Newspapers Still a Stale, Dull Source of Comics

The Texas Star-Telegram wrote up a piece by David House that any new or potential comic strip creators should be warned about. This essay seems to suggest that the newspaper industry alone is responsible for all comic readership. House pats the paper on the back for doing so well at finding such a “diverse readership” he also goes on to explain their survey process by which they decide which comic strips stay and which get cut.

Their survey conclusion? “Nearly every feature draws significant readership, generating across-the-board strength that carries an unwritten warning: Don’t mess with this.” A thinly veiled statement that the newspaper comics pages will remain stale and homogenized indefinitely. He may as well have told all new artists that you haven’t even a remote chance of getting your work into their pages.

After mentioning the strips that came in at the bottom of their survey House writes, “We don’t know for sure why those strips lost ground, but we do know they’re part of a great newspaper tradition passed along by generations of readers, editors and publishers.” It’s very telling that he didn’t include comics creators as part of the so called “great tradition”.

So, newspapers alone create comics readership and they’re not allowing any new comics into their publication. Wow. This is nothing short of a smack in the face of anyone trying to come up with a new strip for publication. This attitude, which is prevalent throughout the print industry, is exactly why web comics are so important to this art form.

Newspapers don’t want creativity, they don’t want innovation, they don’t want anything new. So adverse to change are the comics pages in newspapers that the comic strips they cling to are beginning to outlive their creators. The cartooning art form needs web comics. On the web new ideas and new strips are flourishing. The comics industry is well over due for an overhaul and I think the web is where we’ll see the reinvention of a once great, interesting, and fun form of storytelling.

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7 thoughts on “Newspapers Still a Stale, Dull Source of Comics

  1. Zampzon, I love this blog, but I\’m gonna have to disagree with you on only a couple of things.

    First, newspapers are businesses and their trying to generate money. The newspaper industry is nowhere near as big and competitive as it was in the first half of the 20th century. Back then you had multiple papers in a single town duking it out for readership, and comics were used as leverage in this war: \”Read our paper because we have \’The Yellow Kid\’\”, \”Read our paper because we have \’Pogo\’\”, etc.

    Since syndicates offer the same comics to any newspaper that\’s willing to pay for them, the demand for fresh comics lessens. And since the majority of newspaper readers are in their golden years, the demand for fresh comics lessens even more.

    So, I don\’t think it\’s a matter of newspapers NOT wanting anything new. I think the papers are stuck between a rock and a hard place: They\’d like to have newer comics to attract younger readers, but all their older readers are in love with the old standards that are past their prime (I\’d bet my house that the majority of people who voted in the comics survey are in their 40\’s, 50\’s, and 60\’s). It\’s risky to drop several older strips in favor of new ones, because you don\’t know if younger readers will replace those older readers that love \”Hagar\”.

    Newspapers may remain fairly stagnant as far as the comics page goes. Every so often we see a gem like \”Get Fuzzy\” make it into the fray, but it doesn\’t happen often. But I don\’t think it\’s fair to say that cartoonists should be discouraged from submitting to syndicates.

    United Features has a website called comics.com. Universal Press also has a comics website, ucomics.com. Both syndicates offer a wide variety of comics to readers on a daily basis, and allow access to archives and other features for readers who subscribe to the site. So, here we see that the syndicates are embracing the web as a viable source of publishing comics. And if you\’ve seen any stats recently, you\’ll

  2. Wes, no need to apologize for a long post, the purpose of this blog is always to encourage debate and discussion.

    Firstly, please don\’t put words in my mouth, I said nothing about syndicates. I agree that they are trying to figure out how best to use the web and I\’m happy to see that. Their sites have tons of great stuff.

    My point was that the stale newspaper comics page is simply not a place for moving this art form forward for much of the same reasons you sighted. The current state of things is a new artist has hardly any chance at all of seeing his or her work get out to an audience via newspaper print. I agree with your assessment of newspaper readership and that is exactly why creativity and innovation of print comics has come to a screeching halt. While it may be good business to just stick with the status quo for papers, from an artist\’s point of view you must agree that sentimentality is no reason to put up a \’dead end\’ sign for any art form.

    It\’s my opinion that the web is where we will see comics flourish. While the zombie content may continue in the papers for the foreseeable future, new and potential artists should be encouraged by the fact that there is a venue where a hungry audience is waiting for something new and interesting.

  3. By no means was I trying to put words in your mouth. Sorry for the miscommunication. In my mindset, I automatically link syndicates and newspapers because they\’re a partnership. Newspapers run stale comics because they\’re buying stale comics from syndicates. In turn, the syndicates are pushing the stale comics over their fresh comics because the stale comics are making the most money. So, that\’s where I\’m coming from.

    I guess what bugs me most about the \”whole webcomics vs. newspaper comics debate\” is how both sides feel that they are somewhat superior to the other, which is neither fair to each party nor up-and-coming cartoonists.

    The internet is huge, and there are quite a lot of webcomics out there. It\’s very easy for a cartoonist to become lost in the sea of material that\’s already being published on the web. I guess what I\’m saying is that publishing on the web is as risky as trying to make it in the newspapers. Granted, you\’re trading one set of risks for another, as well as trading certain sets of pros and cons for another. It\’s a confusing game, but cartoonists need to be encouraged to research both venues (web and newspaper) and decide for him/herself what would be best.

    I think the biggest pro of syndication is the exposure. You can\’t beat a newspaper\’s distribution. PvP receives 60,000 unique visitors per day. If Scott Kurtz were syndicated in several newspapers, he could easily double, triple, or quadruple that number. Heck, he could even gain a strong international audience and see his readership in the millions. Scott Kurtz knows this and that\’s why he\’s offering his strip to newspapers for free, which I think is a fabulous idea.

    The biggest pro for creating a webcomic is retaining the rights and doing whatever you want with the comic. This is what assures quality comic strips. People who write comics have a vision for the plot and characters. When a newspaper or newspaper syndicate gets involved and dips their hand into the creative pr

  4. Zampzon,

    I realize that my posts were long and possibly unclear to everyone but me.

    The overall point I\’m trying to make is that, yes, the newspaper comics page is stale. But there IS some good stuff out there, and young cartoonists shouldn\’t be discouraged from either the newspaper or the web.

    My advice is do your homework and know what to expect when a contract opportunity comes up. This website does a good job of conveying one side of the debate without using what I consider to be \”propaganda\”.

    It\’s not that I disagree with you Zampzon, I\’m just trying to show both sides. And I got a little long-winded with it.

    I know you told me not to apologize, but I feel I should. If I\’m gonna post long messages I should at least be clear in my reasoning. 🙂

    – Wes

  5. I see where you are going with this Wes. You\’re pointing out that printed comics are distributed based off if they can sell or not. The ones most likely to get printed are what the publishers believe will get them the most readers. The biggest problem facing newspapers are that their readers are in their 40\’s, 50\’s, and 60\’s while most young readers could care less about newspapers when they could just go online.

    Newspapers and syndicates are caught in a catch 22 which they\’re just going to have to get out of by getting a clue. Nearly all new good strips are online and as long as the entry into the printed world is as difficult as laid out by this article that will remain the situation. Unless they find another way they will soon find themsleves out of readers.

  6. Yes! That\’s exactly what I\’m saying! I\’m not trying to tick anybody off, and I\’m sorry if I did. But the fact is the syndicates and the newspapers work together, and they\’re trying to make money. That\’s what it boils down to.

    If we want to change the face of the comics page then more young people need to start buying papers and participating in surveys and polls. Then, our voice will be heard, the newspapers will know they\’ve gained a younger audience, and fresher and more innovative comics will be able to invade the comics page.

    . . . Or we could just keep rocking the web and hope that, over time, the internet will become as viable a medium as newspapers. I honestly feel that it is headed that direction.

    I hope you guys will still say nice things about my strip. haha

    – Wes

  7. I guess I have a more radical point of view than Daku does on the matter. I see future comic artists abandoning the newspaper as a goal altogether. I am not saying we need to change the newspapers\’ comics page, I say forget them. Getting into news print should not be anyone\’s end goal. You have no creative freedom whatsoever there and the space in papers is dwindling so much that only a handful of new cartoons will ever be let in to their coveted pages. On the web not only do you have total creative freedom, but you can have a direct and instantaneous connection with your readership. No editors, no syndicates, no publishers, from your pen to your readers\’ eyeballs. Only on the web is that even possible and the limitless potential should light a fire under anyone looking to become a cartoonist.

    Of course, your ultimate point is totally right for now. Until someone comes up with a viable and, most importantly, repeatable business model for making money off creating comics for the web the printed page will continue to be seen as the only \”legitimate\” place for one\’s work. My vision of an artistic utopia flourishing in the online pages of countless artists who are also making money off their work is, perhaps, a long ways off, I have to admit that.

    But the clock is ticking. There are plenty of artists out there trying to find the right formula and kudos to the syndicates and comic book publishers for exploring this. Your own Viper Comics seem to have taken a bold step in the right direction too. Web sites hiring cartoons for their site is a great idea and I\’d like to see more of it.

    Dammit Wes, stop apologizing. Your contribution to this conversation is exactly what we are hoping for here. You are awesome.

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