The Future of Newspapers and Comics

This year's Reuben weekend offered a panel discussion titled "The Future of Newspapers and Comics". While I was interested in the various presentations offered in LA, this was the discussion I was most looking forward to. I would also venture to guess it was probably the most well attended. It seems that whenever cartoonists get together, whether in person or on message boards on the web, the topic of the future of cartooning is bound to come up. It often degrades into arguments over various business models and speculation as to the future value of being syndicated as a cartoonist, but there are almost always good points to be made. As the rise of the internet forces newspapers to evaluate their place in the popular culture, and, some would say, their entire relevance to society, cartoonists are forced to evaluate their relationship with newspapers.

The panel consisted of: Brendan Burford - King Features, Ira Yoffe - Parade Magazine, Lisa Klem Wilson - United Media, Daryl Cagle - Cagle Cartoons, Rick Newcombe - Creator's Syndicate, and Dave Blazek - "Loose Parts" and was moderated by Jerry Van Amerongen - "Ballard Street".

There were a lot of interesting points made about the newspaper business in general. According to figures cited by Ira Yoffe and Dave Blazek, newspaper readership is significantly up. Many on the panel agreed that papers have taken their biggest hits in loss of ad revenue and being "overleveraged" -  I love that term - it seems to apply to everyone these days - but that the readers are still there and that interest in the comics has never been higher. So the basic question revolves around monetizing the interest readers still have in news and entertainment.

Much of the weekend, if you made your way through the social gatherings,  you could hear debates about micro-payment systems on the internet, a bill making its way through congress that will force companies to charge for internet content,  current web cartooning business models, the viability of advertising revenue as a support system for online papers, the value (or not) of being syndicated, and all those points were brought up and debated publicly by this panel. There did not seem to be a consensus point of view on ad revenue - some panel members feel it is still viable, others do not. Nor was there much agreement on exactly how micropayment systems and the congressional bill will enter into the picture. But all the panelists seemed to agree that tying the future of cartooning exclusively to newspapers is a thing of the past. I think Brendan Burford probably said it best when he said that syndicates are committed to working with newspapers as they transform themselves, but are also interested in staying as agile as possible to link into all the new digital opportunities for comics. While none of the syndicate reps stated explicitly what their plans for digital media are, they all seemed to be committed to pursuing digital outlets for their comics. It is not surprising that there were so few specifics, as these companies are all trying to position themselves strategically.

While we did not leave the room with much in the way of a specific plan (frankly, I would have been very surprised if there had been a specific plan), I did come away with a brighter view of the future of cartooning. "How is that possible?" you ask in disbelief. Well, most of my hobby reading is history so I have done a lot of reading on the histories of radio, television, movies etc. Within the last 100 years there have been some big shifts in entertainment media. Vaudeville to radio and movies, silent films to "talkies", and radio and movies to television, to name a few. Each time there were entertainers who transitioned to the new media - often to even greater success than they had enjoyed in their previous arena - and those who did not. Jack Benny and Groucho Marx are perfect examples of  entertainers that had success in vaudeville, radio, films and TV. They not only were funny enough to remain popular in any medium, they saw the value in embracing each new technology rather than avoiding it. 

One of the earliest tools newspapers used to boost circulation was comics and comic strips. There are many excellent books on the history of comics - "The Comics" by Jerry Robinson, "The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics" by Blackbeard and Williams, and "The Comics" by Brian Walker to name a few - and in them is detailed the relationship of comics to newspapers. It seems as though, in recent years, papers have forgotten how important comics still are to circulation - most online versions of newspapers do not even offer comics. Perhaps this comes from the belief that people who want to read comics will simply go to the online comics sites and read them there, so there is no point in including comics in an online paper. While I follow that line of thought, and agree with it to a point, it does not take into account folks who like the wide variety of information and entertainment that a quality newspaper can offer. Those people, while they may read the comics first and rate them their favorite part of the paper, still get a newspaper so that they can read all the other things that are in it as well. It seems silly to offer an incomplete version of one's newspaper online. 

This brings me to why I left the presentation feeling hopeful. Both King and Creator's are offering comics packages to online newspapers and those packages are having an effect. (I am not necessarily jazzed about Creator's business model as opposed to King's but that's another discussion) For newspapers to work with syndicates and carry comics in a digital future, those papers have to believe the relationship is still valuable. Something that has seemed lacking in the last 10-20 years. I also left hopeful because, although the syndicates did not elaborate on their non-paper related plans, at least they stated that they have some in the works. I feel it is imperative that comics embrace the new technologies in the same way entertainers embraced radio, films and TV once upon a time as vaudeville died. I also feel that, although the current model of free content is working for some webcartoonists, other business models are not only available but necessary. I don't remember Jack Benny ever working for free.

Reubens Weekend - other peoples pics

Tom Richmond, Paul Gilligan, and Norm Feuti have also posted Reubens photos here, here, and here 1, 2, 3.

Reubens Weekend - Final Pics

What a great time we had! Here are the final pics from the weekend. Most of these were taken at Friday night's cocktail party. It was an awesome weekend where we got to meet many interesting new people, some friends we already knew, and friends we knew through email but had never met in person. Some of those were Bizarro's Dan Piraro, Mad's Tom Richmond (and the lovely Anna), Pooch Cafe's Paul Gilligan, Pros and Cons' Kieran Meehan, and Retail's Norm Feuti. We got to spend a lot of time with Norm, who is just as funny in person as he is when he writes his strip. (Actually, all of these folks are just as funny in person -I can't remember a weekend where I spent so much time laughing.) Norm and John swapped original strips and I wanted to put up a picture of it but that will have to wait until next week as it is already at the framer's. There were an awful lot of people I forgot to take photos of though so I guess I'll have to make up for that next year. Oh yeah, we're goin' back!

Rina Piccolo (Six Chix, Tina's Groove, Parade Magazine) and Dan Piraro (Bizarro)

John Read (Stay Tooned magazine) and Norm Feuti (Retail)

John, Jeff Corriveau (Deflocked) and Rina Piccolo

John and Paul Gilligan (Pooch Cafe) and Mark Tatulli (Lio) in the background

John and Norm

Me, Jeff  and Rina

John decked out in his snazzy tuxedo before the big awards night.

Reubens Weekend - The Nightclub

Sunday night capped off by a visit to the nightclub "Level 3". The band featured editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez on vocals. There was also karaoke which I unfortunately only got to hear a little bit of. What with the time difference and the early flight the next day, John and I were beat. I did get to hear both Vic Lee (Pardon My Planet) and Mark Tatulli (Lio).                                          

Here's this year's winner for Best Gag Cartoon Mort Gerberg mixing it up.

Vic Lee (Nominated for best panel cartoon for Pardon My Planet) and his lovely wife Lisa.

Rina Piccolo cuts loose on the platform.

These bouncers tried to get her down but no dice :-)

Reubens Weekend - The Hotel

RMost of the Reubens Weekend took place this year at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel. This hotel is very new and is part of the Hollywood Highland Plaza adjacent to the Kodak Theater where they have the Oscars. It was very nice - here are a few pics.

These are of the Highland Plaza - it is not part of the hotel but is connected to it by walkways and bridges. It is modeled after a DW Griffith's movie set.

The room.

The famous Hollywood sign - complete with the famous Hollywood haze.

The hotel was full of great art.

The pool where I fried myself. If you look closely, Pearls Before Swine Creator Stephan Pastis is in there. Out of respect for his privacy I won't tell you which one he is. I will give you a hint - he definitely works out.

Of Stars and Footprints - more Reuben weekend photos

Well, we didn't leave the hotel much, but when we did we dutifully strolled up and down Hollywood Blvd. and the walk of fame. Sad to say, the walk has seen better days - it was a shame how much of it really needs to be repaired. Still, it was fun and we saw a lot of interesting star names.

Looking toward the Kodak Theater (where they hold the Oscars)
A better view of the Kodak and surrounding streetscape.

The entry where they have the red carpet.

The famous "stars"

One of my favs. :-)

Think about it.

John in front of Grauman's Chinese.

John Wayne's footprints will always be an "I Love Lucy" episode for me.

I had to take this one at a weird angle because there were simply too many people crowding around it. Probably something to do with a little movie they released lately.

You have to check your feet next to the stars.

Another of my personal favorites.

An oldie but a goodie.

I'm so lucky to have a dad that recorded a ton of Jack Benny radio shows for me to listen to while growing up. What great comedic timing.

Gotta love the pistol and the horseshoes.

For the "Citizen Kane" fans - Marion Davies was what all the fuss was about. As part of the Hearst Entertainment family, I take a greater interest in all things Hearst than I used to.


More Reubens pics - Cathy Guisewite's House

It was such a busy weekend, I'll be posting in stages. Here are some pics from Sunday afternoon when cartoonist Cathy Guisewite very generously opened up her home to the entire NCS. I did get to speak to her briefly and was able to finally thank her for her advice to John many years ago when he was breaking into the business, but it was a busy day and she was in high demand so I did not impose on her for a photo. Her home was lovely, the food was delicious (the salad alone was one of the best I've ever tasted), the music provided by a very talented guitarist was beautiful, and the company was terrific!


Cathy's parents Anne and Bill greeted everyone as they arrived. (No Cathy's mother does not customarily sport a mustache!)

A view of the house from the terrace.

The tennis court was nicely set up for eating and chatting and the umbrellas were a much appreciated touch - my Wisconsin winter skin was starting to get a little crispy by the end of a weekend in the California sun.

Surrounding the tennis court were these figures - each had the head of a cartoonist and his/her character. The stairs lead to the pool and a small guesthouse.

The pool. No one swam but, more surprisingly, no one got thrown in either. I must confess I rather thought Mike Peters might dive in but he didn't :-)

Cathy's home is filled with incredible art. 

Jan Elliot of Stone Soup

John with Hilary Price of Rhymes with Orange

There were two items for the cartoonists to sign - this piano and the pot below. Mell Lazarus of Miss Peach has a famous grand piano that has too many cartoonist's signatures to count. Cathy is trying to catch up.

Bill and Jeff Keene of Family Circus signing the pot.

Here are their faces but the shadows are pretty dark.

John signs the pot.

Edison nicely nestled between Pooch Cafe's Poncho and Mutts' Earl.

And I'll give Stephan Pastis the last word.