Webcomics VS Newspaper Syndication: Round Three

The storming of the traditional syndication comicstrip kingdom by the webcomic Visigoths storyline that kicked off with Scott “PvP” Kurtz’s announcement at San Diego and continued with Keenspot starting up “KeenSyndicate” enters a new, well snarkier, phase.

Kicking off things is Tuesday’s installment of Wiley’s Non Sequitur, a strip widely enough available that most Americans have probably heard of even if it’s not in their newspaper. Although it is a straightforward gag, anyone who has read Wiley’s comments regarding Kurtz’s efforts to place PvP in newspapers can’t help but assume that Wiley also meant today’s strip as a dig at Kurtz and webcomics generally. Kurtz himself comments on it today as does Eric Burns.

This is also a good excuse to link to Tom Spurgeon’s essay on these issues, posted just this Sunday. Update: I forgot to include this other Websnark entry on this issue which is also quite a good read.

Xaviar Xerexes

Wandering webcomic ronin. Created Comixpedia (2002-2005) and ComixTalk (2006-2012; 2016-?). Made a lot of unfinished comics and novels.


  1. But it’s the same in all arts industries. Things change and some people resent the change, some people fight it, and some people adapt to it. There’s no real point in taking it personally.

    I make my living as a musician/audio engineer. I have seen technology completely turn my industry on it’s head. I’ve known many of my peers to piss and moan about the internet and technology that let’s Joe-average produce his own CD and distribute it. They would have preferred that the technology to produce music remain expensive and only in the hands of the “professionals”. I don’t agree with them. I love anything that encourages creativity and allows people to make their creative efforts (no matter how awful they may be) accessable. Some of my peers, particularily in the audio engineering end of the business, see this rise in amature producion as taking food out of their mouths. There is no denying that is has impacted the industry. You have to work much harder for less money now than you did back in the 80s. Sucks, perhaps, but that’s life. Sometimes things suck. Most of the really talented people I know in the business are really into it because they simply love to create music. In fact you wouldn’t be far off to say they need to create music.

    If they have to work harder and seek creative new means of generating income within the business, well so be it.

    I know the record industry hates this all with a freaking passion. And it’s not the “piracy” bugaboo of the internet that the Big Four (formerly known as The Big Five until the Sony-BMI merger) that gets under their skins. It’s the fact that they are losing control of the artists and becoming largely uneccessary that pisses them off. These are the guys who feed off the talent of the artists. These are the guys who exploit and control the artists. These are the guys who until very recently had a monopoly over not only who could make it in the music industry but who the general public would be allowed to listen to.

    In the comic industry the Big Four would be akin to the Syndicates.

    There will always be ways for talented people to make money. But for the people who make their money by exploiting the talented people things might not always be so. That’s why they work so hard to convince the talent that freedom is slavery. The sad thing is some of the talent believes that.

  2. I’m not opposed to progress. What I am opposed to is plowing blindly ahead without considering who your actions are going to affect, and whom they might harm. I DO believe webcomics are the future, but Kurtz is using the newspapers comic page as promotional tool, and basically acting like an industry scab, and one that works for comp. Competetion is one thing, but he’s just giving it away, and that hurts the industry more than it helps it.

    Newspaper comics may be dying, but does that mean we should jam some metaphorical cyanide down their throats so they die faster? I say nay, but I may be the minority on this one.

    Saga of the Ram

  3. But should Kurtz be forced to cripple his business just because some people want to maintain the status quo and Kurtz success would threaten that.

    Industry are born, idustries die, industries evolve. It’s all part of the nature of a free market. Nobody can predict with any certainty, least of all Kurtz himself, what the outcome of his business plan will be.

    It’s like when striking french texile workers tossed their clogs into the automated looms they felt were going to spell the end of human employment in the textile industry. But the automated loom revitalized the industry, it didn’t destroy it. It created more jobs, more opportunities.

    Kurtz’s plan might result in the same thing. I say let him try and let him fail or succeed on his merits. I don’t see him blindly plowing ahead. If he succeeds his model can be emulated by others. If he fails it can be studied to see where it went wrong and improved upon or abandoned.

    There are a few mid level artists that might be affected by Kurtz plan. The top dogs tend to be more business savy and make their bucks of merchandising and lisencing. The bottom tier of syndicated artists arn’t able to make a living in syndication anyways. They’ve still got their dayjobs, drawing greeting cards and doing illustration work and what have you. For them not much is going to change. For the most part a huge chunk of the syndication talent pool are what could be called “art monkeys”. Hired guns who draw other people’s comics. Disposable, easily replaced. They probably won’t be affected too much by this. It’s the middle guys who are making enough from the newspaper syndication to quit their dayjobs, but not enough from the marketing to live off that alone that’ll be affected, but that’s the way it is.

    Some of them will be able to follow Kurtz lead and they’ll succeed. Some of them will discover another business model that works better for them and they’ll succeed. Some of them won’t have a clue what to do and they’ll have to go back to drawing greeting cards and advertising illustrations or maybe even flipping burgers if it turns out they don’t really have much in the way of art skills to begin with. Oh well, such is life.

    I just don’t see much point in getting bitter and angry about what Scott is doing. No more than I saw any point in it when my peers got angry because CD-Burners became standard on home computers and soundcards started to become professional quality samplers and synthesizers.

  4. Well, we’re just going to have to agree to disagree then. That, and I’m out of material. 😛

    Saga of the Ram

  5. You’re supposed to say “yes it was” and then I’m supposed to say “no it wasn’t” and then you’re supposed to say “yes it was” and then I’m supposed to say “no it wasn’t” and then you’re….

    /Monty Python.

  6. Personally, I don’t think anyone who doesn’t bow to the syndicates’ ridiculous demands deserves to make it into the newspapers. I mean, come on– what right does Kurtz think he has to be published in the newspapers without giving away all the rights to his comic first? Owning all your comic’s rights AND being in the papers? That’s positively evil. Scott Kurtz should be stabbed in the mouth and neck for his betrayal of the flawless syndicate system. Someone should tell that goddamn rabblerouser to get in line with the rest of the sheep.

  7. Dude, no one said Kurtz should sell out the rights to his comic to be in the papers. My arguement was that the MEANS he is using to get in newspapers is only going to harm people producing newspaper comics for a living. Kurtz is giving it away as a means of publicity, whereas the majority of newspaper cartoonists simply can’t afford to. If you can’t sympathize with the working class cartoonists, then there isn’t anything left to talk about here. Not everyone can afford to retain the rights to their characters AND make a living like Kurtz has.

  8. It’s fine to joke, Ghastly, but as you just typed, Newspaper cartoonists do what they do for a living. The majority of them don’t benefit from merchandising and very much working class people. From their perspective, I can understand their feeling mallice toward Kurtz. He makes enough money off the web and with Image that he CAN afford to offer his strip for free, but they cannot afford to do the same. PVP takes a slot away from cartoonists who work within syndicates to make aliving, not a name for themselves. The Newspapers aren’t going to bump Dagwood and Blondie or Garfield for PVP, they’re going to dump one of the newer, less reknowned syndicated strips who really do need that slot.

    Am I siding with the newspaper cartoonists on this one? Yes, I am. If Kurtz doesn’t realize offering his strip to newspapers for free will hurt the livelihood of other cartoonists, he’s a dumbass. If he does and simply doesn’t care, he’s a dick.

    Saga of the Ram

  9. Ever played the sequitar? It’s got a twangy sound and you can rock out to it! 🙂

  10. I tried to bring one back the last time I went to India but appearently I didn’t have the right customs permit for it.

  11. I find it amusing to no end that syndicated cartoonists are pissing and moaning about Scott Kurtz attempting to take the food out of their baby’s mouths yet none of them have even wised up to the fact that the newspapers themselves have already been told by their doctors that now would be a good time to put their house in order.

    Like it or not the Boomers are only getting older and deader. Eventually there won’t be enough of them left to support news on paper. Might be a good idea, guys, to at least familiarize yourself with where the lifeboats are now while things are more or less smooth sailing.

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