Blog syndication

primitive falling rock

Though Welcome to Falling Rock National Park began running in papers and on the web in September 2006, I made my first attempt at the concept many months earlier.  When I was still drawing The Family Monster, I made my first attempt to draw Falling Rock.  What follows is the complete packet I sent to the syndicates.

It is an interesting time capsule.  Like the posts on my middle school, high school, and college comic strips, you can read this as yet another stepping stone.  I find it funny that, when I rediscovered this packet, I barely remembered drawing it.  Ernesto especially looks very strange.

Longtime readers will no doubt recognize some of the jokes; I transferred some of my favorite Family Monster jokes to the Falling Rock world.  Knowing these characters now, I realize that was a weird thing to do.  They’d never say some of the stuff I have them saying.  Ah well.  It’s so difficult starting a comic strip from scratch.  I figured I could at least use some previous writing to get myself going.  I don’t blame myself.  I wouldn’t go back in time and punch past me in the face.

Here we go:

 I still want to make that line about humans’ eventual extinction into a t-shirt.

 Carver would never drink coffee and listen to NPR.  This joke was lifted from The Family Monster.  I still like the joke, but I used it on the wrong character.
 This is an interesting use of time, with all the tiny panels.  It was inspired by Matt Groening’s Life in Hell comic strip.  He would sometimes use dozens of tiny panels.  Part of what made his tiny panel drawings so funny was the bug eyes on his characters: the eyes stayed large even when he drew the character small.
 I said that about my brother once.  I don’t know why I had Carver leaning on a saguaro.  That would hurt.

 I like the timing on the “can’t…quite…put my finger on it.”  That could never work in a medium other than comics.  I find it difficult to write that kind of last minute reveal joke.  When I read those comics I know something is coming because, well, why is that character in close-up for three panels?  I usually skip to the last panel, then read the whole strip.  That kind of ruins the joke.
 I should reintroduce some prairie dogs into Falling Rock.  These guys look too much like aliens, though.  Need to draw some better ‘dogs.

 The apple joke was from The Family Monster, but I think it works here.  Carver would try to psyche Ernesto out.

It seems to me that movies are the center of our cultural life.  They have supplanted music and books.  Not that the latter two are irrelevant; it’s just that most movies (and, therefore, actors) are discussed more than albums or novels.  Look at Harry Potter: when it got popular enough, it seemed necessary to turn it into a series of movies.

Berkeley Breathed used to xerox photos into Bloom County, so I thought I’d try.  It didn’t work for me, so I never did it again.

Rereading these, I am curious how much Falling Rock will look in the future.  It has already changed so much. 

Blog comic syndication

one less syndicate

Read the news last week that United Media, a syndicate that once managed Peanuts and Dilbert, will turn over their comic strip properties to Universal uclick.  For those of you keeping score, we’re down to three viable syndicates:

Universal uclick (in my limited experience, the most active syndicate)

King Features (once a fine syndicate, but they haven’t done much in the last decade)

Washington Post Writers Group (only syndicates a handful of comics; the upside is most of them are good)

The other “syndicates” (I use that term loosely as they rarely launch new features) are Tribune Media and Creators.

Comic strips continue to be profitable and, most importantly, read.  It’s been clear for some time that newspapers don’t want to run comics.  Maybe they should cut the cord and see what happens (hint: final nail in the coffin).  The internet is becoming an increasing revenue source.  Many un-syndicated cartoonists (hint) are either solely web-based or they use their website to increase their audience.

I’ve always liked to read comics on paper.  Call me Old Timer.  That’s why I self-publish books.  Anybody can go on my website and read, for free, the entire run of Falling Rock.  I haven’t heard from many people who actually do that.  I do hear from the people who read my books.  Maybe we’re all Old Timers.

Are books the future of comic strips?  I would be more than happy with that outcome.  Universal syndicate is essentially the same company as Andrews McMeel, a book publisher.  They publish not only their own comic strip properties but those of their until-now rival United Media.  Universal could be a web and book syndicate.  It seems as if they’re heading that way.  Newspapers are cutting themselves out of the loop.

Why are newspapers so stupid?  Ask David Simon; after he was fired from the Baltimore Sun, he went on to write The Wire.  But that’s a topic for another post.

Is this good news or bad news?  I am uncertain.  Universal is certainly the most forward-thinking comic syndicate out there.  I’m glad United Media’s cartoonists have a place to go where they will be treated with respect.  On the other hand, that’s one less submission I can send out this year in the hopes of finally getting syndicated.  On the first hand again, Universal has seemed like my best shot for a couple years now.  There are so many unknowns.

If you’re reading this post, it means I’m doing something right, and that’s really the most important thing.  Thank you.  Now let’s get back to the funny stuff.

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Get Nice or Get Mean?

There is a deal among syndicated cartoonists, it seems, that no one cartoonist will slander another cartoonist’s comic strip. I doubt there is a written statement you sign when you get syndicated that says you have to be nice to Bil Keane and The Family Circus. However, there appears to be a tenuous truce among those people hard-working and lucky enough to make a living off drawing funny pictures. I was having a conversation recently when I was trying to explain this “deal.” The people I was explaining it to (my parents) thought it was ludicrous.

“Do you think people in other professions follow that code?” asked my dad. Then he laughed, a lot, to indicate the silliness of the statement.

This is true. You’d never see this among those in other entertainment industries. Fashion? Come on. Designers thrive on gossip and speculation. I happen to know that architects are a fickle bunch, as well (ask an architect what she thinks of Frank Gehry if you want an entertaining conversation). Why is it that cartoonists hold back?

Maybe cartoonists (especially the editorial cartoonist) are so used to cutting down politicians and celebrities that they’re afraid they will alienate the only people who really understand them. Turn that sharp wit on your ally and see where it gets you. Cartoonists are few in number (compared to, say, firefighters or accountants). Why engage in back-biting in a small pool? It will invariably come right back to you. Going back to the career comparisons, cartoonists are viewed as much less essential than either firefighters or accountants, so why should they make each other’s lives even harder?

Okay, I think I rationalized my point. However, it is really funny to read cartoonists bending over backward complimenting fellows who they obviously have an active distaste for. Here’s a great example: if you don’t like a comic, cite it’s popularity. “30 million Garfield books in print. Jim Davis must be doing something right.” Good compliment. You certainly dodged that bullet. This reminds me of my college English classes. If a book is considered Great, scholars will make the case that every single part of that book is infallible. You could argue these points either way: was Shakespeare anti-Semitic, or was he playing with stereotypes when he wrote The Merchant of Venice? If you listen to the scholars, Shakespeare, never having met a Jew and living in a wholly anti-Semitic world, was the latter. Had Shakespeare been John Rocker (remember him?), his remarks would have been torn down by every critic in the land.

My point is, if you don’t like a comic, even if you yourself draw a comic, you should be allowed to criticize it. Personal attacks are unnecessary (that’s what Fox News is for), but a little honest critiquing might even be helpful. Spice up the ol’ comics page. Every good artist wants to know that his work is being discussed, that it is relevant. Sliding into mediocrity may be okay for some, but it sure doesn’t help the art form in general when people keep mentioning the words “comic strips” and “retirement home” in the same sentence.

Full disclosure: this post is coming from a guy whose comic would be better if, as I was told by one newspaper editor, I worked on my drawings AND my jokes. Ouch.