Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Alternative Comics Apocalypse Has Begun

Posted By on Tue, Jan 27, 2009 at 3:36 PM

click to enlarge rm_apoc.png
It's a sad state of affairs, and potentially the end of an industry—if you want to call it that—where a small handful of ragtag scribblers like myself have slaved for many years (for very little money, if you ever wondered) to bring you a laugh or two every week in the pages of your local alt weekly. Over the last year or so, cartoonists such as myself, Derf, Tom Tomorrow, Lloyd Dangle, Ruben Bolling, Jen Sorensen, Ted Rall and many, many talented others, have watched our strips steadily and systematically dropped from the pages of your local weeklies and alternative publications. Times are tough, to be sure, and most of these free publications rely on discretionary advertising by local businesses and classified ads to keep the presses rolling and issues on the stands. And when money gets tight, the first line item in any small business budget to get slashed is advertising, so I understand and sympathize with the precarious position in which many weeklies now find themselves.

However, I can't help but be left somewhat incredulous that the disturbing trend of removing ALL COMICS from the pages of weekly publications (which many have already done) is somehow going to keep them solvent. If, indeed, the humble $10 to $20 that I generally get paid for a RED MEAT strip is going to bring the whole operation tumbling down, then the alt-weekly industry is already dead on its feet—it just hasn't fallen over into the dirt yet. Having actually worked at an alt-weekly for three-and-a-half years, I'm all to familiar with how precarious the business is anyway—even in a good economy.

Now here's the apocalyptic part of the equation for fans of alternative cartoon strips, which are obviously a large part of every alt-weekly's readership, because I've SEEN the annual marketing/readership surveys at the particularly weekly I worked at, and comics ALWAYS appear in the TOP FIVE list of what readers turn to FIRST when they pick up an alt-weekly. Interesting then, in light of that factoid, that comics are historically always one of the first things to get axed fro alt-weeklies in tough times, isn't it? It happened this same way after the stock crash in 2000, so this isn't an isolated phenomenon distinct to this current recessionary period. However, because of the severity of the current economic scenario, there isn't going to be any short period of belt-tightening and gradual bounce-back for us cartoonists this time around. The stark reality is that, very soon, there won't be any of your current favorite alternative comic strips for you to read at all—not even online. Here's why: none of us make our living from our web sites. Let me repeat that for emphasis: WE DON'T MAKE A LIVING FROM OUR WEB SITES. If you're one of the lucky ones (like me), your comic's web site advertising basically pays for the routine maintenance and domain registration fees, with a few dollars left over at the end of the month. Roughly, about enough to take the family out to an inexpensive dinner and a movie if it's been a decent month. Our web sites are kind of like a free gift to you, the fans, who we love and cherish enough to keep posting our stuff even though it probably hurts the pathetic pocket change we make off our book sales. In a nutshell, we full time alt-cartoonists make our rent and feed and clothe our families exclusively on the humble (I repeat, humble) amount we make from revenues we get from subscriber publications. When that dries up, most—if not all—of us will no longer be able to financially justify the continued production of our weekly comic strips for your enjoyment. That means no posting of new strips on the web site either, which will ultimately lead to the demise of the web site on which you are now reading this. I don't know if that breaks your heart, but it does mine. I knew from the start that I'd never become wealthy doing this, but still I've given twenty years of my life to this labor of live I call RED MEAT—which is a good, long run, by any career standard—and I was hoping to keep at it for at least twenty more (barring any circumstance where it becomes no longer fun for me or starts sucking really badly). I really enjoy makinf you folks laugh every week THAT MUCH. It's the best job in the world.

The only thing that has the potential to stop this very real comics apocalypse from happening is YOU. I strongly urge you, if you enjoy RED MEAT—or any of the other fine alternative press cartoons out there—to take a minute to track down the "letters to the editor" email address in the staff box or front section of your local weekly and let them know—in no uncertain terms—that you want the cartoons back again. Or hell... that you want a particular cartoon to be featured in there in the first place, if they haven't ever run one of your favorites before. I'm not exaggerating in the slightest when I say: it's all up to you—the fans and readers—to keep the comics alive at this point.

Many thanks in advance to all of you for whatever you can do.

Cheers, Max Cannon

P.S. As my good friend Tom Tomorrow so judiciously pointed out, this isn't an "us vs. them" situation—many of these weekly editors and staffers are longtime friends and supporters of our work, so please be polite and respectful in your correspondence. Also, as Tom safely suggested, "if your local paper still runs the cartoons, please shoot them a quick email and let them know how much you appreciate it."

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