Comics Sherpa Leading You Down the Wrong Path?

I was checking out the comics syndicate site uComics (www.ucomics.com), the online home to such well known print strips as Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, Ziggy, and many others. While poking around I came across something that sounded like a great opportunity for aspiring cartoonists. They have a feature called Comics Sherpa whereby aspiring cartoonists and comics artists can submit their own work to be displayed on the uComics.com site alongside their already well established strips.

I thought this sounded like it would be an amazing opportunity for someone trying to break into the comics business. Here we have a syndicate not only accepting submissions for work, but making the process democratic by displaying the submitted work to their audience and soliciting feedback. The site hints that those submitted strips that become popular via the web would have a chance at being picked up for syndication. Here’s a quote from the Comics Sherpa site, “We’re confident that the next Larson, Trudeau or Watterson is out there, waiting to be discovered! So we’ve enlisted the help of our uComics.com users to read up-and-coming-strips and post their feedback.”

Here’s where the sherpa takes a wrong turn. I dug a little deeper for details so I could post this great opportunity to the blog only to find that this is a pay service. That’s right, the potential cartoonist is expected to pony up ten bucks a month to show their comic on the uComics.com site. Huh? Isn’t that supposed to work the other way around? Not only do you have to pay as a reader to see the comics on uComics.com, but the comics creators have to pay to populate the site with the very content they are selling to their users.

I’ve been encouraged in the past by the big comic strip syndicates’ efforts to find a viable business model for using the web to publish comics. But this little scheme has me a little upset. It seems like a suckers game, trying to take advantage of someone who doesn’t know any better. The kicker? In signing up for this “service” you also have to agree to consider uComics.com’s syndication contract, should your strip be considered worthy enough, above any other offer you may get as a result of having your strip on their site.

For less then the money they’re asking for here you could start your own site and not be locked into any kind of non-compete contract. I think the general idea here has potential, open up the submission process at the syndicates to make the choosing of new comics more open, but the way these guys are going about it just seems really sneaky and underhanded to me.

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9 thoughts on “Comics Sherpa Leading You Down the Wrong Path?

  1. No offense to the cartoonists on Comics Sherpa, but I think the service is retarded.

    There was a short period of time about a year ago when I was considering joining the Comics Sherpa site. I thought the ten bucks a month was a crappy idea, and I didn\’t like that I had to give Universal Press first dibs on a contract. But I still thought it would be good exposure. I even e-mailed a few of the Sherpa cartoonists (who I thought had good material) to see what they thought. They seemed to like the service, but none of them went on in any great detail about it.

    Ultimately, I decided it was a crappy deal. The ten bucks a month to be on the Sherpa site could\’ve gone to a webhost where I could\’ve put together a much nicer web site than the skimpy one Comics Sherpa offers. Plus, if another syndicate wants to sign me up before Univ. Press decides to make a deal, why should I have to consider Univ. Press\’s counter offer? I\’m already paying you ten bucks a month to be on your site! If you like my comic, jump on it!

    I think the real kicker is the disclaimer on each individual comic page that says something to the effect of \”Please report any indecent material as Universal Press does not monitor these comics.\” If Univ. Press isn\’t monitoring the comics, doesn\’t that mean they\’re not READING them? I imagine they pay a guy to check the Sherpa site every couple weeks to see which strips are rated the highest. Then the guy will read the high-rated strips and try to work out an internet deal if he sees any that are marketable.

    Overall, I think a cartoonist will be more successful if he/she simply submits hard copies to the syndicate and/or starts his/her own webcomic.

    Sorry for sounding like a prude. I just wanted to get that off my chest because, like Zampzon, I think Comics Sherpa is kind of a raw deal for aspiring cartoonists.

    – Wes

  2. It\’s great to have someone with a first hand experience with this comment on it, thanks Wes. I don\’t know what they\’re thinking with this.

  3. Another down side to CS, is that if they do decide to give you a shot, they`ll add you to their web service to \”start\”, with no guarantees that you`ll ever see print. This is not a development deal, where you work closely with an editor, and are paid to do so. You do receive a small percentage of your subscription fees, but from what I`ve been told, what you earn from this barely covers your materials, if that, and that`s only if you`re extremely popular.

    You`ll also have to sign a contract, (which I`ve been told,and may be wrong about) which binds you solely to them for the length of that contract, and basically puts you in a state of limbo, and at their mercy.

    In a nut shell, you`re supplying them with free content, which I suppose is a step up from PAYING them to supply them with free content.

  4. Sherpa serves our needs right now. Our membership sends a message not just to Universal but to other syndicates that we\’re serious about syndication. In the current climate, I feel that\’s necessary. It also exposes us to an audience more \”comic strip\” than \”webcomic,\” something else we need.

    I see nothing unreasonable about being asked to let Universal make a counter-offer. You\’re not being forced to ACCEPT the offer, just to weigh it. I mean, hell, the best of two offers has fifty-fifty odds of being better than one offer. What do you have to lose by this?

    As for the secondary \”try-out\” deal, quite true. I\’d rather pay than be locked in at this stage.

    I\’m not Sherpa\’s biggest booster. The rating system is deeply flawed, so is the site design and they seem pretty lax about enforcing their mission statement. But it has its uses.

  5. Comics SHerpa is god awful. It should only be seen as a way to advertise your strip out to another fanbase. The odds of a syndicate contract of any kinda are slim. And you\’re not any closer to getting a syndicate deal than you are if you send those monthly batches of comics in on time like clockwork. That is a MUCH better strategy for someone looking to be in papers.

    But– then there\’s the question WHY would you want to be in papers? The industry IS slowly dying, although it will never die, most of the strip s in the paper are paid 1970 prices for their features! 85% of the cartoonists in papers also have to keep a full time job just to stay alive— Sad.

    To me, since I\’ve been in over 50 papers before with a watered down \”all ages\” comic… I think the better path is definitly the web, doing your own thing, and getting compilation books directly to your readers.— You dont need to pay someone 10 bucks a month to have a better chance. That\’s bollocks.

  6. Bollocks, indeed!

    If you\’re an aspiring cartoonist looking to get syndicated, the ten bucks a month is a poor investment. Save the money to buy postage stamps for your hard copy submission packs.

    If you\’re wanting feedback, send hard copies to your favorite cartoonists as well as the syndicates. That\’s what I did, and I found that most cartoonists love giving critiques. And, if you\’re patient, you\’ll get some of the best advice from people inside the industry. Personally, I think that\’s better feedback than the flawed \”ratings system\” on Sherpa.

    All you aspiring cartoonists, keep the dream alive! Don\’t get discouraged! You don\’t have to pay ten bucks a month to get syndicated!

    – Wes

  7. I’m giving Comics Sherpa a shot. Like the idea of a community of cartoonists sharing an online stage. Interface is easy to use. Daily stats and occasional email provide useful feedback. Search engines can find me by my cartoon series name and my last name as key words. Also, important to me is that it is a creative exercise place where I’ve committed myself to doing 2 cartoons per week.

  8. Thanks so much for this blog post! The pay service aspect had me raise my eyebrows when I read through their “tour” on their site, but your explanation of the fine print was especially helpful!

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