Editorial Cartoons on the Web

It’s extremely rare that one idea is so great that it will make you a living for the rest of your life, but it does happen. Life is Good t -shirts have one little cartoon man who is so appealing he made his creators millions of dollars. So there is that end of the spectrum.

A series of disconnected images is almost as unlikely to work. Even a good cartoonist/designer would be hard-pressed to come up with something to put on a t-shirt (for example) that would sell for its own sake, on a regular basis.

What works much better and is much easier is to come up with a series of ideas that people will revisit on a regular basis and become fond of. The image of Tycho on a shirt will sell not for its own sake, but because for readers the image brings up so many warm fuzzy memories of awesomeness.

So the question is, how do we build up a world around our ideas which ties them together, and pulls people not just to come, but to come back again and again?

I do this the obvious way, by writing fiction – building up literal worlds, setting characters in them that at least I like, telling my opinions in metaphors. A lot of cartoonists are political in a strip form that allows them to tell a compelling story structured around their commentary. But there are certainly ways to build context around your ideas without straying too far from this world.

Editorial cartoons are put into context by newsworthy events, and currently associated with those events by being side by side with them in newspapers. This can be done on the web to some extent, but certain things will change, simply because of the more direct associations that are possible on the web.

Penny Arcade is successful in being an editorial comic because it is on a site that people come to for their news about video games. It helps that the comics are funny, intelligent and unabashedly crude on occasion, and it helps that Mike and Jerry’s personalities are present not only in the comic but throughout the site. But what brings it all together is what’s on the front page of the site, their take on the things that are happening in the gaming world.

News of every kind will always be in demand, and I think there will always be a way for cartoonists to profit from that. But because in the internet age, we only look for the news we want, there may not be a centralized system for placing those comics with the news they will benefit from.

On the other hand, that diversity will enable cartoonists to specialize, to focus on a smaller audience that shares their interests, and hopefully their sense of humor.

It strikes me that this is similar to a magazine model. Many magazines sell subscriptions both in print and on the web, and some run comics. Just a thought.

But if there is going to be any kind of paid syndication on the web, it will still be comics thrown in for free with another product, whether it is a free article or blog that makes money off of advertisements, or material paid for by a subscription or similar.

Editorial cartoons cannot stand on their own. They need a network. Their current network is failing. A new one needs to be rebuilt in order for them to survive. If editorial cartoonists want to continue doing what they do when their printed network fails, they need to step up and create their own networks, at least until a larger network is put in place that will support them. But the individuals and their experiments have to come first. The internet is not going to change its shape all of a sudden and start handing them regular paychecks. The network has to be invented first.

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