One might be surprised that a lowly freelance editorial cartoonist could come up with a plan to save an entire industry, but I have done it.
I was inspired by all the recent discussion surrounding the death of B.C. and Wizard of Id creator Johnny Hart. Hart had wished that, after his death, his children and grandchildren continue the strips he had created. This has caused controversy in the cartooning world, as comic page space is highly valued real estate, and for every legacy strip like Peanuts or B.C. that continues on after the creator’s death there will be one fewer new strip exposed to audiences.
It’s a reasonable case to make, as some folks claim that syndicates and newspapers are sacrificing the future of their business for the short-term gain of pleasing long-time fans. Meanwhile, hard-working new cartoonists are denied access to readers so that the syndicates can make a safe buck.
So thinking about that – about an industry voluntarily making a decision to promote long-term growth at the expense of short-term bottom lines, I got to thinking about my own field of editorial cartooning. In my eight years at doing this, I’ve found that whether you’re listening to a cartoonist on a panel or reading a journal article by one of them, there are only two truths they’ll speak about the state of the industry:
1. Editorial cartooning is a dying field, as newspapers continue to lay off their staff cartoonists in favor of cheap syndicated cartoons. The numbers of professional cartoons are dwindling as more and more laid-off cartoonists have to turn to syndication to make their living.
2. Don’t even bother trying to get syndicated, because even if you do, the money is so lousy that it’s hardly worth the frustration.
The solution to these problems is almost so simple I can’t believe I didn’t think of it earlier. All the editorial cartoonists – particularly those greedy cartoonists who already have staff positions with offices and pensions – who complain that syndication has killed off local cartooning and resulted in elimination of staff positions should voluntarily withdraw themselves from all syndicates.
If there were no cartoons cheaply available via syndication, newspapers would have no choice but to hire a local cartoonist! Instead of turning to the syndicates, an opinion editor would have to hire his or her own cartoonist to make a cartoon about Rosa Parks getting on a bus in Heaven!
So if these guys chose to sacrifice the proverbial peanuts they get from syndication, and instead blessed only their local readers with their humor and style, perhaps we would see a restoration of the staff cartoonist position. They’re the ones who say they get next to nothing for syndication, so surely they’d be willing to cut back on their personal gain for the good of the industry.
Of course, no one expects that to happen, yet they still seem to argue a select few others should be held to this level of altruism.