New Subnormality Posted / Mega Rant

January 12, 2008

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Early update for this week’s comic, which you can read in the usual place. Remember to tip your server!

This week’s strip is a good example of something that’s the exact opposite of the “comics” you’re going to see in newspapers. Let me explain. If you’re going to submit comics to the newspaper syndicates who control which comics are available to the major newspapers in North America, you’re going to have to make them in a certain way. The syndicates will tell you to make comics with simple, “uncluttered” art, with an absolute minumum of dialogue, thus allowing for large empty spaces in the panels because the eye is drawn to areas of blank space. This is what they want–empty spaces. People, they will tell you, don’t have the patience  to read a bunch of dialogue, nor the energy to filter a series of detailed images. People want to read the thing in 3 seconds and then move on, so it has to be “snappy” and simple and otherwise “inviting.” Besides, newspaper comics are printed so small that there’s not much room for detailed art or extraneous dialogue. It has to be go, go, go, and on to the next comic, week after week, month after month, until your strip becomes unprofitable. Oh, and let’s not forget about the content restrictions you must obey–restrictions that are based on what you could or could not say on TV in about 1951.

Now then. Personally, I don’t believe a word of what the syndicates say about people’s tastes. People aren’t so lazy as to refuse to read a comic with more than a rudimentary level of dialogue, and they sure as hell prefer good art as opposed to “uncluttered” art (ie: shit. Here’s a good example–a comic “written” and “drawn” by a man who I assume is illiterate and holds the pencil in his off-hand. Simply embarrassing.). I think I have a lot more faith in readers than the half-retarded money apes who run the syndicates and dare to call themselves “comics editors.” What it boils down to is cowardice. The complete absence of initiative or forward-thinkingness or any love at all for the medium that they claim to represent. Any syndicate editor who says he loves comics is like a factory farm owner saying he loves pigs. The pigs that are inhumanly kept in tiny boxes, week in, week out, to maximise the number of pigs that can be crammed into a warehouse. See what I did there?

So are they right? Do people want a minimum of challenge and effort when it comes to comic strips? I sincerely doubt it. I think they want quality, and you’re not gonna find it in newspapers. But you tell me! Am I right?

Cheers,

–Winston Rowntree, comics lover

PS: I could go on all day about this stuff, I really could. Fight the power! Support your local webcartoonist!

4 Responses to “New Subnormality Posted / Mega Rant”

  1. Kurt Says:

    I absolutely agree. Look at Prince Valiant, just about the best comic in syndication for about 74 years! Totally not what the syndicates say they want. Or Pogo, the best of the best, or Doonesbury. How about Gasoline Alley, one of the first truly experimental strips? R. Crumb is still published regularly…in The New Yorker! Bite it, newspapers. Quality over quantity is the only way to live forever.

  2. Kurt Says:

    Oh, and I must add relative newcomer The Boondocks, as well as Get Fuzzy, 9 Chickweed Lane, and Pibgorn. All the very best of the syndicated strips. If only Girl Genius would fit, it should be in print every day.

  3. Nat Says:

    Ok, overboard is TERRIBLE, as are a lot of the syndicated strips. But that doesn’t mean the newspaper-comix medium prevents the creation of good comics, it’s just that the newspaper comic editors apparently have terrible taste. Comparing the 3-panel syndicate format to the freedom that online comics artists have is like comparing the haiku format to poetry as a whole. Newspaper strips are limiting, and it’s easy to churn out 3-panel crap (just as it’s easy to churn out worthless haikus), but there can still be good strips. The form itself doesn’t cause the crap. Calvin & Hobbes, Doonesbury, Rose is Rose, Little Dee – there is plenty of good to be found in the daily-3-panel medium. The question is why the syndicates are so bad at picking the good stuff and so wedded to the crappy stuff like Beetle Bailey and Garfield.

  4. Winston Rowntree Says:

    It’s more like (a) They’re bad at picking the good stuff, and (b) There’s no good stuff to pick from in the first place. Because (c) People with talent simply aren’t attracted to newspaper comics as a medium. Talented artists become illustrators or animators or, like, capital-a Artists, and talented writers become novelists or journalists or scriptwriters (i know i said “talented,” but bear with me here) or copywriters or anything besides comic strip writers. It’s just not an attractive medium to people with the options that talent provides, because of the restrictions I’ve already mentioned (restrictions that are far more limiting than haiku structure–in terms of “adult” language, for instance). Yeah, there’s been two or three good ones, but imagine the following scenario: remove from history the three or four best strips–let’s say Calvin & Hobbes, the Far Side, and two of your favorites–and would what’s remaining give any indication at all that there’s even potential for the medium?? The few good strips that have existed just feel like anomalies, like exceptions to the rule, as opposed to evidence of the unique power of 1-4 panel comics. It’s a wasteland, if you ask me. But you’re absolutely right–the form itself is not the problem. It’s the lack of role models, and the content restrictions placed on a form that is already restricted.


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