The webcomics blog about webcomics

From My Email Outbox

Date: 17 Sept 2006
From: Gary Tyrrell
To: _______, Features Editor

Subject: Comics page

Dear Mr. ________,

I’m writing today, as I have in the past, to discuss the status of the ________’s comics page. I’ve been reading the comics in ______ (and before that, in _______) since I was about three years old; call it 35 years now. I’m a fan of the American newspaper comic strip, but the artform is in trouble.

You have 17 strips, including Doonesbury, which runs on the Op-Ed page. The very youngest of them, Grand Avenue, is eight years old; only four strips are less than 20 years old. The mean age of your comic strips is 35.4 years, and the median (half of your strips are younger, half older) is 33 years. Half the strips you carry are no longer written or drawn by their creators, but rather by committees hired by the syndicates, or by no-talent children of the original creators.

Only two (Doonesbury and For Better or For Worse) feature any degree of change or growth; coincidentally, they are the two best strips you carry. The rest carry on, year after year, with the same jokes, the same plotlines and situations, the same devotion of a week’s worth of strips to the theme of “golf” each Spring and Autumn. At least Peanuts has the good grace to be in actual reruns; the others just act like it.

Put bluntly, your comics page has needed a revamp for a considerable time; happily enough, you have the opportunity do so within the framework of a situation that will present itself in the coming months:

Lynn Johnston, creator of For Better or For Worse, will be retiring her strip in 2007 when her current contract expires. This will leave at least one spot open on the page for a new strip, and hopefully more. For instance, does anybody buy the paper specifically to read Hagar, Ziggy, or Hi & Lois? Many probably find them an inoffensive, familiar presence, but does anybody actually set out to read them? There’s only one way to find out — bring in something new.

On January 8th, 2007, United Feature Syndicate will begin to distribute Diesel Sweeties by Rich Stevens. It’s an established strip, distributed online by Stevens, with a world-wide audience. By the terms of his contract, Stevens will continue to produce the online version of Diesel Sweeties in addition to the newspaper version, which sounds like an incentive for the online readers — a loyal audience — to find out what they’re missing in the newspapers.

Diesel Sweeties is, in stark contrast to nearly everything on the comics page, modern and funny. It will probably annoy people who have been reading “placeholder” strips every day of their lives and don’t want to read anything that’s different from their expectations. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

Every year, I see dire reports about how newspapers are in trouble and national readership is shrinking. Every year it becomes apparent that more older readers are dying than younger readers are picking up the paper. The comics page is where young people learn to read the newspaper, and yet those potential readers are provided with strips that are literally unchanged since their grandparents started reading. What possible incentive could anyone younger than me have to start reading your comics page?

Please contact United Feature Syndicate and request the sample strips of Diesel Sweeties. Please take Lynn Johnston’s upcoming retirement as an opportunity not just to get in on the ground floor of a new strip with a built-in audience, but to look at who your current strips are serving. Please take this chance to build your audience by serving the needs of the comics readers of today and tomorrow, not decades past.

I would be happy to discuss this matter with you further at your convenience.

Gary Tyrrell
_______, NJ

Editor’s note: I’ll let you know what response, if any, I receive.

Hear, hear!

Gary Tyrell, my personal Jesus.

ACK, I spelled your goddamn name wrong. I am a fool.

you rule.

Yes, Paul, but you spelled my goddamn name right where it counts.

As long as Zits and Get Fuzzy stay bring on the revolution.

Zits can take a flying leap, as far as I’m concerned. The art is great, but I surrender, okay guys? Teenagers are weird. We get it.

It’s not quite there yet, but I can easily see Zits regressing into a one-note song.

Your evil knows no bounds, Gary Tyrrell, and I will fight you to my last breath.

However, on this day, I concede that this is indeed a great thing you have done. Let it be known that, on this day, your blackened heart was purified, if only for a moment.

Well done.

G-Man, you are pretty amazing.

This is beautifully written. You should make a version form letter style that we can all automatically send to our newspapers. Make it a big campaign type of deal.

Frodo,

Nope, don’t want to do that, because like Rich said, we don’t want this to look like a “weird viral marketing campaign.” Letters to newspapers always work better when they read as authentic and individual.

That said, anybody that wants to adapt mine is welcome to.

I’m moving down to Los Angeles next week, so I’ll look into an adaptation.

I double-dog-dare you to send this to the New York Times.

http://www.checkerboardnightmare.com/d/20040802.html

I predicted the DS thing in 2004! Somehow!

[...] I enjoy this comic for numerous reasons including the artwork and the fun characters. It is a campy; enjoyable read that I would love to see in newspapers. Because it’s about damn time that web comics get their say in the elusive, mystical, world of print. [...]

Well said, well written, well put!

This obsession with getting into newspapers is beyond me. Doesn’t it seem like we’re taking a step back in time, instead of forward?

Focusing on only getting into papers is not forward-thinking, but neither is rejecting the mass audience they represent. You want webcomics to have readers? They need to be in FRONT of people in venues that people already understand.

It’s a market research issue to me though. Who is reading newspapers these days? Who has subscriptions?

It’s no secret that the newspaper industry as a whole is failing, and needs to find its new path, aside from the badly needed revamping of the comics page.

My point wasn’t a dig at the accomplishment, I think it’s fantastic what you’re doing, but it was aimed at those who see the newspaper as the pinacle of a comic strip achievements, which I just don’t agree with.

That’s what I find as not forward thinking.

I don’t think anybody’s describing merely getting a syndication deal as the pinnacle of achievement; in fact, a great deal of what Rich has accomplished is that he’s gotten into newspapers without giving up his control or his web distribution channel.

It may not come to anything for anybody besides him. Or it may turn into a new model for cartoonists. And that is forward thinking.

Just FYI, I didn’t take any of that as an insult or a dig. As far as I’m concerned, the ultimate goal of any cartoonist is to be able to push our culture forward in a positive way- I’ll take any readers I can get my hands on to further that goal. (that and a nice retirement on Mars)

I couldn’t agree more with that goal.

Good luck to you, pal.

And if you ever feel like giving animation a shot, give me a ring ;)

I was mainly impressed that the newspapers went recruiting Rich, even though he’d spent his entire run of DieselSweeties rejecting the approach of “I’ll do a webcomic so I can get into newspapers.”

Even five years ago, I think a significant number of people who were starting webcomics were doing it so that they could break into newspaper comics.

I think that’s entirely changed now. I think most people starting webcomics never expect that there will *be* newspapers in five years, so why bother?

I think most people these days are starting webcomics because they want to be Jerry & Mike.

Can I edit this and send it to my newspaper? It’s brilliant. If enough people speak ub about “inoffensive” content, maybe I’ll be able to delete most of my bookmarks and simply read actual print comics.

[...] Gary I still haven’t heard back from my local paper about picking up Diesel Sweeties, but I’m pleased to report that the whole RS3-in-newspapers thing really is real. Check it out — promo kits! There’s still time for you to pester you local paper to pick up DS (even if you don’t read it regularly … tell them that you will if they add your favorite strip). [...]

[...] Gary Date: 8 Nov 2006 From: Gary Tyrrell To: _______, Features Editor [...]

[...] Gary No response yet to the letters I wrote to my local paper, asking them to pick up Diesel Sweeties. I am this close to giving out that guy’s email and inviting the masses of the internet to convince him that it’s good manners to reply when sent a polite missive. Anyway, the battle against comics-page crapitude continues. [...]

[...] And, behind the cut, my final letter to a newspaper regarding Diesel Sweeties; I’m one of those people lucky enough to live in an area served by the early launch (although apparently, not all agree with my love of the strip), and that deserves a letter of thanks to the editor responsible. Date: 5 Jan 2007 From: Gary Tyrrell To: Charles “Chick” Harrison Reader Representative Newark Star-Ledger [...]

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