Okay, Small Press Expo, 2007. Fleen was proud to meet with a wide variety of webcomickers exhibiting at the show, including (in no particular order) Colleen Venable, who I forgot earlier, sorry!, Chris Yates, Aaron Diaz, David Malki !, Bernie Hou, Box Brown, Joe Sayers, Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman, Leah & Chris Riley, Kris Straub, Dave Kellett, Howard Tayler, David Willis, and Brad Guigar. Achewood won what I believe is its first major award, the Ignatz for Outstanding Online Comic (more on that later). Webcomics journalism was represented by Xaviar Xerexes and Mister T, and I had a nice conversation with Heidi MacDonald as well. Interesting tidbits & photos over the next couple of posts … for now, I want to talk about a session that took place on Saturday afternoon.
At the moderator’s mic was the able and amiable Josh Fruhlinger, who wrangled Bill Griffith, Nick Gurewitch, Keith Knight, and Ted Rall. The conversation ranged widely across the various experiences of the four creators in the world of print comic single panels/strips, but towards the end took a turn towards issues of the web. Asked about their use of the web as a medium for interacting with their audiences, Griffith replied,
If you have a website, the logical thing is to put your strip there for free … I have that little niche [online] and print, and at this point, I need both of them. My online sales account for half of my income.
Which sentiments ought to be familiar to all reading this. But following up the point later, Rall took a decidedly different tack:
If every cartoonist would agree to take their work offline forever, we would all make fifteen times as much money. We’ve done a really stupid thing [by putting content online].
Now let’s be clear about two things: one, Rall was not speaking in direct reply to Griffith’s point. And two, he’d just been talking about the history of specifically editorial cartoonists (of which he is one), and the rapid decline in their numbers (specifically cited: in 1960, there were more editorial cartoonists in New York City alone than there are now in the whole of the United States).
Still, this struck me as a monumentally absurd statement — from our researches here at the Fleenplex, it appears that only new cartoonists in this country that are able to make a living from their cartooning are the ones that do the exact opposite of what Rall proposes. Seeking reaction from webcomickers in attendence elicited a uniform disagreement with Rall, but I’d like to open the question more broadly. If you’re a webcomics creator that makes a significant portion of your living from your creation, can you see a set of circumstances where Rall’s assertion makes sense, or is it just crazy talk?
Tayler, in reaction to the Rall quote — We’re about to do a really stupid thing if we pay attention to Ted Rall.
Willis, ditto — I can’t hear him through my big wad of cash.