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The Readers Interview The Norm's Michael Jantze

Michael Jantze's The Norm may be one of the best comic strips in newspapers today. Although syndicated by King Features Syndicate, Jantze has also stepped up to show keen entrepreneurial initiative, by hopping on the electronic world with a larger business plan, which includes the webcomic world. You can read The Norm online, in collections, and in The Norm Magazine. Jantze also has some web-oriented freebies available on his site.

A few more Jantze-related tidbits before we move on to the interview: Jantze notes that he had the pleasure of knowing the great Charles Schulz, and he took the time to write an informative article titled The Ten Things I Learned From Charles Schulz. Add to that another article he wrote titled How To Become Syndicated, and Jantze has provided us with some heartfelt, direct, and practical advice about being a cartoonist.

I'm lucky enough to have the Norm in the Atlanta paper here and read it every single day. It's absolutely one of my favorite newspaper comics ever. How on earth did you get The Norm into my newspaper and others? How do we get The Norm into more newspapers? - mequinn

Related Question: In how many papers does The Normappear? Is it enough for you to make a living at The Norm? How hard did/does your syndicate work to get The Norm into papers? How much work do you do to promoteThe Norm to newspaper editors (or whoever decides to put it into papers?)
Submitting a comic strip to syndication is fairly easy, even a cartoonist can do it. In fact, I think it answers the age-old question, "Are cartoonists dumb or are dumb people cartoonists?" In case you're dumb, it's the latter one. And in case you're a cartoonist "latter" means the last one.

To get THE NORM into any paper or more papers works best when people actually write their papers and recommend strips to drop and add. And yes, the more papers I'm in, the more money I make. So it works for me.

THE NORM is less than 100 papers, so start writing letters!

I'd like to ask you how you know about some webcomics- you featured some like PVP that branched into print a while back. Are you optimistic about the future of syndicated webcomics? Is there going to be a revolution in how they're distributed and who owns what rights? – mequinn

I try to keep up on the world around me, that includes comics. There's a lot of good strips that aren't syndicated. That's why I've included THE NORM EXTRA feature in the back of THE NORM MAGAZINE, to showcase some new artists and their work to the folks who read my work.

I'm not sure what you mean by syndicated webcomics. Syndication is where you give up half your income for the pleasure of dealing with editors and a sales force who supposedly know more about the market they're selling to than you do. That's it. Syndicating webcomics on the web seems like a bad deal for the creator since he'd giving up his freedom to do what he wants with his work.

In your opinion, who are the 3 best strippers of all time. Who are the 3 best now? – WizToast
Schulz, Watterson, Crosby, King, Sterrett, Herriman ... crackers, that's more than three. And to list the three best now would be ludicrous next the list I just made. Comic strips as an art form are kind of in a slump, if you haven't noticed.

Do topical comic strips (i.e. Doonesbury, Boondocks) have a real effect on the way people think? – WizToast
Not to be pedantic, but what do you think? I think all comics are topical, not just the obvious ones. If a comic strip creator is doing his/her job, they're getting you to think about something every day. They're not just reflecting life, but adding some cartoon glasses and a mustache to it. As for the obvious ones, I think they make it harder on
themselves by defining themselves as only that kind of strip. I like the idea that a strip is big enough to do a lot of things. And since I believe that, that's what I do with THE NORM.

How do you come up with ideas? Do you have any other stories or ideas you wish to tell besides Norm?
I work in a visual journal, writing down ideas or skeletons of gags. I let them sit for a while, maybe a week, maybe more. Then the real work begins. If they're funny, I pencil them. If they're not, I might try to rework it, but most of the time I find that to be a waste of time. The funniest gags are the ones that develop quickly, so I'm beholden to those.

What kind of feedback do you get about some of your less obvious comics? Some of them are so slice-of-life with no clear punchline. –mequinn
Ouch. I think all my comics are obvious, otherwise I wouldn't publish them. I'll have to work on that.

When I first encountered this strip, it was as a boxed print-on-demand reprint collection, offered through my local comics shop. Now the deadtree version is being offered as The Norm Magazine. How did you decide it was a good idea to make this change? Was it format? Price? Did someone in the audience request Norm's running commentary/footnotes and that was the easiest way to accommodate them? - th'_mole
The box set was fun to do. We're currently phasing them out. Once we're out of boxes, that will be the end of the box sets (makes sense doesn't it?). They sell well on the web, but were a lousy shelf item. People didn't know what to make of them. So we redesigned the collection for comic shops and libraries as a perfect-bound comic-book-sized
collection. Diamond Comic distributors helped us as well. Adding the journals was something I wanted to do because it gives the buyer something more than just a comic collection.

I'm also curious to know how the other Norm-related items are doing (original art, t-shirts, subscriptions, etc). Has anyone ever actually bought the contents of your trashcan or the pencil stubs? - th'_mole
People will buy anything.

Do you get any respect/disrespect from the comic book (as opposed to comic strip) people?
I find that comic book readers love all kinds of comics.

How important is your website to how you think about your comic? Would it be the same without the extras or the calendars and continuations?
The web site was designed along with the comic from day one. It just made sense with this property to have a web site. Norm would have one, so the strip has one. As for all the extras, it's been eight years, you can get a lot done in eight years.

Finally, something NOT related to merchandising: when I last visited your website, there was a feature where the viewer could have a new window come up, which automatically refreshed with random strips from your archives at regular intervals – at a guess, what was your bandwidth usage through that feature? Would you say it is better than the traditional method of showing archived strips with "previous" and "next" buttons? th'_mole
I don't worry about bandwidth. And I don't think it's better or worse, it's just different. I do know that THE NORM.COM was the first web site to do automatic random loading and that I'm proud of.