Saturday, December 20, 2003

This story (link via ¬°Journalista!, but I guess it's temporary) gets into the dying profession that is editorial cartooning.

Not really news for me of course. In college (80-84) I was considered a pretty good editorial cartoonist. Won some national awards and got a lot of positive reinforcement. Many of my friends thought sure I'd go in this direction.

I was lucky, my college paper was a daily so I got a taste of things to come. And like many things, I studied the hell out of the subject (pity I didn't actually do that in CLASS). So by senior year, even though I enjoyed the attention I got from doing that, I was already preparing myself for life after school - to get a job at a newspaper but not as a cartoonist.

After all, that was the point of getting a journalism degree and not one in art - to have a better chance of finding work after college. And I saw back then that editorial cartooning was not going to work out, for a number of reasons:

- Fewer newspapers (this is a no brainer).

- Syndication. Yeah, it opens things up for artists who get syndicated to get paid more and get wider recognition. But it also creates a situation at the local level where it's not only easier to not deal with a local cartoonist but creates a financial disincentive. If you run a local cartoon, you don't use something from the syndicate package that you already paid for. I've heard some people compare syndication to radio. Bull. Local bands can get airtime on college stations and there's always the ability to get paid for playing live. And there's a lot more places to play and be heard than there are newspapers.

- Not drawing like Jeff MacNelly. The man had a serious impact on how people thought editorial cartoonists should draw. Cultural expectations of art, hmm, where have I heard that before...

- Politics. Pure and simple, conservative or liberal, if the guy in charge of the opinion page had to toe the company line so did you. It's rare for a cartoonist to get the freedom to create.

So, yeah, they should stop giving a Pulitzer for editorial cartooning until another outlet opens up (webcomics hint hint hint).

But I'm not disappointed or bitter - hell I don't really care. Not a lot of my friends understand that. They would if they understood just how much I enjoyed doing what I did during my sophmore year: a weekly SF adventure strip called Duffy O'Neil.

Now I'm doing Odd Jobs. And it's exactly what I want to do.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Slate has a story on Alan Moore, calling him "the most important mainstream comics writer of the last three decades."

Geez, how embarrassing. I meant to have a number of blogging links up by now, but the already mentioned workload kept me from doing that.

Anyway, thanks, Dirk, for the link - I check out ¬°Journalista! first thing every morning.

Wow! What a week. Saddam captured and state school report cards - both just a lot of work for yours truly.

In between the crunch, I managed to have lunch with Joe Konrath.

Let me tell you about Joe: He's written nine novels and during that time he worked as a waiter to help support his family. Nine novels that did not sell, countless short stories that weren't accepted.

Until not long ago when his novel, Whiskey Sour, was picked up by Hyperion. Not only that, he got a great three-book deal and expectations are so high that he's getting a great marketing push from his publisher.

And it couldn't happen to a nicer guy. Seriously, he lived the dream and it's finally paying off.

Anyway, check out his website, and especially the free 28-page booklet "How to Find an Agent and $ell Your Writing," available as a downloadable PDF on the Tips page. It's good stuff.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

I'm a really good reader. Seriously, in some ways you might say sophisticated. So when people in the team comics sphere tell me "this is great!" I give it a try with as open a mind as I can muster.

But it's difficult to discuss why you don't like something when the tide is so huge against you. "Bridges of Madison County" on the best-sellers list? It was a story of a woman cheating on her husband and family. A woman who'd been in the rural U.S. for decades, yet still had a heavy French accent. Thanks pop culture, but no thanks.

Which brings me around to manga, a subject about which I will continually get in trouble. I am suspicious about the conformity of art style, especially the growth of animanga - art heavily influenced by cartoon movies (anime). I do not buy the "windows to the soul" thing, I think it's a rationalization for not drawing asian characters in leading roles. There seems to be a lot of reasons for that cultural anomaly - stretching back to the cultural shock from WWII. I can understand that, but it ought to change.

And don't get me started on the commercial explotation thing of marketing a comic, animated TV show, Movie, card game, video game ... seriously do not get me started. That's not literature, that's a marketing strategy.

It's been difficult to put into worlds the misgivings I've had for a long time, that haven't gone away. My best, latest effort is that it is opposite my perception of the European tradition of the individual artist. Certainly there are art movements, but those are usually ways for individuals to explore something new, something unique (I know, there's a lot more to art movements, but I'm keeping it simple). Animanga seems to me more about cultural expectations for art. That those expectations encourage art that is very accessable to mass production is a side point, but does provide an additional commercial inducement for artists not to be individuals. (you can flip this and say using the argument of being an individual is no excuse for not becoming more technically proficient in your art)

There's also a lot of resistance based on things other than being a good reader - from simply being a superhero fan all the way to being a racist. But I'm talking about being a good reader, and one involved in that individual tradition of art.

I'm also someone who will walk into a bookstore and not be invested in any genre to the point where I HAVE to buy a particular thing - whether it be graphic novel, mystery, history or whatever. If it doesn't appeal to me for any honest reason, I'm not going to buy it.

Now I'm willing to put aside a lot of my concerns if I come across a story that seems to me to be genuinely from an individual - Barefoot Gen comes to mind. Seriously, a story like this it's easy to excuse the misgivings about the art because it's apparent there's an individual breaking out and telling a very personal story.

You know, you need something to even the balance. Superhero stories can be really awful, but the art can be fantastic. Barefoot Gen is an example of art with problems, but the story demands your attention. In any case - manga, animanga, superhero or any other comic-thingy you can think of - if the art has problems and the story is pedestrian there's not a lot of reason for someone to pick up that comic.

Unless there's some other reason aside from the reading experience for a purchase like collecting or that team-comix feeling of responsibility (if I don't buy it, who will?)

So it's difficult with all those motivations, reasons aside from reading, to find good reading stories when everything is great! It is not helpful to a reader when people acknowledge that 99 percent of everything is crap, but then start listing 99 percent of the stuff that's crap as being great! This is a very simplistic, possibly offensive way of describing things. I don't mean to be offensive, but then again, I thought the Bridges of Madison County was stupid.

But I knew if I was patient (and I'm not always patient) I would begin to see individuals coming forward with more honest opinions - people not afraid to be negative in reviews. People who would have more perceived credibility than I do.

Here and here are two bloggers who take some of the trash out to the trash.

I know I don't agree with all their choices, but based on why they didn't like what I didn't like, I'm far more likely to listen to their opinions. And it makes me feel better that there seems to be the beginnings of a filter system developing. Not everything is great! and I'm not engaged enough - don't have enough time - to sift through everything. Good, reliable critics are need to cut through the hype.

BTW, along with Gen, the next books I want to purchase: Golems Might Swing and Same Difference and Other Stories.

Tell me what you think!

Monday, December 15, 2003

Monday and I'm brain dead. That's because I was called in to work the big story yesterday - such is life for a daily-newspaper man.

Luckily, today's episode was really simple - maybe deceptively so? I needed to convey the passage of time, and perhaps recall in people the difficulty of driving in a bad storm.

So last week's page, where David describes the driving conditions and his own personal condition leads to today's page described only with a simple sentence you hear everyday. Hopefully, the spare presentation gives you pause to contemplate a larger meaning.

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