TCJ 300 Conversations: Ted Rall & Matt Bors

Posted by on December 23rd, 2009 at 3:55 AM

 


From War is Boring, ©2006 David Axe and Matt Bors.


Rall:
Ramirez is notorious. Every so often, someone sends around collections of how he does the same exact cartoon every two months. He did a whole hurricane series, where the hurricane was exactly the same but then relabeled. It’s not like he can’t draw; I’ve watched him. He just doesn’t have anything to say. I don’t think the judges know jack-shit about editorial cartooning. I have heard several years in a row that there were Pulitzer judges who had never heard of or seen an altie cartoon. Ever. How can you judge a Tom Tomorrow cartoon if you haven’t even seen the genre your entire life?

Bors:
From what I understand they are almost immediately thrown out.

Rall:
Yes, that’s right. Modern cartoons are not even considered. Really, we shouldn’t even bother to waste time and application fees to apply.

I’ve heard other stories, such as how cartoonists who use Photoshop — to me, John Sherffius in Colorado is the classic, prize-winning example — are admired by judges for caricatures… when all they do is cut and paste images and photos from the Web. I loved a blog entry you did where you demonstrated that it’s possible to recreate a Sherffius cartoon in under five minutes without breaking a sweat or breaking open a pen. That beats David Rees, I suspect.

I judged a contest this year, the Society of Professional Journalist’s cartoon prize. Not one single modern cartoonist applied. First of all, the entry fee was $100 — too high for most of us. Second, no altie has ever won, so why bother? It becomes self-perpetuating, like the Herblock Award. That one is judged by the previous year’s winner! No wonder they never break the mold.

Bors:
Well, we are still considered “alternative,” something I’d like to see end. It separates us from normal and respectable editorial cartoonists and I think they even view us as some sort of sideshow sometimes. It started as a matter of where you were published — dailies or altweeklies — but the Internet gets rid of that. Even “webcomic” is a bit of a misnomer. Literally every cartoonist doing a regular strip (besides Matt Groening for some bizarre reason) is online so I don’t think that’s an apt description either.

Rall:
How can we be “alternative”? There are more political cartoons drawn and published in “alternative” styles — in altweeklies — than there are in dailies. Indeed, the only thing more annoying than the lame posturing of a few ridiculous tools like Scott Kurtz (PVP) and the Penny Arcade guys (who apparently have Roman orgies every time a staff editorial cartoonist loses his job and winds up unemployed) is the term “webcartoonist.” What the fuck does that mean? Oh, I know: Cartoonists who post their stuff online for free and sell visitors to their websites merchandise like T-shirts and books. And who attend lots of comics conventions. Well, gee, what cartoonist doesn’t do that? We all do. We all have been. Everyone is a webcartoonist now.

Bors:
Yeah, it’s celebrated as the future but I’m more than skeptical it will work for us editorial cartoonists. The fact that no political cartoonist is making a living solely off their website is an indicator. I fully accept a future with no staff job and where even syndication doesn’t get you a lot of money. Even if the “webcomics model” could work for us, I’d take it at this point. But I think we would lose something important about editorial cartoons. They are supposed to be out there engaging fans, casual readers and foes alike. So paying clients, even online, is still something that should be sought out.


From 2024, ©2001 Ted Rall.


Rall:
What’s disconcerting beyond the ridiculous Amway-like rhetoric (“You too can make BIG CASH MONEY making comics FROM HOME!”) is that free has become a religion for the e-vangelists. They give cartoons away for free that they could sell — simply by asking! You and I were on a group phone chat a while back with webcartoonists like Kurtz and someone — I forget who — said he wouldn’t even know how to ask for money. I said: “You just ask, ‘Do you have a budget for this?'” It really is that simple. Not only are these guys driving down the prices for all of us who are trying to make a living, they’re doing the same thing editorial cartoonists are doing by lowering the quality. Look at webcartoons like PVP and Penny Arcade, by all accounts the most successful webcomics around. Kurtz tried to give PVP away for free to newspapers a while back and there were no takers. Why? Because it’s terrible. Incompetently written. Awful characterization. Plastic, cold artwork. Syndication 1.0 had flaws. It kept out good, daring work. But now that there’s no gatekeeper, all the shit is everywhere. It used to be off the page. Now it’s damned near impossible for readers to distinguish what’s good because it’s surrounded by crap. That’s not good for the profession. A terrible mainstream comic like Tumbleweeds had a base level of competence. Only a half-dozen webcomics, like Diesel Sweeties, Cat and Girl, etc. do.

Bors:
Well, one of them on that call was honest enough to say it probably wouldn’t work for editorial cartoons. He said something like “Some forms of cartooning will simply die out.” I have to reject that kind of thinking outright. As for Kurtz, he’s openly admitted he wanted to be a print cartoonist and is spiteful from the rejection. If your work is on your own website for free — well, no big deal. To give it to newspapers without charging them, in hopes that people will see your URL in five-point font, log on and buy a plush toy is idiotic at best. You can get paid nice to have the strip run, then sell your shitty toy. Garfield does.

Rall:
Even if the webcomics model could work for editorial cartoons — and it’s hard to see how, given the lack of recurring characters that merchandise typically relies upon and the fact that our stuff gets dated after it comes out — it wouldn’t be good for the form. “Riches in niches” — a small cadre of loyal fans who love your work enough to pay for it — makes no sense for a medium that is dedicated to changing as many hearts and minds as possible. It’s a mass medium.

Bors:
What I think is lost in the contentious “print vs. Web” debate is just what we are talking about. Kurtz rails against print all the time, but those guys make money from collections. Kurtz has an Image comic that I imagine provides a good deal of his income. So print works and it sells. They simply hate daily newspapers. I guess I get it, because daily comics are as moribund as editorial cartoons. Putting everything online for free is not taken seriously by most comic artists. This debate is trumped up because Kurtz is good at promoting himself and likes running his mouth online. You don’t see Dan Clowes putting his books online for free and trying to sell T-shirts off it. It’s just a business model that only will work for a handful of people.

That’s why it’s not much of a consideration for editorial cartoonists. I read Jack Ohman every morning in The Oregonian along with over 200,000 other people. Some are casual readers, some are hardcore fans. But most of them wouldn’t buy an Ohman mug or Ohman plush toy. They just want to read his cartoons. He could sell a collection to hardcore fans, but the model for editorial cartoons is linked to the news cycle so there has to be a different way to make money online.

Rall:
That’s exactly right. That’s why I think there has to be some app or PDA thing that pays a few cents per view to each cartoonist. In the meantime, print remains. Print is dead, but it’s a lot more alive than the Web. At most syndicates, print accounts for 90 percent or more of all revenues, online for less than 10 percent. At the New York Times, they have 13 times more readers online than in print, but print pays 13 times more revenue total. That’s right: An online reader is only worth 1/169th as much as a print one. The Times has 1 million print readers. How are they going to get 169 million online readers to replace them? There aren’t even that many computers in the U.S. Print ain’t going away. What is going away is lame, fat, clueless, out-of-touch print. New print is a-coming.

Bors:
Reader feedback has changed in a huge way with the Internet. It’s instant. A cartoon can go viral within moments of being published. I’m interested in what reader interaction was like before the Internet took off. I’ve never really known a world (at least professionally) without blog comments, social networking sites and now Twitter. For all the annoyances that come with those, it’s great to see instant feedback from fans. Phone calls and mail could come in to staffers, but how was it being a freelancer with multiple papers running your work? Did you hear from readers a lot?

Rall:
Most of the time, it felt like tossing a bottle into the ocean. You didn’t hear anything. Sometimes there’d be a letter to the editor, but, unless you happened to see that paper, you’d never know it. But people did write letters to the syndicate, which forwarded them to me. It still happens sometimes, though now they’re mainly nuts. I have to say, however, that I began including my e-mail address on my cartoons in the mid-1990s and so I’ve been getting e-mail feedback for a while. The big difference was that e-mail was more pleasurable to receive back in the day… it tended to be more positive and written more thoughtfully.

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3 Responses to “TCJ 300 Conversations: Ted Rall & Matt Bors”

  1. scott says:

    I am struggling to see why this had to take up 8 pages? There is a lot of un-required waffling in this, which should have been edited out before posting.

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by pvponline: Anyway, here’s a link to an article where Ted Rall and Matt Bors boo-hoo about editorial cartooning and me apparently. http://bit.ly/8MIbwZ