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MetLife announced yesterday that, after 31 years, they're retiring Snoopy as their corporate mascot. Part of MetLife's statement reads...
"We brought in Snoopy over 30 years ago to make our company more friendly and approachable during a time when insurance companies were seen as cold and distant. Snoopy helped drive our business and served an important role at the time," said Lee. "We have great respect for these iconic characters. However, as we focus on our future, it's important that we associate our brand directly with the work we do and the partnership we have with our customers."
The announcement spends a lot of time trying to emphasize this forward-looking approach.

"...change is happening faster than ever before."

"...upend the long-entrenched norms..."

"...reflect the modern company we're becoming..."

"...clean, modern aesthetic."

"...represents life, renewal and energy."

It's actually more surprising to me that they've kept Snoopy around as long as they have than that they're changing. Even among traditionally slow-moving corporations like insurance companies, keeping a consistent brand identity for over three decades is pretty incredible. And if their intent is to project a more future-oriented company, it makes sense to leave Snoopy behind. After all, Charles Schulz has been gone for 16 years now and, while there are technically still new comics and movies being produced, I think most people still associate the characters with either a comic strip that has been in reruns for a decade and a half and/or the holiday TV specials from the 1960s. Hardly an image of progressiveness.

Obviously, it's too early to tell if MetLife's new branding will be seen as successful. I think the new logo is fine, I suppose, but I don't know that it really differentiates them in the market, as their press release states. It could just as easily be the logo of a publisher, a pharmaceutical company, a piece of software, or a contemporary furniture shop. Using a comic character was at least unique in the insurance industry. Although, I suppose if they kept the idea of a comic character but went in a more "future-focus" direction, we'd be saddled with some shit like Poochie.

I can't find any precise numbers, but I suspect this was one of Peanuts Worldwide, LLC's second most profitable licensing deals over the years, behind perhaps Hallmark. They'll almost certainly take a short-term hit financially, but there's a more than reasonable chance that they'll pick up something equally lucrative soon. Fortunately, they've got a nice influx from the recent Peanuts movie that will help tide things over for a bit.
I had planned on writing a book review here today. Good story, clever art, deals with some otherness that I thought could tie into the "On -isms" theme that I run on Thursdays. But I decided not to because there's no real diversity in it. And not just, "Oh, look, the protagonist and his sidekick are white guys" but "wait, there are literally no people of color anywhere in this book!" I actually went back to double-check and, despite several large crowd scenes throughout the story, I could not find a single character that wasn't portrayed as white.

It was a decent book, well-crafted story and good art. Good characterization. But there is a complete absence of Blacks, Asians, Latinos... There are some characters that are physically disabled, but it's a sci-fi story so they all have prosthetic limbs that act as good as (and, in some cases, better than) natural-born ones.

The artist is a white guy and, while I don't like it, I sadly kind of expect him to depict the main characters as white guys. That's unfortunately still kind of the default for our society. But to go through and create a 100+ page story with, as I said, several crowd scenes, and not depict a single POC seems beyond a little oblivious. How hard would it have been to color a few of those tiny people in the back of the crowd with a darker color? I often marvel at the idea, too, that an artist wouldn't want to include a greater variety of people -- wouldn't an entire crowd of white people get monotonous to draw? Wouldn't peppering in a few people with slightly different racial features inherently making the tedium of drawing a large group more interesting?

I suppose, coming from the other side, there's certainly the potential concern of depicting someone negatively (inadvertently or not) and being fearful of the backlash that might arise from that. I know I spoke to a comic artist once who expressed some hesitation when the writer he was working with (who was white) included a Black protagonist; the artist was nervous about the character being seen as caricature or a bad stereotype. But to be so fearful that you don't even include anyone in a crowd scene? That strikes me as unlikely.

Plus, didn't anyone in the publishing chain say something? The editor didn't read through this and say, "Um, how about you at least color a few of these background folks? Maybe add in a Black hairstyle here or there?" No one in the whole process thought maybe a little more representation might be warranted?

Look, according to the 2010 census, the United States consists of roughly 72% white, 13% Black, 5% Asian, 1% Native American, and the rest a mix of other or multiple races. Additionally, about 16% of the above population identify as Latino. That means that in a crowd of 100 people, you should probably see 13 Black people. In a crowd of 50, about a half dozen should be Black. In a crowd of 25, three. In a crowd of 12, one or two.

Look, I can understand if you don't want to count off specific percentages ("Well, let's see... this crowd will have 63 people in it, and 13% of that is...") -- I don't know that artists need to be that exacting. But no representation AT ALL?!? Come on now! It's 2016 -- you should know better!
How much do you know about the Dust Bowl? If you're like most people, probably almost nothing. Because it's rarely taught in school. Certainly not in depth. The reason why it's not taught is because A) the massive drought that started it was partially caused by climate change, and B) it was exasperated by the government spending years before encouraging farmers to basically till the soil into nothing. Neither of which are messages that very patriotic. Things may have changed somewhat in recent years with regards to how/what is taught about the Dust Bowl, but the unabashedly nationalistic (if not downright jingoistic) agenda that helps to indoctrinate students into blind patriotism without any critical thought is one of the bigger problems I have with the primary school system.

BUT! Elaine Will is here to help!

Elaine Will's most recent graphic novel, Dustship Glory, tells the story of Tom Sukanen, a Finnish farmer who moved to the United States and then Canada, trying to make his way in the world. He was a brilliant man but, between his temper and the drought that surrounded him, he had more than a few difficulties getting by. He eventually took upon the idea of building his own ship and setting sail, possibly back to Finland. His limited English and fanatical devotion to the idea, however, alienated him from the community, and he was eventually institutionalized.

Will's story is broader than Sukanen, though. He's certainly the primary focus, but she provides an almost surprising amount of background and context given that focus. The story starts, for example, with some local bullies trying to harass Sukanen while he's working on his half-completed hull. The seemingly simple exchange provides some context about the impact of the Dust Bowl and the practical concerns of people doing day-to-day farming. There's a lot like that peppered throughout the book -- we get a sense of what a dust storm was actually like, the everyday concerns farmers felt, the larger issues whole towns were dealing with, etc.

And yet it remains a personal story of Sukanen. While we don't quite get inside his head in the same way Will portrayed Jeremy in Look Straight Ahead, we still get a very good sense of Sukanen's driving motivators and how he sees and interprets the world around him. Completing his ship is his personal white whale, but he's enmeshed in a very different culture than Ahab was.

What's fascinating, too, and caused me to do something of a double-take at the start is that this is a true story. Sukanen was real farmer in the early 1900s, who dealt with several soul-crushing blows by building a ship in the middle of the Dust Bowl, roughly 700 miles from the Hudson Bay.

Will displays here the same mastery of comic storytelling that she showed us in Look Straight Ahead. Although it's a very different type of story, it's one that she tells expertly. Well worth picking up for her storytelling abilities, and you'll almost certainly learn a thing or two that you should have been, but weren't, taught in school as well. The book is available for $19.95 here.
Let's say you come up with this idea for a project. Some story that you become very passionate about telling because you haven't seen anything quite like it before. You pull together whatever resources you have access to and, to the best of your ability, produce your comic. Maybe you launch it as a webcomic, maybe you try self-publishing, maybe you shop it around to established publishers. Doesn't matter. The point is that you put tons of work into it, and you develop and polish it until you think it's as good as you can make it. Maybe you had to hire and artist or a letterer or whatever, but you're done with the whole story and you think it looks great.

Then you put it out into the world, and do your best to promote it, and the response is... nothing. No one is flocking it to it, so it's not an overnight success and no one is laughing at it/you so it's not an unmitigated failure either. You get a few people who drop you some kind notes, and maybe they chuck a few bucks your way, but it just doesn't take off like you'd hoped. It's not a bad comic; it's just not one that really excites people.

"OK," you think, "maybe the timing was off. Maybe it's just not the right marketplace for this story just now."

So you go on to produce another story. Again, you put your heart and soul into it. Maybe you try a slightly different approach, marketing-wise. Same result. Even when you go out of your way to solicit feedback, you don't get anything substantive. "Yeah, it's good. Solid work. I don't what I could tell you to really improve on it though."

So you try again. And again. And again. And each time, you get some modest praise, and gain maybe a few more fans, but nothing earth shattering. And maybe you even get to the point where your work is financially self-sustaining. Maybe not lucrative, but enough that you can squeak by.

The question I have, then, is: is it worth making sure your older works remain viable? Is it worth your effort to maintain dedicated marketing pages on your website for them, and making sure the books remain available for sale even if it's print-on-demand effort? I mean, the general idea, I think, is to set up enough decent-selling work that you can get a series of small-to-modest sales over the course of years. You might only sell one book of each title a month, but with enough different books out, that's enough to earn a living on.

So does it make sense to take one of those works that's a bit older and never sold as well, and continue to put effort into ensuring that it remains as a possible revenue stream? At what point does it take too much effort to keep updating the work relative to how much money you make on it?
Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: On Business: Drive-Through LCS

FreakSugar: Fanthropology: Fanvidding

Kleefeld on Comics: On History: Jon Mayes

Kleefeld on Comics: Weekly Comics Links

FreakSugar: Webcomics Wednesday: Emotional Power

Kleefeld on Comics: On -isms: Empowering Super Girls

Kleefeld on Comics: On Strips: 1917 Herriman Summary

This one is a little curious to me. It's an article from a 1917 issue of Cartoons Magazine in which Summerfield Baldwin tries to relay Herriman's brilliance to readers. "My sole purpose," he writes, "has been to bring him to the attention of thinking people as a phase of American art well worth thinking about..." As such, the article does not seem to be very well-researched, nor does Baldwin seem to have had any direct contact with Herriman himself. Which is fine, but the curious part are the apparently original Krazy and Ignatz drawings that were "Drawn for Cartoons Magazine" by Herriman himself. So someone at the magazine seems to have had some contact with him, but no one seems to have asked him even the most basic questions. ("There is a man named Herriman. All that I know of him is that he signs his name in curious letters to the most charming column of comics pictures...")

In any event, it's a charming, little piece by itself and is perhaps the earliest indication I've seen of someone elevating comics to the level of high art. The scans are courtesy of Animation Resources.