The webcomics blog about webcomics

Contributing To A Robust Discussion (With A Side Of Paychecks)

You know, Matt Bors is a damn good cartoonist; I don’t agree with his take on everything, but I like that he’s got a clear POV, a rational, consistent approach, and a habit of kicking up rather than down. I read his stuff and react in about equal measure with

  • Heh — you tell ’em Matt
  • Huh — I never thought of it that way
  • Feh — you’re crazy, Bors

Voiceless fricatives aside, that’s a pretty ideal mix of reactions when dealing with political cartooning. However, I think that Bors may be even better as a cartooning curator/editor, a task he’s had at Cartoon Movement [edit to clarify: Bors is no longer with Cartoon Movement although at the time of this writing he was still listed on the masthead], and more recently at Medium, where he edits comics under the heading of The Nib. Since taking the reins at The Nib in September, he’s been collecting talent and enticing more than a few webcomickers with the opportunity to stretch themselves by playing to a new audience and get exposure paid for their skills. He was kind enough to describe how things are going over at The Nib for me:

Medium hired me as a full time cartoonist and editor in September and I launched The Nib, a collection for political cartoons, comics journalism, non-fiction, and humor in general. I’m going for an eclectic mix and I’m pulling in web cartoonists and people from all over the print world. That means a funny strip by John Martz, a journalistic comic from Susie Cagle, or a comic by Bill Roundy about dating gay men with vaginas.

I’ve been publishing original cartoons from the likes of Rich Stevens, Zach Weiner, Liza Donnelly of The New Yorker, and Brian McFadden of the New York Times. Rich is bi-weekly and Weiner is doing an original cartoon once a month. Scott Bateman is doing charts. Wendy MacNaughton is doing some work for me as is Jen Sorensen.

Josh Neufeld is doing a series on a family bouncing back from Hurricane Sandy. Sarah Glidden’s going to be contributing. Canadian conservative political cartoonist JJ McCullough is doing sprawling op-ed cartoons. Molly Crabapple published an illustrated report of her time covering Guantanamo Bay. Shannon Wheeler, Tom Tomorrow, and Ted Rall are involved. I’m talking to more than a dozen others about contributing.

Asked about working with web-types, Bors said:

I love getting cartoonists to stretch out and do something a bit outside of their normal workload. The strip Rich did on Penny Arcade came about through some back and forth we had about their job listing controversy. We’re always spitballing about topics and I try to just direct his bottomless energy reserves into the best possible comics.

More on that job listing controversy in a moment. Back to Matt:

I have a regular stable of contributors now and that will only be expanding in 2014. I have a substantial budget to do this and you’ll be seeing other names you recognize in coming months.

That’s the most important part to me — not just that comics are being seen as an essential part of a website that’s aiming to be a place for conversation — but that they’re valued enough to pay the creators. Here’s hoping that it becomes the start of a trend online and revives the idea of paying for cartoons in print. Thanks to Matt Bors for taking the time to answer our questions.

Okay, about that job listing. I’ll confess, I’m a bit surprised that this one came in for a fairly large wave o’ comments, considering that previous Penny Arcade job solicitations haven’t, and (to my reading, at least), they’ve all presented the idea that working at PA will involve a hell of a lot of work. It’s maybe because this job is more clearly delineatable into different job functions; many of the criticisms I’ve seen have been in terms of If it’s four jobs, why aren’t you hiring four people?

But honestly, it’s probably more because of the combo of these two lines:

We’re terrible at work-life balance. Although work is pretty much your life, we do our absolute best to make sure that work is as awesome as possible so you at least enjoy each and every day here.


Annual Salary: Negotiable, but you should know up front we’re not a terribly money-motivated group. We’re more likely to spend less money on salary and invest that on making your day-to-day life at work better.

I’ve seen more than one critique zeroing in on the salary description; if PA runs three trade shows and sells all that merch, why aren’t they paying their people more? Good question, and if you’re the four-function unicorn that could actually fill the job, definitely one that you should ask in salary negotiation. However, as a privately-held company that doesn’t release financials, none of us has any idea how much profit PA derives from the various iterations of PAX¹ or how much margin they make on all that merch. We do know that they carry headcount that is not only not profit-making for the company, but dedicated towards an entirely non-revenue-generating endeavour.

And, this morning, we have information from the guy whose departure in the next couple of months prompted the job opening in the first place. Kenneth Kuan² shared his perspectives on being the Penny Arcade IT Department, and he doesn’t come across as exploited or burned out. There’s going to be a special mix of job skills and temperament that will be able to fill this job, and my suspicion is that person would take the job at almost any pay scale that didn’t require food stamps.

As Kuan points out, different people have different motivations for their work; case in point, while I like my job very much, it’s definitely work and there is a threshold salary below which I wouldn’t be willing to do it. When it comes to blogging, I’m not paid at all and motivated by less tangible things³. When it comes to my work as a volunteer EMT, I’m not only not paid, I drop a significant sum of dosh each year for the privilege of helping the needy (and the abusive drunks, but let’s not go there) (please let’s not go there, I’m riding tonight).

None of which is to say that the PA job posting is off-limits for commentary; Mike and Jerry have built a career around throwing grief where they think it’s deserved, and in the process become both Major Players and Public Figures. That status that makes them legit objects of criticism and/or ridicule, as the situation warrants.

I don’t imagine they’re losing any sleep over this discussion. However (and this applies as well to political cartoonering, bringing us full circle), criticisms and ridicule are always more effective when they’re about what somebody has verifiably done, as opposed to what they are assumed to have done. My gut feeling is that this time, the balance of the critiques are falling towards the latter end of the spectrum.

Now that I’ve doubtless managed to infuriate everybody on all sides of the issue, have a happy Thanksgiving (if you’re in the US) or Thursday (everywhere else) tomorrow. I’ll see you on Friday, provided my blood-pie level doesn’t have me in a coma.

¹ I’ve worked for various corporations that put on trade shows, exhibitions, conventions, conferences, and the like, and they never turned a profit on such events. The hotels, conference space, event planners — all the external show-running partners — did, but the actual subject of the show would be damn lucky to break even. Point being, none of us knows whether “Three PAXes” appears in the PA ledgers in black ink or red.

² Whom I met briefly in January; nice guy.

³ It’s probably closest to my motivation for spending half my college life on the radio, which I regarded as an opportunity to inflict my musical tastes on (theoretical) listeners in a very modest radius.

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