Watching the World Go By

Have you ever stopped at a Rest Stop and saw a man that was clearly not traveling anywhere? I seem to run into one all the time. He’s not a motorist or hitch-hiker or trucker or attendant. He’s just some guy who just found himself there and stuck around for the plumbing and soft pretzels.

Kinda like Web cartoonists.

It started for me when I had been turned down by the syndicates. Again. So I posted my nine weeks of samples on a shoddily-constructed Web site, hoping to get some feedback. After nine weeks, I decided to update it daily – just for kicks.

Three years later, I’m still cranking out six a week, and, much like the Rest Stop Resident, I seem to have lost sight of my original destination.

When I first started out, I wanted desperately to gain the acceptance of a newspaper syndicate. This Web stuff was a way to prove myself to them. Now, I’m not so sure I’d sign a contract in the Unlikely Event one was offered.

After all, why am I trying so hard to meet the syndicate’s standards? The statistics are all there, but nobody seems to add them up. More than 5,000 submissions are offered to the major syndicates each year. Only about 20 are chosen (that’s approximately 4% of the qualified submissions and 0.4% of the total amount). Of the chosen few, only 5 or so survive past five years.

Why am I busting my hump to be the one chosen by an organization with a proven track record of choosing losers?

But, let’s say I was chosen and I survived. What’s my reward? I get a pay scale that hasn’t increased significantly since sometime in the ’70s — and involvement in a newspaper industry that is losing advertisers and readers at a rate that would make a hemophiliac blush.

It’s a feeble blush…pale pink at best… but you get my point.

It’s a vicious cycle. The newspaper editors become more and more cautious about choosing new comics for the comics section. The syndicates read this caution as a call for the most watered-down, “safest” product available. Each year, the syndicates’ offerings become tamer and more timid. Each year, the newspapers’ comics get staler and less interesting. Circulation drops further. Ad dollars dry up. Newspaper editors become even more cautious.

The result? Paralysis. Most of the comics in your city’s newspaper are thirty-to-forty years old. No new views. No fresh perspectives. Same old recycled material. Garfield still hates Mondays and Marmaduke is still a big, stupid dog. Such content has little chance of interesting anyone from the cherished 18-to-34 demographic that newspapers need so very badly.

So the syndicates (who tend to pick losers) don’t think my strip is right for the newspaper industry (which seems to have forgotten how to attract readers). And I’m supposed to be upset with this?

Some exile. The Internet. Scads of people signing on for the first time every day… communities being born…empires being formed…

True, the business model isn’t perfect. Commerce has been slow for some of us. But the numbers are there. It’s just a matter of time, folks. You can’t not believe that.

And newspapers are still a great source of income. I put a great deal of time and effort into signing new papers — metro and college. I don’t charge much at all… as long as they agree to print my URL legibly under the strip. After all, I know where my priorities lie.

At the Rest Stop.

The whole world seems to whiz by wondering why we’re not moving with them. Little do they know…


  1. Everything you’ve written here, about the lifless boneyard of the mainstream daily comics page, and about doing business with the major syndicates, is dead on. Fortunately, when I started my comic I had the advantage of already knowing the score. Self-syndication to alt weeklies is the route I have chosen, very similar to your own, and I have had some success with it in a relatively short time.

    I wonder if you’d maybe like to compare strategies for getting into print venues and do a followup article? It could be a here’s-what-does-work to follow this here’s-what-doesn’t-work article. Email me if interested. pclips@

    Rob Balder

  2. I disagree. My focus really is *not* that all webcartoonists want to be syndicated in newspapers. It’s hard for me to see how you came to that conclusion.

    Go back and read the first part of the first sentence in the third paragraph: “It started for *me* when…”

    Then read the first sentence in the fifth paragraph: “When *I* first started out, *I* wanted desperately to gain the acceptance of a newspaper syndicate.”

    Paragraph six: “After all, why am *I* trying so hard to meet the syndicate’s standards?”

    Heck, the entire piece is peppered with “I” and “me.”

    I can’t see any generalization in there at all until the very end where I us my experience to show how others might appraoch newspaper syndication — not as a goal, but as a means to obtain another goal.


  3. LOL …Y’see…again…since it’s a story about ME I don’t *have* to talk about all the other reasons to get into webcartooning. 🙂

    I fail to see how a story written in the first-person that relates stories from that person’s life can lead a reader to make the mistaken impression that it’s a generalization to all webcartoonists.

    Nonetheless, I’m very sorry to have confused you.

    In clarification, the above story is my own personal account of how I got into webcartooning. The purpose of the story is to share what I’ve learned in terms of syndication and to offer it to others — regardless of how *they* came into webcartooning — in the hopes that it might be useful to them.


  4. Nice article, but there are a few things that could use some fleshing out. For example, the focus seems to be that all webcomic creators want to get their material syndicated. We know this isn’t always the case, considering plenty of people on the web start off just wanting to have a little fun with their friends. Then you’ve got other groups as well. Myself, I’m a cartoon guy. I grew up loving animation and wanting to get into that field. To center myself, I started drawing my comic to keep something cartoony about my college life. (Which consisted of standard pre-req stuff and life-drawing. Hardly comical by any means, but I digress.) Our school newspaper’s comic was rather unpopular so I figured I could use that as an outlet and excuse to keep drawing. Rejected sight-unseen, I took my strip to the internet when I got a keenspace account. It all went from there.
    Today, yeah, I still wanna draw my cartoons. I’m going to use them in other projects, but a daily webcomic at least keeps my drawing regular. I don’t really want to get syndicated because I don’t like having other people represent me. Plus a lot of these older strips really don’t know when to bow out. I want to be in charge of my work.
    Bill Watterson made some interesting points in his 10th anniversary book on this. Newspapers think of strips as a commodity. There are enough out there that are old and famous, why take the chance picking anything else up? And the space limits are terrible. The old funnies used to be huge and people bought papers all the time just for them. Now editors think they’re just for kids and they try to cram as cheap a crapload as they can into one page.
    And strips can last generations, not just because of the editors, but because of the readers. In an ever-changing world, it’s comforting somewhat to see your favorite strip where the characters often even wear the same outfit every day. Why do you think pop music stays the same? It’s what the majority demands. When you draw a mediocre comic, it’ll meet what that general audience is looking for. Not enough people are looking for Litte Nemo or Krazy Kat anymore.
    When I publish my strips, it’ll be either in graphic novel or comic book form, but not regular newspaper syndication, I can at least say that much.

  5. Well, your article gives that impression by leaving out any other reason for starting a webcomic. It’s certainly geared towards artists who want to get syndicated in the first place, but a large majority of the webcartoonists out there are just doing this for fun and don’t plan on taking it any farther than a couple of strips on keenspace.

    You generalize your audience when you say, “Kinda like webcartoonists.” You’re not saying, “Kinda like myself as a webcartoonist.” You’re saying, “Kinda like us webcartoonists.” I wasn’t trying to say your article should only be read by people seeking syndication, but that people who just draw their comic for kicks instad of dreams of being publish aren’t going to be able to relate.

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