough to pay for hosting and a movie out each month, well, then it's a hobby and not in any way any sort of business. Either they care enough and make efforts to change this, or they don't...and if they don't then I have a hard time feeling bad for someone who doesn't care enough about their hobby that the <$50 they are making from it each month is the deciding factor in their continuing to participate.

Now, I don't say that to be harsh. I say that to bring some reality into this situation. As any business knows, it's not just a 9-5 effort to stay ahead of the game and grow your investment. Content providers need to put in a lot more time and energy than just drawing or writing. They must excel at self-promotion as much as they excel at meeting consumer demand for their product. In good times they need to prepare for tough times and in tough times they must put in just as much effort or more (with added inventiveness) to keep afloat. They must be limber and maneuver around obstacles such as the current situation, and when things are good again they must learn from the difficulties and become all the stronger and wiser.

This is business. This is what any business has to do, and why good businesses with good leadership last decades while poor leadership and poor planning shuts so many doors.

So, if what content providers do is a business, treat it like one. If it's not a business, I'm sorry your hobby causes you so much stress. Perhaps it's time to do something that you can afford with the money from your day job.
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:21 AM on February 1, 2009 [9 favorites]


It's sadly ironic that an industry which makes free print products can't survive on the web.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:29 AM on February 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Kickstart70, are there any one-man-band content providers who have turned their work into a successful business? I'm not asking to be snarky -- I'd be interested in learning how they did it.
posted by PlusDistance at 11:30 AM on February 1, 2009


Going through to the Red Meat store, I'm faced with the underwhelming selection of three collections of strips and crappy CafePress apparel in three designs and a single poster. For a strip with as long a history as Red Meat that is pathetically minuscule. I enjoy the guy's work but he's been on the internet since 1999 at least and needs to learn how to market and sell direct to his readership.
posted by PenDevil at 11:37 AM on February 1, 2009


>"So, if what content providers do is a business, treat it like one."

Cannon's letter on his website makes it seem like he's just giving up. What about selling merchandise? Comic signings at bookstores or coffeeshops? Try to figure out what your options are! Every business that is going through tough times, content industry or not, has to find new ways to make money and/or cut costs. He isn't a victim of piracy or anything, it's just a shitty economy and the fact that more people are looking to the web for their news.

I grant him that he'll be hard pressed to get a loan to have merchandise made, but lots of webcomics use services like Topatoco to sell merchandise. People already support bands by buying T-shirts, why not comics? It beats being another goddamned walking Abercrombie & Fitch billboard.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 11:38 AM on February 1, 2009


Or... yknow, what PenDevil said.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 11:38 AM on February 1, 2009


WILL DRAW FUNNY ANIMALS FOR WHUFFIE
posted by fleetmouse at 11:40 AM on February 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Kickstart70, are there any one-man-band content providers who have turned their work into a successful business?
The poster children here are Penny Arcade, who now employ something like 8 full time staff. They started as a 2 man strip and I probably guess they (Tycho and Gabe) each earn at least high six figures every year.
posted by PenDevil at 11:42 AM on February 1, 2009


To be fair, the apocalypse of "alternative comics" was a long ass time ago, when Diamond became the only distribution channel for comics. (Not cartoon strips...books.) That put a lot of us that were publishers out of business because Diamond wouldn't carry any controversial books, or books that weren't safe for toddlers, and without distribution, you can't sell books. If you can't sell books, you can't pay artists. (Or printers, or paper suppliers, or ink suppliers, etc., etc., etc.)

Once indy publishers started dying out, then syndication became the only route for artists (of this particular style) to get paid. The syndicates are mostly evil. Just ask Bill Watterson, who stopped doing Calvin and Hobbes because of the syndication issues. A few years later and web publishing became feasible, but there's a tiny, tiny market that is willing to pay for a non-physical product. When you buy a book...you have the book. When you tip a web comic artist, you help him/her survive, but you don't end up with something you can pull off the shelf years later.

Consumers, even groovy folks like those of you that support comics, haven't made the leap to buying non-durable goods. There's a few folks making a living on the web; Penny Arcade comes to mind...and I'd be willing to bet that they make more money from their print versions..., but outside of the top 10 or 15 web artists...there's no market, and no way to really get exposure unless you get really lucky.

Indie news and indie publishers gave artists and writers a chance of being seen, a chance of building an audience, a chance of a book deal that didn't bend you over a chair.

The death of line art has been a long time coming; the death of indie news publishers is just one more millstone around the neck of an art style that has long been under-appreciated.
posted by dejah420 at 11:46 AM on February 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


There's also webcomics.com, which is entirely dedicated to talking about how you create and monetize comics online. I think there's some irony in a community of say, 10 people calling themselves an 'industry'. The Alternative Weekly Comic Providers industry. It sounds like something that needs a PAC and a bailout.

Comics is an industry, maybe. A sub-set of an industry, if you will. Alternative Weekly Comic Providers is a niche of people who worked hard and got lucky and found a revenue stream that was good enough for them to not have to really innovate for a while.

PVP, as good an example as a one-man-band content provider as I can think of, just started a premium fan community with assetbar. It's not quite micropayments, but for $2 a month if you're a fan you can get exclusive content. I doubt it'll pay the rent for most comic creators, but it's a revenue stream that didn't exist 6 months ago.

Our local alternative weekly here in Austin, the Austin Chronicle, may be a great paper, but in the end it feels like about 80% ads, classifieds or movie reviews. I rarely pick it up anymore, but maybe I've outgrown it's target audience. I'd rather come to Metafilter and find a dozen interesting things on any given day than pick up a half pound of paper every week, find one interesting tidbit, and then 3 months later find it under my coffee table and toss the thing in the recycling bin (hopefully).
posted by jeffkramer at 11:53 AM on February 1, 2009


Kickstart70, are there any one-man-band content providers who have turned their work into a successful business?

As Pen Devil says, Penny Arcade is one. There are a number of others in the comic strip field...Sluggy Freelance apparently does well. My friend is behind UserFriendly.

But outside of that specific field....Drew Curtis of Fark...the BoingBoing crew...and I don't know enough about MetaFilter to say whether they qualify as a success. There really are hundreds of web/content success stories that, all the way back to Yahoo and Google starting in garages.

If you look at Fark you can see how they've monetized their website to grab readership eyes to their ads, TotalFark membership, and most recently things like t-shirts with headlines (although I suspect that will be a failure overall). The point there is that they've looked at multiple money streams and continue to actively work toward growth and income while maintaining their working strategies.

In large scale, Google does the same with their Labs products and by allowing 10% of worker time to be applied to personal projects. They protect what works, but continually expand different offerings. Some work, most do not, but they all add value to the company in terms of knowledge and expertise. There is no reason why small companies can't do the same.
posted by Kickstart70 at 12:02 PM on February 1, 2009


I'm going to kinda self link to a post I made in March 2008. It's a roundtable podcast with Scott Kurtz,Ted Rall,Brad Guigar,Matt Bors and others on how to make money from webcomics.
posted by PenDevil at 12:03 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Are there no prisons? And the workhouses, are they still in operation?

they were all outsourced to china and indonesia
posted by pyramid termite at 12:09 PM on February 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


That put a lot of us that were publishers out of business because Diamond wouldn't carry any controversial books, or books that weren't safe for toddlers...

Not that I relish defending Diamond, but this is just not true. They've carried thousands of adult-oriented and mature readers comics and books over the years. They're a business, and if they think it'll sell, they'll carry it. To suggest that they aren't carrying "books that weren't safe for toddlers" ignores history.
posted by MegoSteve at 12:13 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hey y'all I don't have time to read through this in depth right now, but if you really want a great daily overview of what's going on, I'd suggest reading Dirk Deppey's Journalista site. He's a former editor of The Comics Journal and also has a great eye for excerpt, so reading his site makes for some great daily eye delight as well. He's got a regular feature called Newspaper Armageddon Watch which will sober you up about how many newspapers are folding. Also last week he ran a link from DERF who says pretty much what Max Cannon says.

Why are newspapers removing cartoons which are a draw to readership? Because it's gotten so bad that readers just don't matter anymore.
posted by Catblack at 12:15 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


So how is it not inevitable that newspapers are going to give up the ghost (perhaps slowly, becoming more and more irrelevant with each passing second)? And how can we stop it? Because it would really suck if all the content we received came from our various computers.

(Laugh at my shocking late-to-the-table naivete if you will. But every day I pass a newspaper distribution center/printing press that looks a little dingier and less vibrant, and it pains me to think that this kind of local infrastructure is going to go unused...the whole landscape is going to change. And I've debating whether that's just scary because it's change or if it's scary because it's too quick of a change.)
posted by theefixedstars at 12:17 PM on February 1, 2009


If Max Cannon is correct in what he says and the comic strip artists are barely making enough to pay for hosting and a movie out each month, well, then it's a hobby and not in any way any sort of business.

He's correct; you're not. He's saying that his income from internet ad sales are what pays for hosting and a movie. In other words, his website makes enough money to pay for itself. Print syndication revenue is what pays for, you know, his rent and food. The latter is what's disappearing here and the massive army of instant business geniuses in this thread seem to think that Cannon and others can clap their hands and turn the former into profit. Considering you seem to think that Cannon has made his cartoon his "hobby," which is, you know, the exact opposite of what he's getting across in his editorial, I'm not surprised you missed the actual problem here.

Talking about how a few web cartoonists have been successful as your argument for how all cartoonists can simply adapt to the web is like saying that Tom Cruise being a successful actor means anyone can make millions in Hollywood. If you're willing to shrug off the exponentially increasing ratio of success to failure in cartooning because of the decline of print media as "well that's business," fine, but don't pretend you're helping here.

I think there's some irony in a community of say, 10 people calling themselves an 'industry'. The Alternative Weekly Comic Providers industry. It sounds like something that needs a PAC and a bailout.

Yeah, it's called the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. It's over 120 papers, has several hundred members, including cartoonists. There's also the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists; I'm one of the several hundred members of that one. They've been around for, respectively, 30 and 50 years. So I guess I'd agree what you said would be ironic if it wasn't simply a result of you not knowing what you're talking about.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:20 PM on February 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


Between the upcoming newspaper apocalypse and Diamond considerably raising their minimum sell figures, a lot of people who are currently doing well enough to survive are going to drop out of the comics game. It's never been a money factory- regardless as to well one hustles, as some insinuate. I've known very gifted cartoonists with agents and books in the chain book stores (effectively winning the lottery for smaller "indie" cartoonists) who still have to deliver pizzas to make rent. Like much of art in our society, comics themselves aren't valued and consequently, don't pay for shit. How fucking sad it is that you if you make comics- online, print, whatever- you need to distill your (hypothetical) sober rumination on what it means to be a human being into a funny picture on a shirt to survive economically. Not shirtist.

Bad work and even decent work will die in times of trouble. That's the way it goes in all fields but a lot of very good, popular "indie" comics have already been canceled or otherwise made impossible. Because the money is spread so thin, that happens often in comics.
posted by cheap paper at 12:28 PM on February 1, 2009


I just dug through my webcomics bookmarks folder and pulled up fifteen webcomics that I know are fully supported by their comics and accompanying ads and merchandise sales. There are at least another 5 (out of maybe 40, total) that I'm think are fully supported, but I'm not sure. I know for sure of at least another twenty webcomics (with a little effort I could figure out what they are) that I don't read that are supported full time. I bet there are others that I've never heard of.

How many alt-weekly-only comic strip artists are there, really? Especial who make their entire living off of it? I have a hard time believing that at this point they outnumber webcomic artists who make a living off of it.
posted by Caduceus at 12:29 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think we can survive for a while without Red Meat.
posted by felix betachat at 12:31 PM on February 1, 2009


Print syndication revenue is what pays for, you know, his rent and food. The latter is what's disappearing here and the massive army of instant business geniuses in this thread seem to think that Cannon and others can clap their hands and turn the former into profit.
Print syndication has been dying for years and Cannon has been on the internet for just as long if not longer than most significant webcomics out there. Yet from his store he seems to not be putting any actual effort trying out new products or even new designs in his t-shirts for that matter. I enjoy the guys work but he needs to, as we say here in South Africa, catch a wake up.
posted by PenDevil at 12:33 PM on February 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


I guess I have to agree that the entire business model is dead and just awaiting a good shove. I always viewed the comics as one of the only reasons that I would actually crack open the classified ads section, and potentially be drawn into calling about that futon somebody was selling. But that's largely moved to craigslist. If they're just going to depend on the traffic they get from people who have already decided they need something and have to check the ads to see if it's for sale (essentially), there isn't much of a business left to protect.
posted by dhartung at 12:36 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


They're obviously not going out with a bang - but then again, it's hard to hear over all of this whimpering.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:03 PM on February 1, 2009


I could spend 20% of my time creating and 80% marketing and sell a lot of mediocre shit, or vice-versa and sell very little decent artwork. What "it's a business, stupid" people fail to understand is that in many cases it is an almost monomaniacal dedication to art that enables it to rise above the waves of mediocrity. Great artists who are successful almost always were "discovered" by a key wealthy patron who kept them warm and dry during their early years.

This is one of many reasons why public support of the arts is essential.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:25 PM on February 1, 2009 [9 favorites]


I think there's some irony in a community of say, 10 people calling themselves an 'industry'. The Alternative Weekly Comic Providers industry. It sounds like something that needs a PAC and a bailout.

Yeah, it's called the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. It's over 120 papers, has several hundred members, including cartoonists. There's also the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists; I'm one of the several hundred members of that one. They've been around for, respectively, 30 and 50 years. So I guess I'd agree what you said would be ironic if it wasn't simply a result of you not knowing what you're talking about.
This isn't about editorial cartoons or the alternative weeklies in general, though. Every alternative weekly I pick up when I travel seems to have the same comics in it. How many people do you think are making a living off of non-editorial comic strips in alternative weeklies? It's not hundreds. I doubt it's even dozens. Maybe 20? AAN doesn't even have a category for it in their people directory, just 'artists', and half of that is photographers.
posted by jeffkramer at 1:33 PM on February 1, 2009


In fact, here's a post about this very subject from Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content, one of the many webcomics I read which fully support their creator(s). However you feel about the actual comic, dude's still making a living off of it.
posted by Caduceus at 1:46 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Because it would really suck if all the content we received came from our various computers.

especially if your ISP goes bankrupt, too

just why the hell is it that nothing seems to work anymore?
posted by pyramid termite at 2:54 PM on February 1, 2009


Print syndication has been dying for years and Cannon has been on the internet for just as long if not longer than most significant webcomics out there. Yet from his store he seems to not be putting any actual effort trying out new products or even new designs in his t-shirts for that matter. I enjoy the guys work but he needs to, as we say here in South Africa, catch a wake up.
PenDevil expresses exactly what I am talking about...and what XQUZYPHYR fails to understand. Adaptation includes/is what needs to happen and just like the mainstream newspapers are failing to adapt to the internet medium and suffering for it, the slow decline or death of the alt-weekly papers is what successful comics will have to adapt out of. As long as they maintain the stance that people should support them directly or support the alt-weeklies (who are failing to adapt to market conditions themselves) then the doom is just on the horizon.

Instead, as PenDevil states above, the failure to be inventive or put exceptional effort into marketing makes it obvious they are treating it like a hobby.

And for those who say it's an art and they are dedicated to it and therefore they need rich benefactors...all through history those benefactor-artist relationships were hinged on the fact that the benefactor loved the artist's work and the artist made efforts to please the benefactor's senses. The artist adapted to the market, even if the market was a single person with enough money to support the artist.
posted by Kickstart70 at 2:55 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


just why the hell is it that nothing seems to work anymore?

That's what I was thinking in the airplane last night (thousands of feet in the air is not a good time to think of such, actually).

This is a topic for another FPP, but to me it seems that deregulation has been coupled with avoidance of infrastructure improvements and ultimately the sorts of breakdowns in physical and financial structure that we are currently seeing. As much as I tend to the conservative side (not social- but fiscal-conservative and that doesn't mean what the Republicans are) it's clear that some level of socialized, government-run, sane infrastructure and regulation has to be in place to manage all these complex systems.
posted by Kickstart70 at 3:02 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I strongly disagree with the idea that an unwillingness to put exceptional/inventive effort in marketing relegates an artistic pursuit to a 'hobby'. The irs labels something a hobby if it shows a profit less than 3 out of 5 years. These are both irrelevant metrics when applied to the arts. The effort it takes to market art can be a serious drain of time and headspace for an artist. We are all poorer because of this. Less vibrant art, more well marketed schlock.
posted by pointilist at 5:03 PM on February 1, 2009


The effort it takes to market art can be a serious drain of time and headspace for an artist. We are all poorer because of this. Less vibrant art, more well marketed schlock.

Maybe so, but consider this, too: just because someone creates art does not mean it has any merit, nor does any artist have an inalienable right to make a living from sub-par work. You really don't know whether all of this art that we're supposedly missing out on is any good, frankly.
posted by MegoSteve at 5:25 PM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


We must try public suppose for the arts, but please no RIAA & MPAA subsidies. Comic artists, authors, etc. should write grant proposals like academics, some rotating panal of literature professors could select the best with an eye towards future influence, not short term popularity or marketing.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:30 PM on February 1, 2009


"are there any one-man-band content providers who have turned their work into a successful business? I'm not asking to be snarky -- I'd be interested in learning how they did it."

The only comic I read on a semi regular basis is self supporting. He seems to do it with a swack load of work.
posted by Mitheral at 8:53 PM on February 1, 2009


Everything is working as it should.

We're living through a revolution in technology, equivalent to the industrial revolution. Don't expect anything you grew up with to be around when you're old.
posted by empath at 9:48 PM on February 1, 2009


When I lived in Portland, I was always amazed that such a small city managed to support two alternative rags (I use the term in a gentle sense, as I valued both the Willamette Week and the Portland Mercury). Given the quality, or lack thereof, of the city's daily paper (the Oregonian is a rag in the worst sense of the word), I supposed that was what kept them going. I read them for their reviews, their music and show listings, Savage love in the Mercury, the comics in the Willy Week, and occasionally their articles (the Willamette Week won a Pulitzer a couple of years back, the Mercury mocked them for it).

I've since moved to New York and have picked up the Village Voice all of four times. I haven't bothered to read most of it any of those times. I don't know why, but it just didn't grab me. I get my Savage Love fix now from the Onion's AV Club online and nothing in the Village Voice on the occasions I've picked it up has made me want to read their articles. it really did feel like it was mostly ads with filler. I hope this hasn't hit the WW or the Mercury, as I hold them as examples of what Alt Weeklies should look like. The Village Voice could do worse than to look at how they run themselves.
posted by Hactar at 10:13 PM on February 1, 2009


Hactar, don't forget the Portland Tribune, the world's most pointless newspaper. They couldn't make it more dull if they tried. Also, agreed about the WW and the Merc. Former is a great source of music listings/reviews, and the latter (used to have?) has a great comics page.

Incidentally, Max is a good guy. I emailed him a couple years about remarking about one of the characters in the strip. He wrote back and explained the inspiration for the character.
posted by wastelands at 2:16 AM on February 2, 2009


Would someone pleeaasseee think of the not-so-funny comic writers!
posted by Mastercheddaar at 6:00 AM on February 2, 2009


Everything is working as it should.

no - much of what we're experiencing is from greed and incompetence, not a revolution in technology, although that is a factor
posted by pyramid termite at 6:06 AM on February 2, 2009


Maybe they should stop giving comics away for free on the internet...and then expecting to get paid when they appear in print.
posted by wayofthedodo at 8:27 AM on February 2, 2009


Would someone pleeaasseee think of the not-so-funny comic writers!

That's a good point. Although I am the OP for this FPP (heh, acronyms), I must say that I rarely, if ever read *any* of the comics or cartoons mentioned in the "apocalypse." Max Cannon's "Red Meat" is just not that funny, and both "Troubletown" and "This Modern World" are shrill more often than they are funny.

My local alt weekly still carries a great weekly Doonesbury digest, which is one of the reasons why I pick it up.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:50 AM on February 2, 2009


The alt-weekly cartoonists who are starting to feel the pain might have paid a little more attention to Alison Bechdel, who put Dykes To Watch Out For on hiatus for "an unspecified amount of time" last year. Granted, she had more of a niche market (I think that most of her newspapers were LGBT-oriented) and an alternative source of income after the success of Fun Home, but given the fact that she'd been producing the strip for nearly a quarter of a century--yes, longer than some cartoonists have been alive--and ended up shelving it, this should have been something of a canary in a coal mine for a lot of cartoonists that don't seem to have had a Plan B.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:42 AM on February 2, 2009


... and, yes, god dammit, I do need to get those grant applications filed in a timely fashion. It's not like the double-entry spreadsheets fill themselves out, the concise yet detailed proposals write themselves, or the letters of recommendation just fly out of my ass. Anyone who thinks that public art money is a fucking handout should actually try to apply for it sometime.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:44 PM on February 2, 2009


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