Sunday Mailbag: Future of Cartooning?

January 18th, 2015 | Posted in Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: My question is regarding your thoughts on the future of comics and illustration in general. Newspaper printing seems to be headed towards a very different form in the coming years (or possibly by the wayside completely) and I was curious to hear (read) your thoughts or predictions about where the future of the cartooning industry lies.

A: That’s a big question, but pretty easy to answer in general terms. One: publishing and media consumption in general is going to move almost exclusively to the internet over the next decade or so. Two: cartooning and comics will move with it.

I don’t have any idea what kind of business model(s) will end up being viable in the digital age of media. I think what we will see is a lot of self-published creators combined with a few media giants who will figure out how to present the work of creators on the internet and still have consumers pay for that content… probably through a combination of advertising, subscriptions or ancillary purchases (upselling?). Comic book companies like DC, Marvel and others will continue doing what they do, syndicates like King Features and Universal UClick will transition comic strips into a web-based service of some kind, and magazines/publications will change into internet publications. Advertising will drive most of it, I think. People don’t seem to realize that right now there are still billions of dollars spend on print advertising every year in magazines, newspapers and comic books. When the print business goes away, those companies will still want to spend those billions on advertising for their products… they aren’t going to suddenly say “Well, I guess we don’t need to advertise anymore.” They will want to spend that money where they reach the most potential customers… and that will be on the internet on websites where the content gets tons of traffic. That revenue will be used by to pay to get the best content up on their internet publications to drive traffic… and that means paying the best creators to create it. Cartoonists, comic artists and illustrators will be hired to do it. That said, the boon the internet gave self-publishing will not go away. The ease of disseminating your work and setting up ways to generate revenue from it combined with the incredibly vast number of people using the internet will continue to make self-published comics on the web viable.

I’ve made this point before: none of this is really new. There has always been independent comics creators out there publishing their own work, and there have always been big publishers producing the mainstream stuff. The difference in the last 15 years has been the internet and its ability to allow creators to instantly publish work and make it available to about 2 billion potential readers for next to nothing in costs. Prior to the internet, self-publishing was regulated to ash-can comics being peddled at comic-cons and maybe local comics shops. The costs of quality printing and real distribution was impossible for most independent creators. That is no longer the case. The interesting dynamic here is that self-published creators have about a decade head start on the media giants when it comes to web-based comics. As a result many of the talents that, in a tradition publishing world, probably would be producing work for Marvel or King Features or Conde Nast right now already have established careers self-publishing, and are now the model for up-and-coming talents that eschew the print media world entirely. I think once the big media guns start paying for web-based content in earnest you will see that swing back the other way. Money talks and not many cartoonists also have the business/tech savvy to run their own company and do the creative.

The bottom line here is that the publishing world will sort itself out into the digital landscape, and cartooning and illustration will follow along. The world is not going to suddenly stop wanting to read comics and look at humorous illustrations. There will still be a demand for that kind of work, and computers can create it with software… artists still have to do the creating. It’s an interesting but exciting world coming down the road, it’s exciting to be a part of it.

Thanks to Zack Morris for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


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New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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