Sunday, June 24, 2012

Disappearing Ink II: Cartoon Karma?

   News comes today of yet another editorial cartoonist getting shit-canned, this time it's  Steve Kelley at the Times-Picayune. Another recent casualty in the continuing implosion - previously posted about here and here - of cartooning careers is the example of Chris Britt (who is seen above - check this YouTube channel for more).

   But it seems to me that commiserating articles, like for example over at The Daily Cartoonist, which circle the wagons and continually bemoan the atrophying of the industry and the loss of these staff positions, might be missing out on one crucial aspect of the problem.
   To take Britt - and to a similar extent, Kelley's work - as an example, while the day job is unfortunately sacrificed to the mentality of corporate bean-counters, his cartoons were - and still are - available through established syndicates: Creator's, Go Comics (now merged with Universal Uclick) + The Cagle Post.
   Left unspoken in all of these discussions is how these cartoonists might indirectly contribute to their own firing by participating in a system that accelerates their own obsolescence. Specifically, why would any publisher, especially one with a sole motivation of cost-cutting to increase shareholder stocks, pay an artist a working salary when they can get the exact same work, by the same creator, at a fraction of the cost through a syndicate?

   Note that I deliberately avoid any mention in the above consideration of basic morality on the part of management decisions, as that seems paradoxically counter-intuitive when it comes to unfettered capitalism. Adding insult to injury, corporate executives in these media conglomerates rake in staggering sums which would pay for a veritable army of cartoonists. As pointed out in a related comment thread, in the specific instance of Britt's former company, GateHouse Media, the "1%" score obscene cash bonuses - for example CEO Michael R. Reed: $750,000, President and Chief Operating Officer Kirk A. Davis: $275,000 etc.

Table Scraps: The writing (or cartooning) on the wall.
   But basically I still find it somewhat disingenuous for cartoonists to covet and encourage a career with syndicates, when from an outsider's perspective, the whoresome corporate ethics of racing to the bottom directly contributes to undermining the value and the work of alternative and independent creators. So it comes across more than a little petulant to complain about the inevitable ends of such business practices when the pink slips are issued.
   Perhaps one of the last, best ways to preserve the tradition of American journalism will be for the syndicates to hopefully go bankrupt first, thus forcing newspapers to return to establishing vital connections and relevance with their local communities. 


  1. The loss of staff cartoonists means there is little to no cartooning about local issues. Syndication requires material for a national / international audience. Who's going to editorialize on issues that strictly related to Springfield and New Orleans now?

  2. I agree: that is the worst loss. Here is a must-read comment thread relating to this from a couple years ago:

    And another excellent summation of the industry here: