Eric Millikin: Talking future of newspaper comics with former E&P editor Dave Astor

Posted by on January 11th, 2010 at 6:36 AM

On December 31, 2009, Editor & Publisher staffers vacated their offices after sending what is likely their final issue off to press. On December 10, after serving over 125 years as “the bible of the newspaper industry,” E&P parent The Nielsen Co. had announced they would be closing the monthly magazine. Former E&P staffers have launched a new blog, eandpinexile.blogspot.com, which they hope is just a temporary home as they look to attract a buyer for the magazine.

I caught up with former E&P senior editor Dave Astor, who had been cut in a previous round of lay-offs at the magazine, and we talked about life after E&P and the future of newspaper comics.

Eric Millikin: You’d been covering the newspaper comics syndicates for 25 years before Editor & Publisher let you go in Oct. 2008. What have you been up to in the year since then? Have you still been following the comics industry closely?

Dave Astor: I’ve been following the comics industry only semi-closely since my layoff, because I’ve spent most of my time trying to earn money or keeping busy in other ways. I haven’t found a full-time job despite many attempts, but I’ve done blog posts for The Huffington Post‘s comedy area, continued writing my 2003-launched “Montclairvoyant” humor column each week for The Montclair (N.J.) Times, and was elected to a two-year-term on the National Society of Newspaper Columnists board last summer.

Also, I’ve written more than 75,000 words of a book that includes a lot of material about cartooning and cartoonists. But I’d rather not get more specific about that because although I signed with a literary agent, I don’t yet know if the book will find a publisher!

EM: As you know, Editor & Publisher’s January issue is slated to be their last. What do you think this means for newspapers and comics? What will we be missing out on without Editor & Publisher?

DA: E&P was around for 125 years, and for much of that time it was probably the only media outlet covering newspapers and comics on a regular basis. But in recent years, there have been other excellent magazines, Web sites, and blogs also covering a lot of what E&P covered, so people can still read tons of stuff about comics and newspapers.

EM: We’ve seen all sorts of bad news for newspapers and newspaper comics in the last few years. Do you see any bright spots in newspapers, newspaper comics, comics and cartoons in general?

DA: There are many comic creators doing great work in print and on the Web, but it’s tough for the vast majority of them to make a living with their comics alone. Many of the cartoonists with traditional syndicates have seen their client lists shrink, and we all know how difficult it is to earn enough money with online-only work.

Some bright spots include more comics dealing with real-life issues (while still being funny) and more women cartoonists and cartoonists of color. In editorial cartooning, the full-time job possibilities are unfortunately grim at newspapers despite there being many talented editorial cartoonists around.

EM: This is the Dr. Seuss “If I Ran the Circus” question: If you were running a newspaper chain or comics syndicate, what risks would you be taking? What do you think the industry ought to be doing that they’re not?

DA:  If I were running a syndicate, I’d add more alternative-type comics and keep only the best “legacy” comics (which, as many cartooning fans know, are those comics whose original creator is dead – often long dead). The fewer “legacy” comics, the more slots there would be for talented creators trying to break into the business. I think a syndicate should have a mix of all types of comics, but, in general, the current mix is too tame and not modern enough to attract enough of the young-adult readers needed by daily newspapers.

And if I were running a newspaper chain, I’d publish dozens of comics in each of the chain’s papers, have a staff editorial cartoonist at each paper, and let reporters do livelier writing. I’d also settle for a smaller company profit and smaller executive salaries in order to pay for those dozens of comics, pay for those staff editorial cartoonists, and not lay off reporters. Obviously, no corporate-type person would let me run a newspaper chain in real life!

EM: Anything else you’d like to add?

DA: Given that I write a lot of (alleged) humor, here are four observations: If the universe is expanding, why are comics shrinking? If syndicates are looking for “the next Charles Schulz,” should aspiring cartoonists change their names to “Charles Schulz”? Do cartoonists who use assistants spend their retirement years in assisted-drawing facilities? When a newspaper tells a journalist “you’re laid off,” is the newspaper guilty of plagiarism for using those same three firing words other newspapers previously used?


Eric Millikin is a comics artist and writer from Detroit. Dave Astor photo by Daniela DiMaggio.

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  1. […] Millikin caught up with former senior Editor and Publisher editor Dave Astor for his thoughts on the demise of the industry bible E&P. EM: As you know, Editor & Publisher’s January issue is slated to be their last. What do […]