Julie Larson On Webcomics, Take 2

By | Thursday, January 21, 2010 Leave a Comment
Back in November, I referred to an article in which The Dinette Set cartoonist Julie Larson was bemoaning the problems traditionally syndicated cartoonists were having in light of those hot-shot whipper-snappers who did webcomics. We've got an interesting update to that story now.

Interesting Point 1 -- This new article comes from the same paper that did the last one. That's only mildly interesting in that they're running an update to a story that I wouldn't think would garner that much interest to a general audience.

Interesting Point 2 -- The new article is written by Steve Tarter, the same gent who wrote the previous one. Not surprising that he'd be the one to follow up on his own story, but the reason this is of interest will be seen momentarily.

Interesting Point 3 -- Though the article opens and closes around Larson, several of the quotes used in the new article were lifted from the previous one. What strikes me as interesting here is that such actions make it unclear if Tarter actually talked to Larson again for this new article, or if he's simply using old material. There are more people quoted in the newer piece, but that old quotes are used at all (without noting that they are old quotes) it calls into question -- at least for me -- how current the other quotations are. Were these interviews conducted earlier or later than the November article?

Interesting Point 4 -- The article implies that Larson has changed her approach since November. The previous article suggested that she was generally fuming and blaming her syndicate for not doing their jobs; today's piece implies that she's gotten past that and is taking matters into her own hands. But, in light of Interesting Points 2 and 3, that could well only be a change in opinion of Tarter himself and not necessarily Larson. Close reading of both pieces shows decidedly more ambiguity on the matter; the "new" comments attributed to Larson could easily have come from the earlier interview. It's only the way in which they're presented that suggests Larson has changed her approach.

Interesting Point 5 -- In the comments of the original article, there are few responses from "julars2" who, aside from one glitchy comment mistakenly attributed to her, seems to actually be Julie Larson. In them, she seems to have more conflicting feelings, on the one hand noting how she's trying to read up on becoming successful via a webcomics route, but on the other hand also noting (seemingly sarcastically) that her being syndicated in newspapers evidently didn't qualify her as being successful at all. The comments were from "2 months ago" (around the time the original article ran) further suggesting that the new article is more reflective of Tarter changing his opinion than Larson.

All of which makes me wonder, then, who is really upset about these new web cartoonists? Is it really the "old guard" newspaper cartoonists who've made a more-or-less successful living doing it for the past 100-some years? Is it really Dean Young (Blondie), Peter Gallagher (Heathcliff) and Perri Hart (B.C.) who are pissed off? Their jobs are more in danger than they were, say, 10 years ago, but they still own some well-established intellectual properties. They still have reprint rights and royalties and such. They could easily follow the lead of other "traditional" newspaper cartoonists who've added a web presence/following with a fair degree of success. Gary Trudeau (Doonesbury) and Dan Piraro (Bizarro) for example.

Is it, then, the ire of newspaper journalists and editors whose jobs are just as, if not more, at risk but without any real fallback in sight? While successful webcomics (i.e. the ones that earn enough money to pay the rent) aren't exactly plentiful, the newspaper cartoonists all have established IPs and fan bases who would likely follow them online. Journalists, however, generally don't have such a following; the success rate of blogs is considerably lower; and their previous body of work often loses value much faster than that of a cartoonist due to its greater reliance on being of immediate importance.

Sure, every cartoonist -- both in print or on the web -- is going to have their own personal take on the whole situation. Didn't Jim Davis, after all, embrace the webcomic Garfield Minus Garfield, at least so much as the Paws Inc. lawyers allowed? But I'm beginning to think that the number of "old guard" cartoonists, by and large, aren't nearly as miffed at these interweb upstarts as the press has made them out to be.

File under: Things that make you go 'Hmmmm'
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