Sunday, October 17, 2010

Home-Grown Humor

No, not a post about marijuana decriminalization. 
Just a little side-rant on a recent topic thread that sprawled out over onto the Daily Cartoonist via an initial post from Daryl Cagle offering his experience to aspiring editorial cartoonists. Much of the article contains sound and sage advice, at least from his particular perspective. But one particular item that stood out to me personally was this one:

It may be tempting to draw cartoons for the local paper, but there will be no syndication and no reprint sales of local cartoons. The Internet has made our cartoons available to clients all around the world – the world is the new market and the big audience. Local cartoons are a path to obscurity – and to the poor house.

Now, recommending that a cartoonist ignore what’s important to their local community, and important to themselves, is actually funnier than most of the cartoons I’ve read lately. Might as well tell people to stay home and not bother voting in local elections either.

As an editorial cartoonist who draws 95% of the time on local issues and politics I take issue with the disparaging advice on not to draw on local cartoons for local papers - in fact, that’s a huge part of why many newspapers are losing relevance in their respective communities. I can rebut with my direct experience that all of my editors want content their readers in the community can relate to and connect with. A couple years ago my main hometown paper actually cut a subscription with one of the syndicates in order to afford my paltry fee: case-in-point that local content can be better and more meaningful than what’s already out there (and largely available for free) - which was the economical part of the argument that ultimately won them over. Having politicians that write their own material helps too.

And yeah, sure, so I’m obscure, but so what? Might not be rich, or reaching millions of readers, and definitely not half as good as the cartoonists in any syndicate stable, but lots more people know my name and my work around this neck of the woods than any of theirs. Much of my work address issues that no-one from outside this area would ever even have a care nor clue about, which is paradoxically part of its intrinsic value. And the value of drawing comics for the sheer love of it and other, less taxable reasons, can be as equally important a motivation as trying to earn a living. I can't tell you how many times I've felt immeasurable satisfaction at the response that some of my work elicits from random people I run across when in town. Whether it's solace to a victim's family, a touchstone rallying point for the opposition or having a senator call the publisher to complain about their portrayal: knowing that you're maybe making a tiny bit of a difference, having a say, getting some laughs, and being a vested and visual part of the community is invaluable, and a powerful, humbling experience. Not to mention that afterwards, cashing that check and paying the bills is hand-in-glove pure ink-in-pen.

Additionally, what’s ironic about some of Cagle’s concerns is that probably cartoonists wouldn’t be so dependent on resale rights etc. if they were paid enough for their work to begin with. And from my perspective, that’s virtually impossible to do when competing against syndicated material that undercuts and devalues the efforts of independent creators. Call it quality over quantity: it’s the same mentality driving chain-stores to sell the same cheap junk to as many people as possible. Give me a local burger and a local beer over the mass-produced junk anytime. Same way I like my art.

Lastly, there’s the ethical and moral responsibility to take on wanna-be small-town politicians long before they somehow wind up on the national stage. Alaska in particular has some bittersweet notoriety on that account. I'll be damned if I sit silent on the sidelines and not use whatever talent I have to address the issues that affect me and my community.


  1. Beautiful, Jamie, and dead-on. You probably represent the future more than the aspiring Internet syndicant. What you do is the equivalent of trying to eat food that comes from less than a 100-mile radius of your home. It's like using renewable energy or human-powered transportation. It serves its community and makes that community stronger in the process. Widespread fame and the income it brings might have its attractive aspects, but I can tell you from bitter experience that you can spend years squinting toward the far horizon while stumbling past opportunities for actual personal growth and contribution at your feet. At the very least an aspiring cartoon star should hone their skills on local issues. Many of the greats started by dominating their high school or college newspapers and magazines --venues I completely neglected in my headlong drive toward obscurity.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Hey thanks!
    Post powered by Lemongrass Thai no less, speaking of local fare. Anything else I try to eat within a 100-mile radius outruns me.

  3. Well what do you think I'm wearing???